By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
WORCESTER — A pie factory served as the setting for Gov. Charlie Baker to make his re-election campaign official on Tuesday, vowing that with another four years he will be able to build on the progress he said his administration has made to grow jobs, close the education achievement gap, fight the opioid epidemic and improve housing options for Massachusetts families.
Baker, who was in Worcester touring the new Table Talk Pie processing plant, announced his re-election campaign over the din of pie ovens — also made in Massachusetts by BABBCO — humming in the background.
"The lieutenant governor and I had said for quite awhile we would make a decision sometime this fall about whether or not to seek re-election and we have made that decision. We are going to seek re-election," Baker said, confirming a decision that was expected, but which had not formally been announced.
Asked what a second term would look like, Baker said there was a "ton more left to do" around improving schools for all students, creating housing and jobs, fixing the MBTA system and winning the fight against opioid addiction.
Baker's rivals in the race for governor are knocking him for not making enough progress in those areas, but the governor has enjoyed warm relations with elected Democrats, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh. Hours after Baker's announcement, Walsh, one of the state's most powerful Democrats, told WGBH's Boston Public Radio that he talked with Baker on Monday night "and I wished him well, and I congratulated him and Karyn Polito."
Asked about the odds he would vote for — or endorse — Baker in 2018, Walsh said, "We're going to wait till the race moves down the road."
Pressed on whether he would rule out support for the incumbent Republican, Walsh said, "Listen, I'm a Democrat, I'm a proud Democrat, and I've always been a proud Democrat. I'm a member of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. We have on our side of the ledger, we have a race."
In Worcester, Baker said, "We've made some progress in the public transportation space. I think we're finally at the point where the T is going to start to turn the corner and make the kinds of investments in the core system that are going to improve its reliability, dependability and capacity to serve the public, but we have much more work to do there."
Baker, who has held the line against increases in broad-based taxes, also said it's important to continue the budgetary discipline that he said he and Polito have brought to the governor's office.
"We believe that the fiscally disciplined and performance dynamic and community-based approach that we bring to government is what we need here in Massachusetts," Baker said, later adding, "There's a constant back and forth between us and the Legislature on that, which in some respects I think is very healthy, but I also think it's important for us to stay the course and maintain that fiscal discipline."
Baker has enjoyed enduring high approval ratings since taking office in 2015, but may face anti-Republican headwinds next year despite his best efforts to distance himself from an unpopular president and a Republican agenda in Congress with which he has frequently disagreed, including on health care and taxes.
But Baker said he was not worried about getting caught in a wave in 2018, and trusts the voters to judge him on the work he has done for Massachusetts, not the "R" next to his name on the ballot.
"I think our Republican brand is an effective one and I think it fits and works here in Massachusetts," Baker said, describing himself and Polito as "big believers in bipartisanship and collaboration."
He said, "I think most voters in Massachusetts make their call based on the performance of the people who sit in the chairs that they care about here in the commonwealth."
Democrat Jay Gonzalez, who shares a resume with Baker as a former state budget chief and health insurance executive, didn't seem ready to let the governor off that easily, however.
Gonzalez's campaign manager, Kevin Ready, accused Baker of "confusing bipartisanship with cowardice," and challenged the governor's narrative of progress.
"After nearly three years in office, there is not a single major achievement Charlie Baker can point to resulting from his so-called 'bipartisanship," Ready said. "Our transportation system is still broken. Our health care costs are still skyrocketing. Our education system is still failing too many of our neediest children. Our communities are still ravaged by the opioid epidemic. Our state finances are in shambles. Try as he might, Charlie Baker can't run away from his Republican bona fides."
The criticism from Gonzalez, who is one of three Democrats running for governor, mirrors the long-standing Democratic critique of Baker that he lacks a vision for where he wants to lead Massachusetts.
"Next fall, Massachusetts voters will have a clear choice between Governor Baker and a Democratic candidate with a strong vision and agenda for the Commonwealth," said Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford. Along with Gonzales, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and environmental activist Robert Massie are also running.
Bickford said the governor's response to the opioid crisis and efforts to improve the MBTA through privatization have been inadequate.
"We look forward to working with the eventual Democratic nominee to show voters that Massachusetts deserves a Governor with a real agenda to address the big issues that working families face," Bickford said.
Citing Baker's claims of progress in the opioid fight and fixing the MBTA, Warren said. "I don't believe that we've done enough in either of one these areas. I don't believe that the status quo is good enough."
While Democrats look to chip away at Baker's armor, the governor will also have to watch his right flank for conservatives within his own party who have also taken issue with some of the governor's action, including decisions to sign laws protecting transgender people in public facilities and guaranteeing co-pay free insurance coverage of birth control.
Baker said he's not concerned about drawing a challenger from the right, and only one person — Barnstable County Commission Ron Beatty — has made any noise about mounting a primary challenge to the governor.
"People can make whatever decision they want to make," Baker said. "I think Karyn and I believe that our success has been driven by our focus on the work and that it's our focus on the work that translates in great opportunities for people and whether you're a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, I think that's really what people want us to focus on too."
Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance Chairman Mark Cohen called the launch of the Baker-Polito re-election campaign "great news." "They are right for Massachusetts. Taxpayers are best served when they have a fiscally responsible Governor who's also trying improve accountability and transparency in state government for the citizens," Cohen said.
Paul Craney, a MassFiscal board member, said the organization has not always agreed with Baker, including when it came to his proposal to tax employers to pay for MassHealth growth. "But the governor and lieutenant governor deserve credit for keeping spending under control, trying to modernize the MBTA, and making state government friendlier to taxpayers," Craney said.
The Baker-Polito re-election campaign plans to open a new headquarters in Allston in early December, and Brian Wynne, the executive director of the MassGOP, will transition from the party to become the governor's campaign manager.
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