With the Baker-Polito era drawing to a close next week after eight years, Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito sat down with State House News Service in their offices in recent days to take stock of their accomplishments, shortcomings and legacies.
They also told some stories from their combined half-century of working on and around Beacon Hill.
Asked to reflect on the ways in which state government and the job of governor had changed since he took on a key role in Gov. William Weld’s administration in the early 1990s, Baker’s mind this week went first to the proliferation of technology and how that has changed the ways in which people get and share information.
To illustrate a point about how observing (and being a part of) those shifts influenced his eventual administration, Baker went back to his days as secretary of health and human services and shared an anecdote of “my first experience with what this kind of technology could do to chain of command.” The governor said he had never told anyone about the encounter.
“We were negotiating — I won’t say which union it was — but we were in a tough negotiation with one of the state unions and somebody sent me a message to my BlueMail account that basically said, ‘You S-O-B, you’re treating us so badly, you suck, I hate your guts, blah, blah, blah.’ And I looked at it and I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna break all protocol here.’ And I never told the HR people,” Baker said this week. “I wrote back to the guy and I said, ‘This is what we proposed.’ He wrote back to me … and he said, ‘That’s not what we were told.’ And I emailed him back and I said, ‘That’s what we proposed.’ And we ended up settling the contract about two weeks later and there’s no question — I never heard anything about it — but there’s no doubt in my mind that the message he was getting was different than the message about what we were actually proposing.”
Baker added, “The interesting thing about it was the guy who was doing the negotiation on our side said, ‘Geez, you know, all of a sudden the ice thawed and we got the deal done.’ So it led me to believe that the chain of command maybe wasn’t the greatest way in the world to communicate.”
The governor also thought back to his unsuccessful 2010 campaign and how the postmortem he did — talking to friends, reporters, pundits, and others about where he had gone wrong — helped to shape his successful 2014 candidacy and his governing style.
“I was a much, much better candidate, and I would argue a much better governor, having lost in 2010. That’s hard to say, but I think it’s true,” Baker said. He added, “So when I ran in 2014, you know, I ran and campaigned in a lot of places where I wasn’t gonna win — and so much so that one reporter actually wrote a column about how Charlie Baker seems to be running for city council, not for governor. But we lost a lot of those communities by less than we lost them by in 2010, and that’s a big part of how we won. And more importantly, it dramatically expanded my window about life experiences and perspectives and points of view, and made me a better candidate and a much better governor. Without the humiliation and the humbling and the sort of reconsideration of 2010, I don’t think we would have won in ’14.”
Baker said that Polito still jokes with him that it was her strength in Worcester County that helped put their ticket on the winning side of the narrowest gubernatorial election in state history.
When Polito reflected on the eight years she and Baker spent in office together, she was eager to note that she made a stop in all 351 cities and towns over the course of her tenure, even the tiny, far-flung communities tucked into the corners of the state.
As a central Massachusetts native — she served on local boards in her native Shrewsbury before joining the House and then running statewide campaigns — Polito said she wanted “to make the Baker-Polito administration available and accessible to everyone.”
“That’s why I have a picture of Mount Washington there,” Polito said, pointing up at a framed photo of the town’s idyllic Bash Bish Falls that hung in her State House office. “They invited me there to celebrate broadband deployment in that community. It’s, like, 120 people live there. That community matters.”
LOOSE ENDS: For what is typically a sleepy stretch, the final week of 2022 produced a good share of news. Gov.-elect Maura Healey continued to flesh out her Cabinet and cadre of top advisors: Rebecca Tepper, currently the chief of the energy and environment bureau in the attorney general’s office, was named energy and environmental affairs secretary, and Paige Scott Reed, a veteran government lawyer who has worked at MassDOT and the MBTA, got the call to be the Healey administration’s chief legal counsel … State lawmakers and constitutional officers got word that they are in line for major pay increases in the new year, if they opt to accept them … After a decade in the works, a bill addressing the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians made its way to Gov. Baker’s desk … A state financial report showed that Beacon Hill has socked away in the Stabilization Fund about 75% of what it is legally allowed to before a statutory cap would trigger another lesser-known tax rebate mechanism in state law … And the Governor’s Council voted to confirm one of its own to a plum court clerkship job, while legislative leaders aren’t saying if or when they plan to fill the vacancy he leaves.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Bob and I have had some very heated arguments in this very chamber. It’s been a little bit public,” Governor’s Councilor Joseph Ferreira said, referring in part to the time that Councilor Bob Jubinville (who this week secured a lifetime appointment as clerk magistrate of Framingham District Court) called him a “bootlicker” and “a rubber stamp” during a heated 2017 council assembly. “But is he qualified? Exceptionally well. Does he have the right temperament and empathy for people? He does. And that’s why he has my vote today.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: As they get ready to pack up and leave office, Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito hope their acquaintance will not be forgot and never brought to mind.
Chris Lisinski contributed greatly to this roundup.