Five key elements of Baker’s legacy
The what and how of his investments with long-lasting impact
AS HE LEAVES OFFICE after eight years as governor of the Commonwealth, the pundits are trying to assess what Charlie Baker’s legacy as governor is all about. Legacy means investments and direction with long-lasting impact that would not have been done otherwise.
As someone who first became involved in state government more than 30 years ago under former governor Michael Dukakis, here are the five things that I see are legacy items from Baker and his team:
Housing choice legislation: Baker’s relentless drive achieved the most significant advancement to the development of housing in decades.
Wind power: Baker’s push on key legislation and investments helped to create the foundation of this new industry here and on the East Coast.Investment in the MBTA: From tracks, switches, and a new bus fleet to the Green Line Extension and more, this was an unprecedented investment in the T’s aging infrastructure.
Rural Broadband: Bringing internet services to more than 50 rural Western Massachusetts communities tackled a basic service issue that had been lingering for a decade.
Opioid epidemic—first in the nation legislation and practices;
Prison mental health—decades of promised reforms finally made;
Youth vaping—ground-breaking public health ban;
Behavioral health—unprecedented funding and prioritization;
MassHealth—national leading model of care and expansion of services;
Health Connector—from worst performing to best in the nation;
Department of Children and Families—unmatched policy reforms and investments in staffing and services; and
Covid-19 pandemic—one of the top 2 best performing states in the nation.
Legacy can be defined not just as “what,” but also as “how.”
Led by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito, the approach to local government from top-down to partners has changed the state-local dynamic and expectations for addressing community issues.
Lastly, the Baker administration was made up of Democrats, independents, and Republicans—from the governor’s office to the cabinet to agency leadership and staff. I don’t believe there has ever been a more genuinely non-partisan administration.
Some have called Baker the last of his kind. But might it just be the opposite, a model that smashes the traditional political orthodoxies? Leaving as the most popular governor in the nation, the people of the Commonwealth seem to agree. All together, these are platforms to build upon taking key steps to tackle important problems.
I join others in wishing Gov. Healey and her team every success to pick-up and advance the ball on these and other issues. There’s always more work to be done. As Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds there are many more to climb.”
Steven Kadish, a lifelong Democrat, first started in state government working for Gov. Michael Dukakis. He left state service as Gov. Charlie Baker’s first chief of staff. Together, Baker and Kadish recently authored Results: Getting Beyond Politics to Get Important Work Done, published by Harvard Business Review Press.