Republican Charles Baker kicked off his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday by saying Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill Democrats have "turned a crisis into a calamity" and made the Massachusetts economy "a wreck" with excessive government spending and an unwise sales tax increase.
Surrogates for the incumbent immediately struck back by branding his opponent "Big Dig Baker."
In a video to supporters on his new Web site, Baker said he is worthy of being elected governor next year because he has twice engineered economic turnarounds.
The first came in the 1990s when he served as finance chief in the Weld and Cellucci administrations, he said. The second came during the past 10 years when, as president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he turned the company from the verge of bankruptcy into one of the nation's leading health insurers.
"When it comes to change, I am two things: fearless and determined," he said. "And as your governor, I will be both."
The video shows Baker in a dungaree shirt, gesticulating with his hands as he stands against a park backdrop. It actually was produced by having him stand indoors in front of a green screen and then superimposing the scenery behind him.
In it, he says: "The Massachusetts economy is a wreck right now." Lamenting empty store fronts, home "For Sale" signs, lost jobs and a 25 percent sales tax increase taking effect Saturday, Baker adds: "Massachusetts is on the wrong track, and Beacon Hill has no idea how to fix it. In fact, they're making it worse. They've turned a crisis into a calamity."
The Massachusetts Democratic Party, controlled by Patrick and run by his 2006 campaign manager, John Walsh, immediately launched a Web site accusing Baker of allowing the $15 billion Big Dig project to escalate in price during the 1990s.
The site, www.bigdigbaker.com, asks five questions, including why his campaign advisers insisted he had a "limited role" in the highway project when, at the time, he was the state's finance chief and authored a project financing plan. Baker had refused to respond to such inquiries before he had resigned from Harvard Pilgrim at mid-month or taken a previously scheduled family vacation.
"When a news report last week detailed Republican Charles Baker's prominent role in decisions about financing the Big Dig, several questions were raised, but he still refuses to answer them," Walsh said in a companion statement released by the Democratic Party.
On Monday, the governor defended his leadership in the face of sagging polls. He said he has been focused on the state's long-term interests and insisted governmental reforms accompany the tax increase he signed into law. Such reforms, he said, had eluded some of his Republican predecessors.
The Democrat took office in January 2007 after a 16-year GOP run in the Corner Office that began with Baker's former boss, William F. Weld.
"Campaigns are about explaining what we've done and, more importantly, where we're going," Patrick said. "And we'll have an opportunity in the campaign to do just that, and the people will have an opportunity to choose whether they want to go forward or go backward."
Baker, a 52-year old from Swampscott, officially enters the race Wednesday when he files his candidacy declaration with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. He then has a schedule of activities, including organizational meetings, fundraisers and a speech Thursday to the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
The video appears on his new Web site, www.charliebaker2010.com.
Convenience store owner Christy Mihos also is seeking the Republican nomination. Treasurer Timothy Cahill is mulling an independent candidacy.
This program aired on July 28, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.