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Baker Praised For 'Bipartisan Spirit' In State Of The State Speech, But Critics Seek Bolder Vision03:37
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Republican Gov. Charlie Baker addresses a joint session of the Legislature during his State of the State address in the House chamber at the State House in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker addresses a joint session of the Legislature during his State of the State address in the House chamber at the State House in Boston. (Steven Senne/AP)
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As a popular governor, Charlie Baker received generally good reviews for his State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night.

But some political observers say the speech lacked a bold vision for the next two years.

Admiration For Baker, A 'Policy Geek' Reaching Across The Aisle

The predominantly Democratic chamber interrupted Baker's speech 49 times with applause — demonstrating how bipartisanship can work with the right Republican executive.

Geoff Diehl was among those who applauded. The Republican state representative from Whitman said that by immersing himself in the details of state government, Baker has been able to fix what's broken, from the MBTA to the Department of Children and Families.

"Charlie Baker has been known from the get-go as a guy in the weeds, fine-tuning government," Diehl told WBUR's Radio Boston Tuesday night. "And he always said, 'I'm going to fix what's going on with Massachusetts. I care about this state, and I'm going to work night and day to fix it.' "

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, said he thought Baker's speech was "very smart."

"It played to his strengths. Charlie is a policy geek, and he loves to fix things," Stergios said.

He added that Baker was able to tout some important accomplishments of his first two years, including job creation, fiscal discipline, fixing the T and making progress on the opioid crisis.

"He lays out a very impressive record thus far. The question is: In year three, what will he be able to get done? That wasn't really laid out in this speech," Stergios said.

Baker greets lawmakers and guests as he enters the House chamber led by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House Raymond Amaru, front left, before his State of the State address. (Steven Senne/AP)
Baker greets lawmakers and guests as he enters the House chamber led by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House Raymond Amaru, front left, before his State of the State address. (Steven Senne/AP)

Failing To Address 'Some Big Issues'

Baker presents himself as an effective state government mechanic, but Stergios said what he didn't do was offer a big vision for the future.

Dan Wolf, the president and CEO of Cape Air and a former Democratic senator from the Cape, agreed. However, Wolf said he gives Baker a lot of credit for working across party lines and making Massachusetts different from Washington.

"I thought what was great about the speech was the bipartisan spirit," he said. "Charlie Baker is a good person, and I think really well liked across the aisles, and I think that bodes well for working together, collaboration and getting stuff done."

But Wolf said Baker failed to address three big issues the state Senate has identified as priorities.

"One is an economy that works for everybody. Massachusetts still has one of the worst gaps, as far as wealth and income, of any state in the country," Wolf explained. "Climate change, addressing both preventing additional climate change and then adaptive climate change — dealing with the impacts of it. And real serious efforts to reform our criminal justice system. Those three priorities really weren't addressed, and I think from that perspective it fell flat."

"He lays out a very impressive record thus far. The question is: In year three, what will he be able to get done? That wasn't really laid out in this speech."

Jim Stergios

Susan Tracy, a former Democratic state representative and president of the business consultation firm, The Strategy Group, also praised Baker for his bipartisan working style. But she too wanted him to tackle bolder challenges Tuesday night.

"I think housing is a really big problem. It's a hard state to live in — it's unaffordable," she said. "I think there was no speaking to young people. And how do we continue the success that we have with millennials in our state? No big touching on transportation, and how we're really going to move people around as our cities seem to be growing. So I think there was some big issues that need to be addressed with some big ideas."

But Baker seemed comfortable with incremental progress, and his speech reflected that. And so far, that approach has won him broad support. A WBUR poll released last week suggests he's one of — if not the most — popular politicians in the state, with 59 percent of registered voters viewing him favorably.

This segment aired on January 25, 2017.

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Anthony Brooks Twitter Senior Political Reporter
Anthony Brooks is WBUR's senior political reporter.

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