BOSTON — Charlie Baker says he learned the art of politics around the kitchen table watching his Democratic mother and Republican father hash out the issues of the day.
“They weren’t trying to score points when they were debating. They were trying to get somewhere,” said Baker, a Republican making his second bid for the governor’s office.
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It was a lesson that would serve Baker well years later when he took a job as Health and Human Services secretary and later as budget chief for former GOP Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Weld and Cellucci also practiced the art of political compromise as they negotiated with Democratic leaders, Baker said.
“If they had a choice between scoring points or getting something done, they almost always chose getting something done,” Baker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Baker said he’ll also adopt a practical approach if elected, focusing on what he calls a “meat and potatoes type of agenda” of jobs and education.
“If you talk to most people about what they really care about … they want to be able to work and pay their bills, they want their kids to go to good schools and they want to live in safe, thriving places,” he said.
While workers in the state’s “knowledge economy” are succeeding, he said, workers in more traditional fields are hurting.
Baker said the state needs to better prepare workers for an abundant supply of skilled jobs like machinists and tool and die makers. He said vocational and technical schools can only go so far and the state should help subsidize employers for on-the-job training.
“We’ve drawn this bright line between job training and workforce development and actual work when the truth of the matter is that in many cases, the real opportunity is probably to support the actual work,” said Baker, 57.
Baker also backs an increase in the state’s minimum wage but would tie it to an overhaul of the unemployment insurance system. He supports putting a question before voters that would repeal the state’s casino law, though he’s not sure how he would vote.
He’s called the federal health care law “burdensome ” and said Massachusetts should seek a waiver, given the state’s success in expanding health care.
“My preferred option would be: `We’re doing it fine here, leave us alone,”‘ he said.
Another challenge is the stubborn achievement gap in the state’s schools.
Baker said he’d focus less on prekindergarten and more on K-12 education – lifting caps on charter schools, investing in longer school days and encouraging more individualized structured teaching and classroom autonomy.
“The lost opportunity in not getting kids the kind of education they deserve is enormous,” he said.
Baker, who ran for governor in 2010 and lost to Democratic incumbent Deval Patrick, faces fellow Republican Mark Fisher for his party’s nomination. Five Democrats and three independent candidates are also in the running. Baker is considered the Republican front-runner and finished January with a campaign account balance of $562,808.
Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has also been critical of Patrick’s handling of the Department of Children and Families following the disappearance of a 5-year-old boy now feared dead.
Baker has called for the resignation of DCF Commissioner Olga Roche and said the state needs to more aggressively pinpoint potential trouble areas by managing DCF on a region-by-region basis.
“There’s been almost no evidence of that,” he said. “Instead, it’s just one reactive thing after another that just makes everyone more and more concerned.”
Baker has also faulted Attorney General Martha Coakley, who topped a recent poll among Democratic candidates for governor, saying she should advise Patrick to settle a lawsuit with a New York-based children rights group over the state’s foster care system.