As the national Republican Party self-immolates as a consequence of its traumatic homage to the incendiary and self-destructive Donald Trump, Massachusetts Republicans should seek solace in knowing that Gov. Charlie Baker is quieting reinventing state government and, in the process, creating a model of New Republicanism.
Baker – and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito – are governing in style and substance that is moderate, pragmatic and unpretentious (there are no hints at being a “compassionate conservative,” for instance) which, even in the firmly progressive commonwealth, is highly effective. It should be considered a new form of Republicanism and a model of success -- especially for the few national Republicans vocalizing an oath of fidelity to the party’s core values.
Even The Boston Globe has taken notice. In a front page story on Aug. 8, it noted that Baker has -- “without grandstanding for the media or waging partisan battles – successfully courted the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, declaring victory on many of the major issues he’s tackled in the past 19 months with rarely a word of opposition from longtime lawmakers.”
Citing “no bold agenda but with a potent combination of high-level government experience, a strong grasp of complicated public policies, and just plain charm,” Baker, remarkably, has emerged as “the dominant figure on Beacon Hill.”
Among his achievements: slowly (it took decades to reach this point; dozens of legislative sessions and eight governors since the1970s) repairing and reforming the troubled MBTA; addressing the opioid crisis (in March he signed into law limits on opioid prescriptions); increasing tax credits for low-income workers; creating fairness in the workplace with equal pay for comparable work; reducing the state workforce as a means of balancing the budget; and, just the other week, celebrating completion of a $1 billion economic development bill.
And the work continues…
Baker-Polito, a political synchronized diving team, are now plunging into the swampy green pool of state regulation in search of efficiency and efficacy, not accolades. As reported by The New Boston Post, their administration is “eliminating nearly 15 percent of Massachusetts state regulations and amending at least another 40 percent in a top-to-bottom overhaul aimed at making state government more efficient and business-friendly.” These are waters that the previous administration, under former Gov. Deval Patrick, never dared wading into, given the progressive proclivity that more and greater government regulation is better and best for its citizens.
When the governor launched this regulatory initiative, he laid out three options for all executive office departments to consider during this methodical promulgation process: either retain, amend or rescind regulations. Those deemed unnecessary and obstructive in making the commonwealth a “better place to live, work and grow a business,” would be amended or rescinded, according to Brendan Moss, Baker’s deputy communications director.
Thus far, 336 regulations are slated to be amended and 122 are to be rescinded, with hundreds more under the hot white spot light of review. As Moss further explains, “members of the administration met with municipalities, businesses, and individuals at over 100 listening sessions across the state and we look forward to finalizing this comprehensive review in the near future.”
Baker’s best act of 2016 is, actually, inaction. He rightly decided not to immerse himself into the presidential contest; he neither embraced Trump or attended the convention in Cleveland, thereby immunizing himself – unlike so many so-called “principled” Republicans -- from association with the embarrassing national ticket. Instead, he has quietly gone about the people’s business. According to veteran observers, reports The Globe, Baker “listens and wants to understand everyone’s views – and is willing to adjust his own.”
As a testament to Baker’s sensible reforms and keen political instincts, he is, for the second year in a row, the most popular governor in the country. For many this development would have been simply unimaginable just two years ago during the gubernatorial race. But for those listening in 2014 it was inevitable.
Two years ago, while at a campaign stop at The Pilot House in Sandwich, Mass., he spoke of the practical agenda he intended to implement, relying heavily on a theme of restoration and repair. As far as his latest projects -- reducing the saturation of codes, rules and regulations along with economic development – they are rooted in his pronouncements from 2014. Back then he said that Massachusetts “is a complicated place to do business” and that Bay Staters need “to think differently about economic development.” Baker is proof that one can be successful in linking campaigning with governing. A lesson lost on many Republicans today.
With much work to do (such as state debt and pension reforms), one fact will, however, emerge by the end of the day on Nov. 8: Charlie Baker will be seen as the top of the presidential class of 2020. And perhaps more importantly, his brand of governing – and the heavy lifting of effecting sensible policymaking -- will be seen as a model for the national party and should be emulated by members of the national party to ensure that the Grand Old Party retains its grandeur.
As Labor Day 2016 approaches, Baker’s New Republicanism must be a novel concept to those Republicans still pledging allegiance (without a trace of buyer’s remorse) to its two national candidates, who are positioning themselves, ever so effortlessly and recklessly, for massive electoral losses.
James P. Freeman is a New England-based writer and former columnist with The Cape Cod Times.