BOSTON — A plate of soft cookies and a curious canine named Lucy greeted visitors to Charlie Baker’s home in Swampscott Thursday afternoon, anxious for their first look at the reprogrammed Republican.
The homestead invitation to the state’s political media pack would, his campaign team hoped, showcase the 2014 gubernatorial candidate in a different light than they remembered — a wonkish, sometimes awkward and occasionally surly campaigner.
His wife Lauren stood by his side.
Baker suggested his biggest regret from 2010 was that his friends didn’t recognize the man they saw on the trail four years ago. Absent was the “sunny, let’s go get ‘em, let’s take the hill, let’s climb the mountain Charlie Baker” — his words.
The launch of Charlie 2.0 focused almost entirely on tone, and a strong suggestion that the positions he staked out in 2010 when he lost to Gov. Deval Patrick are all on the table. “I’m open to new data on pretty much everything,” Baker said, rejecting a no-new-taxes pledge, sidestepping the issue of South Coast rail and deep-sixing the pessimistic “Had Enough?” slogan for a more uplifting “Let’s be great” message.
So, how, specifically, are you going to try to change your personality, one scribe asked, essentially following up on Scott Brown’s “No Mr. Personality” descriptor. Baker emitted a burst of laughter before turning to his wife: “Do you think I’m not funny? Do you think I have no personality?” Silence.
No matter. Baker’s formal entrance to the 2014 race for governor injected some spice into the still developing field as Democrats gleefully started right up with the Big Dig Baker attacks, and anticipation for decisions on 2014 from Attorney General Martha Coakley and Congressman Michael Capuano escalated.
Coakley’s nearly complete transformation – post-2010 Senate collapse – from party pariah to the great Blue hope is stark, considering how far she’s had to climb, but it stands to be seen whether she can translate her prosecutorial popularity to a broader calling.
The reaction from most Republicans to a Baker re-do was cheerful, with former Gov. William Weld suggesting Baker was the best gubernatorial candidate in the country, let alone Massachusetts. At least for now, it appears Baker has a clear path to the GOP nomination again, but his movement to the center leaves open the possibility that conservatives could grow restless.
Baker’s rollout was almost slow enough to gather moss, a three-day affair triggered by leaks about his planned announcement, a video introduction and public praise from Weld, his former mentor. Then there was the at-home press conference Thursday preceded by a lengthy one-on-one interview gifted to the Boston Globe and garden interviews with television stations.
For comparison’s sake, Treasurer Steven Grossman awkwardly tipped his campaign to a Springfield TV station before formally declaring his candidacy on stage at the Democratic Party Convention in Lowell followed by a scrum with reporters on the arena floor while speeches carried on in the background.
Baker’s week ended in a dentist chair having his wisdom teeth removed. No jokes, please.
Baker’s decision to try and lead the Massachusetts Republican Party to victory next year came during a week when a handful of already elected representatives were preoccupied in the House with Speaker Robert DeLeo’s decision to clear the rostrum of the rank-and-file.
With court officers continuing to enforce the hands-off-the-can policy, Reps. Marc Lombardo, Jim Lyons and others continued to protest the lack of in-session access to the bills on that day’s agenda by holding up the informal sessions when a quorum of lawmakers is not around. They shouldn’t have to visit the clerk’s office before session or ask their party leaders who do have access to the can, the Republican lawmakers said.
The procedural brouhaha continued an activity logjam broken only momentarily on Thursday to allow final passage of a juvenile court jurisdiction bill moving 17-year-olds out of the adult inmate population.
The Legislature’s prolonged summer vacation has given Sen. Daniel Wolf more time to figure out whether he will be a part of it when the action starts again. While he doesn’t formally go before the Ethics Commission until Sept. 19, Wolf and his supporters detailed the petition they will present seeking a regulatory change that would allow business owners with non-negotiable contracts with the state – such as Cape Air’s agreements with Massport – to avoid violating conflict of interest laws.
The petition was signed by former Attorneys General Frank Bellotti and Scott Harshbarger, former Congressman Bill Delahunt, Republican Rep. Daniel Winslow and a handful of former judges and Ethics Commission officials.
One lingering issue from the pre-recess work of the House and Senate is the new sales tax on computer services. Legislative leaders and tech industry executives met in Gov. Deval Patrick’s office where business officials explained how the tax was detrimental and government leaders who navigated the 2013 tax war listened on.
Any attempt to roll back the tax, it seems, would have to be accompanied by a new source of revenue to replace the $161 million built into the Legislature’s transportation financing strategy, and that’s a conversation DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray do not seem eager to jumpstart.
As unclear as the next step might be, the issue is not going to go away soon. House and Senate Republicans plan a push next week to rally support for legislation repealing the tax, and Baker joined the repeal chorus as a first order of business.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Charlie Baker gets a reboot, no robot pun intended
SOUTHIE RULES: Somebody should tell Nick Collins to smile. The South Boston state representative had quite a week in the news, getting perhaps more attention than during his entire unsuccessful bid for the state Senate when he lost to Dorchester’s Linda Forry. After making headlines for endorsing City Councilor John Connolly for mayor, Collins was depicted looking stern in a Herald photo accompanying a story about his bill to go over the head of the City Council and ask the Legislature to let firefighters respond to certain 911 calls. But it was another story in the rival Globe that left Boston pols aTwitter. Collins and City Councilor Bill Linehan went public with their argument that either Linehan or Collins should take over MC duties at the annual South Boston St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, a role traditionally reserved for the senator from South Boston. Then again, traditionally the senator representing Southie has also been from Southie. But no more. Forry, a Haitian-American with an Irish last name from her husband, defeated Collins in their special election to replace Jack Hart in the Senate, and she’s not giving up the breakfast so easily. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and a slew of mayoral candidates rallied to Forry’s cause.