Baker flunks driver’s license test

From ‘Gov. Fix-It’ to governor flubs it

THE REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES, with its interminable waiting time and paperwork, has long been the state bureaucracy bane of drivers’ existence. Now it’s proving to be the same for Charlie Baker’s political standing.

Baker has long eschewed the idea that he must articulate a grand vision, that his stewardship of state government needs to be propelled by soaring rhetoric that captures the hearts and minds of the citizenry.

Instead, he has bet his political chips on the power of “queueing theory.” That’s the fancy management modeling term for figuring out the fastest way to get people through a waiting line. In late 2015, taking stock of his first year in office, it was an idea that got Baker animated in an interview in the smaller working office where he does most of his State House business, the ornate formal governor’s office being far too stuffy for his hands-on style.

Baker was talking about early work his administration did to reduce waiting times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, but it served as a prime example of his approach to the job overall.

“People are getting in and out of these places in 10 minutes,” he said. “Maybe most people would say that’s not very aspirational. If you’re the person who gets paid by the hour and loses half a day, you probably think that’s pretty cool.”

Baker looked like the perfect antidote to Deval Patrick’s final term, marred by a number of management failings. His aim, Baker said, was “to get stuff done and focus on the work.”

The problem now is that the work product looks decidedly shaky.

Revelations that ten of thousands of out-of-state notifications of driving infractions by Massachusetts-licensed drivers went unprocessed by the Registry of Motor Vehicles are basically the opposite of the can-do management approach Baker promised voters. At least 540 of those drivers should have had their licenses suspended, including the 23-year-old West Springfield truck driver now charged with plowing into a group of motorcyclists last month in New Hampshire, killing seven of them.

The truck driver, and hundreds of others, were allowed to keep driving “essentially because no one bothered to open the mail,” writes the Globe’s Adrian Walker.

His offering is part of a one-two-three punch to Baker delivered this morning by the paper’s columnists, with Kevin Cullen and Shirley Leung joining in the gubernatorial pummeling. That’s all on top of the expected sharp shiv wielded by Howie Carr.

RMV chief Erin Deveney was out the door as soon as the story broke, but Walker wonders why Baker’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, isn’t gone as well. A Herald editorial says she should be. Leung suggests the administration had its priorities at the Registry backwards. “Public safety shouldn’t be a tradeoff for shorter lines,” she writes.

Baker addressed that issue yesterday, saying the Registry work has been focused more on customer-facing “front of the house” improvements, while acknowledging the work now needed on “back on the house” systems.

The Registry problems come after weeks of focus on the dilapidated state of the MBTA, spurred by the June 11 derailment of a Red Line train in Dorchester. Red Line riders have been told they’ll face delays at least through Labor Day as the signal system controlling train movements is rebuilt.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

It’s all enough to prompt questions about whether Baker has officially entered the well-worn danger zone marked by the “second-term blues,” a particularly challenging patch for a governor who recently acknowledged that he hasn’t ruled out running for a third term.

For a guy whose political calling card has been that he will, literally as well as figuratively, make the trains run on time, it could be a long, hot summer.