SWAMPSCOTT, Mass. — Speaking on his lawn outside his home here Thursday, newly declared Republican candidate for governor Charles Baker laid out his priorities, should he be elected next year.
“The first issue is figuring out a way to create a climate economically where anybody who wants to work can,” Baker said.
He also said he would work to close Massachusetts’ achievement gap between high-performing schools and other schools.
But he said the biggest challenge the state faces is maximizing its potential.
“For one reason or another,” Baker said, “we’re 29th in the country in terms of our unemployment rate.”
Baker said another challenge Massachusetts faces is the implementation of Obamacare.
“It’s no secret that we’re about seven years ahead of the federal government,” Baker said, “and the way I’ve always thought about this is the Massachusetts law is, state makes the rules, feds help pay for it, right? Federal law is, feds make the rules, states help pay for it.”
Baker called health care a local issue, and sided with state Democratic and Republican legislators who wrote to Gov. Deval Patrick asking him to ask for an exemption from certain Obamacare requirements.
On Thursday, Baker also reflected on his loss to Patrick in 2010. During that campaign, Baker often seemed disengaged, as if he did not enjoy running for office. He was also criticized for adopting a harsh tone against Patrick.
Baker said after his loss, he heard from former colleagues, friends and neighbors.
“That sunny, let’s-go-get-’em, let’s-take-the-hill, let’s-climb-the-mountain Charlie Baker that we all know so well, we didn’t see much of him during the campaign,” Baker said people told him after his six-point electoral loss. He said for him, that was a revealing experience.
Baker’s wife, Lauren, was with him at the news conference. Baker said the two made a decision about this second race.
“We said if nothing else, whatever happens in 2014, we do not want the people who know me best to come up to us afterwards and say: ‘Where were you?’ ”
“The failing part was probably the biggest piece of learning that we did,” Lauren Baker said.
Baker said he developed “a tremendous amount of respect” for Patrick during that campaign.
Baker added that this time, unlike in 2010, he will not pledge not to raise taxes.
“One of the things that I learned with respect to the pledge is that if you take the pledge, you’re basically signing up for the status quo,” Baker said. He said pledging not to raise taxes could make it impossible for him to agree to simplify the tax code.
“We should repeal the tech tax, which I think is a terrible idea,” Baker said, referring to a sales tax on computer and software design services passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Patrick. He also disagreed with a new gasoline tax that goes up with inflation.
Baker expressed doubts about one of Patrick’s transportation priorities: commuter rail service from Boston to Fall River and New Bedford.
“I’ve never really understood how you can get the environmental permitting done,” he said. “It’s a two-billion project, and the big question in my mind: Is that best way to spend $2 billion to support the southeastern part of Massachusetts.”
Baker defended himself against Democrats’ criticism of a proposal to finance the Big Dig Baker worked on when he served as administration and finance secretary under Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
“If the Democrats want to blame me for everything that went wrong over the 30-year life of the Big Dig, I certainly hope they’re going to give me credit for everything that’s gone right over the 30 years of the Big Dig as well,” Baker said.
Baker came to the defense of one potential Democratic opponent who is currently barred by state ethics rules from running against him. The state Ethics Commission has advised state Sen. Dan Wolf — who represents Cape Cod and the Islands and is a founder of Cape Air — that in order to avoid a conflict of interest, he must divest his shares in the airline if he wants to run for governor because Cape Air has contracts with Massport.
“I think disqualifying a business person like Dan Wolf from running for office because his business uses the same gates at the same price as everyone else is disappointing,” Baker said. “There’s a guy who started a small business, right, and grew it into something special, and I think those are the kinds of people who create a lot of the energy and a lot of the economic activity that makes Massachusetts great, and I think it’s too bad that his voice may be silenced because of something that feels to me like just an anomaly in the Ethics Commission’s rules, but I’m not a lawyer.”