^ the opposite of controversial, as a matter of policy intention : Governor Baker is now “public official of the year ”
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The past two days, Governor Baker has been in Washington discussing military issues and transportation — just a part of his long list of job duties — but also is there to be feted as “public official of the year.” One is tempted to conclude that what won him this award wasn’t so much his accomplishments — which are many — as his favorability rating : 69 favorable, 10 unfavorable at last polling. These would be remarkable numbers for any elected official, much less a Governor thought of as Republican in a state that Hillary Clinton won by 27.2 points. Perhaps they represent Baker’s greatest accomplishment : advancing major reforms that are upsetting many vested interests yet becoming more popular thereby rather than less.
In any case, he has won the award and is now back in Massachusetts continuing to do what he has been doing all along : attending to the western part of the state — so often much neglected — and moving the marks bit by bit toward improved service at the T, in the DCF, and in the criminal justice system so badly in need of overhaul;. And then there’s the huge health care administrative overhaul, — recently reported in the Boston Globe –which the Governor told me had been put off but could no longer be delayed and which, so he said, might take years to complete.
Any one of these systemic reforms would tax a Governor’s management skills; yet Baker has taken them all on and doesn’t seem the least bit miffed at having to do so. I think he’s rather glad of them actually. Everybody agrees that state administration of taxpayer-funded services needs all kinds of restructure, and the voters agree that baker is the right leader to get it done; and as long as he loads his case file to the maximum he can actually accomplish, all the better does he look to the voters who have confidence in him.
It works, even if none of his reforms has come anywhere near the finish line. Even the MBTA, whose misfires he took on almost the week that he was sworn into office, remains quite dysfunctional and in the same ways : broken equipment, cars that malfunction, trips delayed, trips lost, budget anomalies, outsourcing perhaps over-eagerly, of services. (My former Boston Phoenix colleague Dan Kennedy, who commutes into Boston to his job at Northeastern University, tweets pretty often about delayed trips and missed schedules.) Just this week the Boston Globe spotlighted the cruelties visited upon people with institutionalizable mental health problems, the budget cuts for their services, the paradoxes that prevent them from being properly attended to. Yet Governor Baker’s name doesn’t appear even once in that article. All the focus is on budgets cuts during the previous administration’s years. It’s easy to read the long article as a plea to Baker to add mental health incarceration and lack of treatment to his list of reforms undertaken.
Though state funds are hardly available to this reform, and with so many reforms slowly working their way one step at a time, Baker might think the Globe’s plea is one commitment too many; yet I suspect he is glad to be pled with. His reforms are of the same kind : one detail after another, very few of them separately newsworthy. He can move from detail number one to item number two, and so on, without stirring up pots; and because everybody know sthat that is what he is doing, and that all of it is needed, he is approved of.
So why rock this boat ? There are those, partisans politically, who would like the Governor to take on controversial matters; and certainly many such matters burn fiercely in social media and threaten the social and political norms of our nation; and people are calling upon their leaders to speak up, to marshal public opinion, to stop the “Trump train” for example. So far, Governor Baker has refused to go there. Our view is, “why should he?” What has he to gain by becoming controversial ? Lighting political bonfires is not his style, not his mission, not what people expect of the man they expect to do the workmanlike opposite.
Controversy didn’t get Baker his public official of the year award, and, with his re-election campaign getting under way, it would serve no purpose at all for him to change up now. He is ready to run on his record, which he once described as “at the end of the day, the public wants better service from the services it pays for.” That’s the record he’s built and the record he wants voters to judge him on when deciding whether or not to give him another four year term.
I also think that most voters are glad to claim a Governor who lowers the temperature of policy debate rather than flame it up. We have plenty of flamers; why not at least one voice of cool ? We have one. I think the voters know it and like him that way.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere