Democrats stepped up their criticism of GOP gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker on Wednesday over claims that as head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, he allowed 200 jobs to be outsourced to India, while Republicans denounced the attack as misleading.
The spat over outsourcing, a potential hot-button issue with both candidates stressing their job-creating ability, began a day earlier when Democrat Martha Coakley's campaign released a photograph of a tuxedo-clad Baker accepting an "Outsourcing Excellence Award" in 2008.
Baker took the helm of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in 1998 with the insurer on the brink of financial collapse. Steps taken to stabilize the company included shifting some 800 workers on the payroll of a contractor, Perot Systems.
Seven years later, Perot moved 200 of those jobs to India.
On Wednesday, Democratic state Treasurer Steven Grossman met with reporters and suggested that Baker, as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, could have insisted those jobs stay at home.
"What was the need to send 200 jobs to India?" asked Grossman, who lost to Coakley in the September Democratic primary and is now supporting the attorney general. "Why couldn't these men and women continue to be employed in Massachusetts?"
The company had already returned to sound financial footing when the jobs were moved overseas, Grossman contended.
Coakley has credited Baker in the past for rescuing the company from bankruptcy, though she has also questioned why his salary tripled to $1.7 million during his tenure.
Baker campaign spokesman Tim Buckley said it was Perot's decision to move the 200 jobs overseas and that Baker preserved thousands of jobs in Massachusetts by saving Harvard Pilgrim and making it recognized as among the best places to work in Massachusetts.
Republicans also sought to turn the tables on Coakley by noting that the board overseeing the state's health insurance exchange, which includes three members appointed by the attorney general, approved a contract with an outside vendor that includes the outsourcing of 250 jobs.
Coakley has "some serious explaining to do," when it comes to outsourcing, Baker said in a statement.
Grossman said both he and Coakley disagreed with the contract.
Also Wednesday, Baker visited an inner-city Boston neighborhood to discuss a set of proposals from his campaign to strengthen urban areas of the state.
The plan includes lifting the cap on charter school in underperforming districts, tax credits for small companies and assuring that minority-owned businesses are included in the bidding process for public projects.
Coakley announced that if elected, she would tap two other former Democratic rivals, Don Berwick and Juliette Kayyem, to lead a preparedness council to assess the state's ability to respond to public safety or health threats, including Ebola.
Berwick, a physician and former federal health administrator, finished behind Coakley and Grossman in the primary. Kayyem, a former state and federal homeland security official, did not receive enough support at the party convention to advance to the primary.