Charlie Baker won the gubernatorial race in November fair and square. I do not necessarily believe he won because he was a different candidate than he was four years ago. I do not necessarily believe he won because Martha Coakley was a weak candidate. Maybe she was, but maybe she wasn’t. Conventional wisdom is often not wisdom, just conventional.
If some of my Democratic friends were any indication of a broader trend, it was that many Massachusetts voters saw him as less of an ideologue and more of a fixer.
I thought that about Mitt Romney too, but was sorely disappointed when his fix-it skills turned out to be highly over-rated. Worse, his character turned to mush and he repudiated everything he had stood for when he asked Massachusetts voters to support him first for senator, which we didn’t do, and then for governor, which we did.
So I was having trouble with Charlie. Would he become another Mitt?
So far, so good. Charlie seems focused on practical matters. He seems to be comfortable and genuinely enjoying himself as he visits the sick and homeless and puts his administration in place. You don’t hear any hate messages from him toward either immigrants, women or the 47 percent.
The friend who most strongly supported him worked in the social services sector, which sometimes suffers under Republican leadership.
But she emailed me about her experiences with Charlie when he worked in the cabinets of governors Weld and Cellucci.
“He made things better for those most in need of a supportive government,” she wrote. “Social services benefited from Charlie’s work within an administration where there was little help and guidance from the top. All of a sudden kids were getting adopted, kids were unstuck, moving through the system as appropriate. State hospitals closed and good, appropriate small programs were created.
“A new system of medical insurance was created, a model for the nation…not perfect, but passable. Our work had to be evidence-based and data-driven. It was harder, but thrilling.
“Charlie was tireless. He met with every group who had anything even marginally reasonable to say. He argued, he questioned, he vetted. He changed and improved state services based his observations and loads of input. Who is behind Charlie most passionately? Those who were closest to his work.”
What my friend describes is competency. It is engagement. It is a belief that government can be smart and solve thorny problems. It is a throwback to those Republican members of my family in my youth—people who did not reject government. In fact they took pride in it. They just wanted it to be good government.
My friend admitted that sometimes the Republican nutcase wing got to Charlie—most frequently in his first gubernatorial campaign when he said he wasn’t smart enough to judge whether global warming was a fact.
“Why does he say these stupid things at times?” she wrote. “I can’t answer that question.”
Now that he no longer has to pander, however, he has not been quoted saying one stupid thing.
He behaved with dignity and respect, cautioning his supporters to stop gloating, late on election night and early the next morning, when the results were going his way, but still not obvious. That was a contrast to Martha Coakley’s unexplained and awkward absence from the podium at her election night party, when she apparently went home, leaving her supporters looking—well, stranded.
I am fervently hoping that Charlie runs state government as my friend describes his work. I am also hoping that his competent and inclusive style, not that of the bullying Chris Christie, the IQ-challenged Rick Perry, or the women and immigrant haters, becomes the hallmark of a new Republican party.
If so, some of us who left the fold many years ago, would take another look at the party that deserted us. Meanwhile, we will wish him well as he undertakes a difficult job.