Big Three dynamics
How long will they remain ‘one happy family?’
JUST BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS kicked into high gear, the Big Three—Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg—sat down for a joint interview with the State House News Service. They said almost nothing of substance in the interview, but the fact that they were all sitting together talking about each other was unusual. I slapped a headline on the story when we posted it on the CommonWealth website: “The Big Three: One happy family.”
By most accounts the three politicians respect each other and get along well. Yet the bonhomie hasn’t translated into much legislative substance yet. The most significant accomplishment of their first year together was the passage of legislation creating a Fiscal Management and Control Board for the MBTA. Many lawmakers questioned Baker’s call for yet another board to oversee the T, but the five-member group has done a great job so far in illuminating the tough fiscal and management issues facing the transit agency.
Aside from transportation, however, Beacon Hill’s output has been meager. Most of the bills signed into law so far have dealt with strictly local matters or created sick leave banks for ailing state employees. As the first year of the two-year legislative session ended in December, the House and Senate were stalemated over a solar power incentive, a possible precursor to upcoming philosophical fights over the state’s energy direction. There was also no movement on opioids, charter schools, public records reform, and transportation network companies (Uber and Lyft).
From the outside looking in, the lack of action on Beacon Hill is puzzling. In Washington, there’s stalemate because there’s a deep philosophical divide between the Republicans and the Democrats. But up on Beacon Hill there is far less of a divide. We have a Democratic-dominated Legislature and a governor who it’s sometimes easy to forget is Republican. Yet even within one big happy family the pace of action can be slow.
Baker until now has played nice with both legislative branches, and it looks like that approach will continue. He appears convinced that he can accomplish more with honey than with vinegar.
As Michael Jonas reports in our cover story, Baker has become the most popular governor in America by trying to make government work and showing people he cares. With his background, everyone thought Baker could handle what he likes to call the weed-wacking side of his job—fixing the T, addressing issues at the Department of Children and Families, cutting wait times at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
But his success in connecting with people on an emotional level has come as a bit of a surprise. My favorite part of Michael’s article is his recounting of how Baker meets up with Beth Anderson, a fellow Swampscott resident and the founder of the Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea.
Anderson is about as far from Baker politically as you can get. She’s gay and a self-described social justice Democrat whose school targets dropouts and teen mothers. She voted for Deval Patrick instead of Baker in 2010, but Anderson and Baker hit it off talking about education. Then Baker paid a visit to Phoenix Charter and apparently made quite an impression on the students by talking about how he dealt with the failure of losing to Patrick. The two sides of Baker—what we call his yin and yang—won over Anderson.“I love the guy more than any lesbian should love a Republican,” she says.
Baker is hoping to work some of the same across-the-aisle magic with Rosenberg, DeLeo, and their colleagues in 2016.