Guarding State's Interests Often Leaves Baker At Odds With Republicans

Democratic leaders have so far focused on finding areas of agreement with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. With reelection looming, this could well change. (Steven Senne/AP)
Democratic leaders have so far focused on finding areas of agreement with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. With reelection looming, this could well change. (Steven Senne/AP)

As he tries to shield himself from any blowback over national politics, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker is trying to remain focused on state matters, but finds himself on issue after issue drawn into the national debate.

"My primary interest has been and will continue to be what goes on here in the commonwealth. Our focus is really on the work," Baker told "On the Record" co-host Janet Wu Sunday morning after she asked him about Republicans falling to Democrats in elections on Tuesday and possible lessons he might take into his own re-election bid.

Baker has forged good working relationships with Democratic legislative leaders, but they hold veto-proof majorities in both branches, have been slow to advance the governor's legislative priorities and are often quick to defy his efforts to hold down spending. Baker has largely shied away from using the bully pulpit to publicly prod his Democratic colleagues, instead often emphasizing his hope for productive efforts.

"What people really want is they want to see people to work together," Baker said. "They want to see people get things done. They want to see the economy improve. They want to see their schools get better. And they want to see the state operate with what I would describe as the same thrifty approach to spending money that people do with their own."

Asked if it would be tougher to run under the Republican brand, Baker said he's focused on the state's interests in both local and national debates. He noted he's expressed his opposition to health care and immigration policy changes pitched by national Republicans, and on Sunday he flagged three new proposals that the GOP is pushing that he says could cause major problems in Massachusetts.

Eliminating state and local tax deductions and imposing a $500,000 cap on mortgage deductions represent a "huge problem" for Massachusetts, Baker said. "Frankly, in many communities the average price of a house is $500,000, in many cases more," Baker said. And slapping a new tax on private college and university endowments is also a "big problem," Baker said, asserting those funds pay for student aid, scholarships and research.

Pressed on whether he believes Republicans in Washington are listening to state officials, Baker said, "These folks recognize that governors in many cases are as close to what's going on on the ground floor as anybody. I think they take our opinions seriously."

New England Republicans hold four governorships but few positions of power in Washington, and Baker singled out GOP Maine Sen. Susan Collins as a "very good voice for the region."

"If you follow those debates, especially on health care, her voice matters a lot," Baker said.

The health care policy debate in Washington is not over, but Baker said Republican governors to date have prevented a "real calamity" with their advocacy.

Baker also addressed gun control and the competition to attract Amazon's second headquarters.

"You can be, as I am, pro-Second Amendment at the same time believe that common sense gun control is a good idea," Baker said, calling the new state law that bans bump stocks a "great example of that."

Bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like automatic weapons. The devices virtually create machine guns, which Baker said are illegal.

The governor said studies consistently rank Massachusetts as among the top three "gun safe" states in the country and said demonstrated performance by that metric could change the larger conversation about gun control. He touted "very rigorous" but "sensible" policies, with bipartisan support, as preferable.

The governor said he expects Amazon executives will make some decisions by the end of 2017.

"My hope is that we make it into the so-called semifinals," he said. "I would imagine at that point Amazon will start to spend more time with the various states that have sites that they're interested in."

Baker said he would be "careful" with tax incentives, but noted the state's incentive programs are designed to lure companies and help others to expand.

"I think the real challenge here would be sort of the scale of what we're talking about," he said. "Amazon's talking about 50,000 employees over 20 years. That's not a kettle of fish we've ever had to to process before."

Infrastructure investments, he said, are "more traditional" public investments that can help both a specific company and the larger host community.


More from WBUR

Listen Live