Did I mention last week that Charlie Baker got the endorsement of the Republican Party for governor? He did, and his acceptance speech provides a sense of what he thinks is important in 2014.
There was a structure within the speech of past, present, and future, not presented in chronological order. For example, early in the speech Baker described a present that is not very appealing at all. High unemployment and slow job growth; mounting costs including those attributable to government, like regulations, taxes, and license fees. Let’s not forget the recent spate of administrative bungling by the Patrick administration: the Department of Children and Families losing children, the medical marijuana dispensary licensing problems, multimillion dollar IT projects that don’t work. Baker attributes these failures to one party rule – a claim that has worked for Republican gubernatorial candidates since 1990. Political persuasion is about stories, and as Deborah Stone outlined in Policy Paradox: the Art of Policy Decision Making, Baker told a story of decline from a former golden age.
That golden age of the past, not surprisingly, was the era of the Weld and Cellucci administrations where Baker played such a central role. In those years “we got stuff done and the Massachusetts economy soared” – 500,000 new jobs and worst to first in unemployment.
The future can be golden too, and Baker hit some key campaign themes, the ones he has been stressing since his announcement video: a strong economy, vibrant communities, and educational opportunities. While stressing these themes there were some wrinkles in the speech.
For one, he used the story of decline to announce he would seek a waiver from Obamacare because “Before Obamacare we had one of the best websites in the country in the nation and 98 percent of the people had health insurance. Now we have one of the worst websites in the nation with thousands stuck in health care limbo. So we’ve spent millions in dollars to go backwards. When I’m governor this will be fixed.”
Golden age, decline, I’ll fix it. It’s a good case.
Again without deviating much from his campaign themes, Baker hit some points I recognized from his visit to UMass Boston to speak to my class in Massachusetts Politics in fall 2012. Within the story of decline was this: “Stagnant job growth for 14 years.” Yes, fourteen years – back past the Patrick years, encompassing the Romney term and Jane Swift’s brief tenure. In fall 2012 Baker had all but memorized MassInc’s report Recapturing the American Dream: Meeting the Challenge of the Bay State’s Lost Decade. It’s a thought provoking and thorough work and it had Baker deeply concerned with the future of the state, particularly those left behind.
He also spoke at the convention about affordable and accessible higher education. In my class in 2012 he hit those themes too – and surprised us with the case that higher ed inflation is higher than the rise in health care costs. That got our attention.
In the 2012 class Baker wasn’t even sure he’d run again, there were no cameras running or confetti poised to drop. He spoke with real passion about the future of the state, the challenges faced by its working class and middle class citizens, and the prospects of my students. That Charlie Baker would impress the voters of this state, maybe enough to make him governor.