The Home Stretch: Baker Steps It Up
BOSTON — “Just pretend it’s baseball season,” Charlie Baker said, looking out a big plate glass window over an empty Fenway Park. The Republican candidate for governor sits at a high table at the Bleacher Bar, minutes after wrapping up a news conference lambasting Gov. Deval Patrick on the latest jobless numbers.
Baseball season has come and gone for the Red Sox, but election season is in full force. More than a year since his campaign kicked off, having introduced himself to thousands of voters across the state, Baker has just five days left to persuade people that their Democratic governor had his chance.
“I got into this race because I was concerned that the governor and the rest of the folks on Beacon Hill didn’t know how to turn the state around, didn’t know how to get the state’s finances under control and didn’t know how to create a climate for growth,” Baker said on Wednesday afternoon. “As I sit here today, there’s nothing about what I thought going in that’s changed my mind on that.”
The former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Baker said Massachusetts should be run by someone who has experience in turning organizations around.
“I’ve done that,” he said. That, to him, would mean reining in government spending through cuts to the cost of running the state and more aggressive job creation through cuts to the cost of doing business.
Baker said the need for a turnaround has been underlined on the campaign trail.
“I’ve watched the immense struggle associated with trying to get a job in an economy where 100,000 more people are out of work than were out of work four years ago, where 300,000 people are out of work overall and where our economy continues to shed jobs — 24,000 jobs in the last two months,” Baker said.
Running through the numbers like this is how Baker has earned himself a reputation as a policy wonk. It is a label he said he guesses he is OK with.
“I’m a big believer that we should make our decisions based on things as they are, not as things as we would want them to be,” he said. “And sometimes that means delivering bad news and making tough decisions.”
Baker said Patrick is out of touch because he’s unwilling to deal with a projected $2 billion budget shortfall for next year. So, as a former CEO, does he think the next governor has to separate the human equation from the budget process to solve the problem?
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, pointing to his time at Harvard Pilgrim. When Baker arrived, the organization was on the verge of bankruptcy and wound up on state receivership. A lot of difficult decisions had to be made during that time, which touched a lot of people. But in the end, the point was to take the organization into a better direction and to get out from under the crush of the budget — “which has now been the biggest problem facing Massachusetts for three years,” Baker said.
“You can’t ignore the human issues associated with this and I never have and I never would,” he said.
“But the flip side of that is people expect governors and CEOs to make the hard decisions that improve the lot and life of the organization and the people who are served by it,” he said.
“And if that means in the short term you have to do some very difficult things, because in the medium and long term you can deliver on behalf of the people who work for the organization and the people who are served by it, that’s the way you should do it.”
So four years from now, a couple guys are sitting in the bleachers at Fenway Park, talking about Charlie Baker. One of them says to the other, “I’m glad we put Charlie Baker in the governor’s seat because … ”
How would Baker like the man to finish that sentence?
“He cleaned up the mess on Beacon Hill and focused on getting people back to work,” Baker said. “And you know, by the way, he seems like a pretty good guy.”