Charlie Baker’s compassionate conservativism
Somewhere between the classic Republican world view summed up by his new budget chief (in 140 characters or less), who said the state’s problem is that we’re “overregulated and not biz friendly,” and the spoonfuls of sweet potatoes he dropped onto plates yesterday at the Boston Rescue Mission, Charlie Baker will have to fashion actual policies and an approach to governing.
In crafting a winning message in this year’s race for governor, Baker jettisoned the harsh tone — and substance — of his 2010 run. No more talk of aggressively slashing taxes or throwing thousands of state workers overboard. Instead, he offered a fairly vanilla program, anchored by his pledge to bring jobs and great schools to every community across the Commonwealth.
And he offered a decidedly human side to a guy known for his budget and management chops.
He cried when recalling the tough plight of a bear of a fisherman he met (in the 2010 campaign, it turns out). He has practically embedded himself in minority neighborhoods where Republican sightings are newsworthy occurrences. And yesterday he was shoulder to shoulder with son-of-a-washerwoman Ray Flynn, serving dinners to some of the 500 homeless or low-income Bostonians who came for an early Thanksgiving meal at the Boston Rescue Mission in the South End.
Baker hasn’t used the term “compassionate conservative.” That may be because he’s tried to avoid most any sort of ideological label, or it could be because the term is most identified with George W. Bush, whose trailer few are looking to hitch themselves to these days. But compassionate conservativism is nonetheless what Baker has been selling, the idea of state government that is both fiscally disciplined and caring.
While Baker has been working overtime to showcase the caring part of the equation, the fiscal discipline part will now start to come in focus with his selection of Kristen Lepore as his secretary of administration and finance, the state’s top budget post and a job Baker himself held in the 1990s. Lepore, a vice president at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state’s major business advocacy organization, has held a variety of public sector jobs, including deputy chief of staff to Gov. Paul Cellucci.
If judged by her most recent stint at AIM, she’ll bring a business community mindset to the job, which means keeping taxes and state spending low, regulations to a minimum, and letting the engine of private enterprise take things from there. That’s a different ethos than the one Baker was projecting in the serving line at the Boston Rescue Mission.
Ahead lie tough choices, which will test Baker’s ability to straddle the divide between the two . And with a sudden budget shortfall coming as the post-election November surprise, the hard decisions will come sooner than he was no doubt expecting.
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