Baker goes turtle while Gonzalez gets carried away

It couldn’t compete with the drama of the Astros-Sox game, but Wednesday night’s debate between Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez packed a lot of punch.

Baker went turtle several times, rolling up into his shell when he was confronted with issues or inconsistencies that he didn’t want to acknowledge. Gonzalez, whose frank and feisty attitude was refreshing, nevertheless overplayed his hand, vowing to spend far more than his tax plans are likely to yield over the next four years.

Baker has been dogged by his endorsement of the entire state GOP ticket – including big Donald Trump supporter Geoff Diehl for US Senate – and he has always tried to finesse why he is supporting a Republican he doesn’t agree with on many major issues.

Wednesday night Gonzalez put Baker on the spot and asked him if he would vote next month for Diehl, who is challenging US Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Baker bobbed and weaved as best he could, but then he said he hadn’t made up his mind yet, which opened him up to the charge that he was endorsing someone for office who he might not vote for himself. After the debate, Baker said he had misspoke and will vote for Diehl.

Baker’s other turtle was on whether he supports the construction of a new natural gas pipeline into the region, a litmus test issue for environmental advocates who say it’s unconscionable to prolong the region’s reliance on fossil fuels in the midst of accelerating climate change. Baker refused to say where he stood last week at a forum with Gonzalez put on by environmental advocates, and again last night he didn’t answer the question. Instead, he kept saying his focus would be on making the existing pipeline infrastructure safe and reliable.

In both turtle moments, Baker should have said what he really thinks and move on. It’s the hiding in his shell, trying to avoid taking a position, that gets him in trouble.

Gonzalez had his own problems. The Needham resident knows budgets (he’s a former secretary of administration and finance under Deval Patrick) but he often plays fast and loose with his numbers. For just about every problem, he says he has a solution – a plan to raise $1 billion a year from a tax on college endowments greater than $1 billion and another plan to raise $2 billion a year from a surtax on incomes greater than $1 million.

WGBH debate host Jim Braude tried to point out that Gonzalez’s plans were dependent on legislative action and, even if everything went his way, the $2 billion from the millionaire tax would require a constitutional amendment that would take at least four years to pass. Gonzalez expressed confidence the Democratic Legislature would give him everything he wanted and tried to move on.

But then Baker zeroed in and pointed out that Gonzalez’s numbers don’t add up. Baker said Gonzalez’s plans for early childhood education would cost at least $1 billion, his transportation proposals would add up to many billions of dollars, his education funding initiative would be another $2 billion, and so on. It was obvious that Gonzalez was using the same $1 billion over and over again, or he was counting on other taxes not yet named or relying on funding that wouldn’t materialize for a long time, if ever.

When the discussion turned to Gonzalez’s push for a single-payer health care system, the Democrat made an intriguing case. Pointing out that he used to run a health insurance company (just as Baker did), Gonzalez said Massachusetts needs to get rid of health insurers. “Most of what we did was facilitate a bunch of useless transactions,” he said, adding that the state is spending $61 billion a year on health care “in a dumb way.”

Baker didn’t address the merits of Gonzalez’s proposal, but instead underscored the Democrat’s tendency to seize on big ideas and ignore the cost and wrenching changes needed to achieve them. He pointed out that Vermont, which embraced the idea of a single-payer system, scrapped it after concluding the cost would be $30 billion. “They couldn’t even figure out how to get to a plan,” Baker said.

Baker suggested the single-payer proposal, as well as Gonzalez’s other initiatives, were all smoke and mirrors. “This is 100 percent trust me,” he said.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Records show ticket-fixing at the state’s Environmental Police went beyond allegations already reported concerning Col. James McGinn, the head of the department and one-time driver for Gov. Charlie Baker, who was suspended without pay earlier this month. (Boston Globe)

The Baker administration is preparing pharmacy pricing legislation as confusion abounds about the way drug prices are set at a hearing of the Health Policy Commission. Marylou Sudders, the state’s secretary of health and human services, calls drug rebates a system of “smoke and mirrors.” (CommonWealth)

An unidentified man who claimed in a lawsuit that Bryon Hefner sexually assaulted him has withdrawn the suit. Hefner is the husband of former Senate president Stanley Rosenberg. (MassLive)

After his failed bid to increase the number of charter schools, Gov. Charlie Baker is focusing on smaller initiatives. (WBUR) Baker’s Democratic rival, Jay Gonzalez, has big plans, but few specifics. (WBUR)

Three veterans are suing Treasurer Deborah Goldberg for withholding a Welcome Home bonus because they were dishonorably discharged on their last tour. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

An effort to recall Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia because of his 13-count federal fraud indictment is underway. (Herald News)

Springfield inspectors discovered the developers of SilverBrick Square were using unlicensed plumbers to install substandard pipes in the downtown apartment building. Mayor Domenic Sarno is not pleased. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Washington Post awarded three out of four Pinocchios to the reporting, including itself, about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA testing, saying reporters and critics got it wrong and don’t understand genetic markers which show she has a higher claim of Native American ancestry than the misinterpretation suggests.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will try once again to repeal Obamacare if they retain control of Congress after the elections. (National Review)

A delicate Senate truce has collapsed as Republicans rush to get more conservative judges appointed to federal courts before the results of the elections. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

A group of nursing experts brought together by the Health Policy Commission couldn’t agree on much when it came to Question 1, which would mandate nurse-to-patient staffing levels. (CommonWealth)

In a Globe op-ed, Republican US Senate candidate Geoff Diehl says the GOP tax cut package that Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Democrats opposed is delivering a boost to the Massachusetts economy.

Baker wins the endorsement of a prominent gun safety group. (Boston Globe) The Service Employees International Union decides to remain neutral in the governor’s race. (State House News)

A Globe reporter rides along on the Shiva Ayyadurai bus carrying the caustic independent candidate for US Senate. A Salem News editorial says Ayyadurai should be included in the upcoming debates between US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Geoff Diehl.

Joan Vennochi seems conflicted over the fallout from Elizabeth Warren’s release of DNA test results showing distant Native American ancestry, saying the controversy is nothing compared with the “web of deceit that engulfs every aspect of Trump’s life,” but unfair or not, she said it raises questions about whether Democrats “really want two more years of this” should Warren jump in the 2020 presidential race. (Boston Globe)

The Globe urges a yes vote on Question 3, which would retain the 2016 law on transgender rights.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Quincy City Council is using a little-known state statute to subpoena the president of National Grid to come before the board to answer questions about public safety and delays in routine maintenance stemming from the lockout. (Patriot Ledger)

A new report from the World Bank says that half the world’s population lives on $5.50 a day with 10 percent living in extreme poverty, getting by on less than $1.90 a day. (U.S. News & World Report)

EDUCATION

Students and parents descended on the Boston School Committee meeting last night to denounce plans to close several Boston public schools. (Boston Globe)

Evidence presented in the lawsuit against  Harvard’s admission policies documents one well-known dimension to the process: a favorable nod toward the children of big donors to the university. (Boston Globe)

Colleges and universities are struggling to figure out how to accept donations in Bitcoin from a new generation of tech-savvy alumni. (Bloomberg)

Racy rollout: Social media was having fun with state Treasurer Deb Goldberg’s new college savings plan, which was unveiled with the hashtag #SeedMAbaby. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Speaking of which, the overall fertility rate in the US fell over the last decade, and the age of women giving birth has risen over the same period, though gaps remain between rural and urban counties, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (U.S. News & World Report)

Attorney General Maura Healey says strong conditions are needed if the Beth Israel-Lahey merger is to win approval. (State House News)

TRANSPORTATION

The Walsh administration and East Boston district City Councilor Lydia Edwards are pushing the MBTA on the idea of connecting the Red and Blue lines, an idea that has gained some traction following this week’s announcement that the projected cost of the project has actually fallen. (Boston Herald)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh unveils climate change barricades of beaches and parks. (State House News) Business leaders give good reviews to the mayor’s plan for Boston to deal with rising sea levels. (Boston Herald) The Globe says the plan is missing one key ingredient: “money to get the work done.”

The amount of raw sewage being dumped into the Merrimack River is increasing. (Boston Herald)

Relocating one of the Falmouth-owned turbines shut down by court order to the wastewater treatment property could net the town $5.75 million even considering the $3 million cost to move it, according to a study. (Cape Cod Times)

Pittsfield residents mount opposition to a large solar project, prompting a city zoning board to put off action. (Berkshire Eagle)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

A vote at Wayland’s Town Meeting earlier this month to ban recreational marijuana was ruled invalid because officials did not notify all residents of the warrant ahead of time as required by law. (MetroWest Daily News)

MEDIA

Former Arizona sheriff and failed Senate candidate Joe Arpaio has filed a $147.5 million libel suit against the New York Times claiming the paper ran an opinion column by a member of the editorial board that undercut his chances in another run for public office. (Washington Post)