Republican candidate Charlie Baker said he is a proponent of bipartisan leadership in state government as a means to tackle the commonwealth’s issues and find solutions in a more efficient manner.
Speaking at the fourth gubernatorial roundtable hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk Law School, Baker said that his Democrat mother and a Republican father – married for more than 50 years – set a positive example during dinner-table political discussions as he was growing up in Needham, Mass.
“I grew up believing not only that this stuff mattered, but that when you had both teams on the field and you had more than one point of view, it actually got to a better solution and a better result,” said Baker.
Baker, former secretary of Administration and Finance in the Weld and Cellucci administrations and former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, said his experiences working under two Republican governors and with a largely Democratic legislature led to noted reforms in workers compensation, education and pensions.
“If you actually want to get something accomplished, you need to recognize and appreciate the fact that it’s still a democracy with a small 'd,' and you have to be willing and able to engage with people who don’t necessarily see the world the same way you do, and have the discipline and the persistence and, frankly, the endurance to see a lot of this stuff through to get something done,” he said.
Baker ran for Massachusetts governor in 2010 but lost to Gov. Deval Patrick, who is not seeking reelection as he finishes his second term. A poll released today by Suffolk University shows Attorney General Martha Coakley leading among Democrats, and a head-to-head matchup with Baker shows her ahead 44 percent to 31 percent.
Calls for transparent health care system
Baker said that, if elected governor, he would create a more transparent health care system with respect to price and performance, make greater investments in primary care and take “a really hard run at the adminis-trivia that exists within health care.”
“If we don’t make a big investment in primary care, then the people who need a quarterback to help them work their way around the health care system simply aren’t going to be able to find it, and they’re going to pinball all over it,” the Swampscott resident said. “That’s not good for them. It’s not good for the health care system.”
Baker, who spent the past three years as an entrepreneur in residence at the venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners, said the consequences of laying federal health care reform on top of Massachusetts’ own health care system will increase coverage costs for small businesses and ultimately stall potential job growth.
He said that the health connector website should be overhauled, even though it is overseen by Washington, not Massachusetts.
“We are failing people in Massachusetts because that connector does not work, period,” he said. “We don’t have good strategies for how to create work-arounds for (residents) that get them coverage.”
Baker said he supported raising the state’s minimum wage but wanted to see the state “piggyback” the wage increase on programs such as the federal earned income tax credit, which puts $60 billion annually back into the pockets of low-income working families.
Baker also called for the state to follow the education models of its better-performing schools and use them as templates to boost underperforming schools in local communities.
Higher education cost control
In terms of rising higher education costs, Baker -- who has one son out of college, another in college and a daughter in high school -- said he is an advocate for “three-year degrees” and incorporating more online curriculum into the traditional classroom model.
“You want to reduce the cost of a college education, make it three years instead of four,” Baker said. “That’ll take a big bite out of the total cost of the package.”
“The whole thing is so structured around such a particular model that’s been around forever,” he added. “I really think we need to think differently about the model, and I would like to see the state involved in engaging and nudging that conversation along.”
Baker said the state should aggressively engage its vocational-technical community in order to help close a skills gap that leaves open jobs unfilled.
“Go slow” on casinos
Baker also reiterated his “go-slow” stance on casinos, yet said that he remains in favor of having one in Massachusetts.
“I don’t think casinos are a fundamental economic development strategy,” he said. “I think the question belongs on the ballot and I think the voters ought to have a chance to vote on it.”
Baker also criticized Patrick’s most recent budget proposal for taking money out of the rainy day fund “as a precursor to setting the budget up in the first place” and for raising taxes. Baker said there wouldn’t be any new taxes or cuts in local aid if he were elected governor.
Baker said that he is opposed to fully legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts but said the state should “think harder” when it comes to sentencing for non-violent criminals.
Baker said it doesn’t matter if a candidate is a Republican, Democrat or independent in terms of leadership ability, provided they fully understand the concerns of Massachusetts residents.
“I don’t think Massachusetts can be a truly great state unless everybody who wants to work can, every kid can get up and go to a school where they believe they’re getting the kind of education that’s going to prepare them for the future and every community is a safe, thriving community in which people believe that the future is as great … as anything that happened in the past,” he said.
The Rappaport Roundtable series, made possible by the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, gives candidates opportunities to introduce themselves and their ideas, outline their priorities and discuss pressing policy issues affecting the commonwealth today, in 2015, and beyond.Martha Coakley is scheduled to be the next guest in the Rappaport Roundtable speaker series on Tuesday, Feb. 11.