Lee Harrison: Exposing Charlie Baker's con
WILLIAMSTOWN — A lot of people admire our governor, the impeccable Charlie Baker. After all, he has boyish good looks, smiles a lot, and talks softly. As such many regard him as a moderating force, the "grown-up in the room." Of course, that's what they thought of another Bostonian — Trump's chief of staff General John Kelly — until the general opened his mouth and proved he's just another right-wing ideologue like his boss.
Clearly, Charlie's smarter than the general, but are his record-high approval ratings deserved? Have they enabled him to push a vision for Massachusetts? As former gubernatorial candidate Juliette Kayyem remarked, Charlie should "do something with [those ratings] other than `getting to no' on everything from raising revenue to investments in infrastructure to competing with 49 other states."
So what's going on? High ratings, but few accomplishments, and clearly no vision. Isn't it time we compared Charlie's actions with his well-crafted "moderate" image to see whether it's all just a con? Remember, he came to government in 1991 as a highly touted manager from the conservative Pioneer Institute. So, to paraphrase John Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general: "Look at what he does, not what he says."
Let's start with Charlie's exalted reputation as a manager. Last June, with the stock market breaking all records, S&P downgraded Massachusetts' creditworthiness for the first time in 30 years, a decision the Boston Globe said, "has the potential to tarnish Governor Charlie Baker's image as a good steward of the state's finances." By contrast, Deval Patrick was able to raise the state's bond rating at the height of the Great Recession.
Many also think Charlie, unlike Trump, really cares about people. But he refuses to endorse the Fair Share Amendment, which would raise $2 billion for public education and infrastructure by placing a 4 percent surtax on portions of incomes over $1 million. And his proposal for new mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders not only goes against current research but also candidate Baker's vow not to support such discriminatory actions, proving once again we have to look at what Charlie does, not what he says.
Trumpian on immigration
Look at immigration. While most Bay Staters were outraged by Trump's bigoted policies, Charlie only managed to write a letter saying how terribly disappointed he was with the president's actions. More tellingly, the state Supreme Court then had to strike down the governor's initiative that would have made Massachusetts police a cog in Trump's anti-immigration machinery. As the Mass ACLU put it: "Why Governor Baker would attempt to aid President Trump is unsettling — as both a legal and political matter." Answer: It's who he is. It's all part of the con.
Indeed, when Charlie's budget proposed to make Massachusetts the first state to roll back the Medicaid provisions of the Affordable Care Act, our legislature had to act, or Charlie would have taken health care from 140,000 of our neediest.
Look at education. Charlie says he wants good public schools for every kid, but Betsy DeVos says that too. Yet if we watch what he does and follow the money, we realize that's not quite the case. A typical Republican, Charlie likes to privatize stuff, and charter schools are a step toward privatizing our schools. Fortunately, last fall voters rejected Charlie's call for more charter schools by nearly 2 to 1. And, oh yeah, the governor relied on an out-of-state shell organization to raise nearly $30 million in undisclosed donations to fund his charter school agenda. But the voters saw through that, too.
For all these reasons, Baker knows he needs to stroke the right wing of the state GOP to win another term. So last summer he appointed the head of the Mass NRA to lead the Department of Fish & Game. And his recent support for a right-wing state Senate candidate — who ran on a platform of defunding Planned Parenthood, undoing marriage equality, and repealing our transgender rights law — is further proof that Charlie is at heart not a "Republicrat," as some still believe, but rather a standard-issue Republican, albeit in a blue suit.
As Boston Magazine reported, Charlie is counting on dark money for reelection and to further his conservative agenda. In fact, he believes he'll need an astounding $30 million to ensure a second term, and he's using something called the Massachusetts Victory Committee to subvert state caps on political donations to raise it.
With this record, is Charlie really "the adult in the room," or is it all a con? We report. You decide.
Lee Harrison is former chair, Berkshire Democratic Brigades, and current member, Democratic State Committee.
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