Meet Charlie Baker: The Man Destined to Become Our Next Governor
Far from helping Baker, Brown’s victory has created a problem for him. It’s raised expectations to an unhelpful degree – and an unfair one, too, given the differences between the two races and, especially, the two men. Brown’s victory, while impressive, may have said less about the state’s current taste for Republicans than it did about his opponent’s dreadful campaign. Baker, in contrast, is challenging both a sitting governor renowned for his talents on the campaign trail and a twice-elected state treasurer. And where Brown, affable and charming, sparkled in campaign settings, Baker can seem downright embarrassed when people are chanting his name.
On the bus, Baker acknowledges that he’s yet to bond with the public. He prefers to think of his campaign persona as a work in progress. “Learning how to communicate to big audiences, and how to frame a message in a way that works in a sound-bite world, that for me is very challenging,” he says. “This is a humbling experience in a lot of ways. And there are plenty of times when I’m pretty far outside my comfort zone.”
For Charlie Baker, who is 53, being outside his comfort zone at all is, in many ways, a new experience. After graduating from Harvard and earning an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Baker, barely into his 30s, helped found the Pioneer Institute, the influential Boston think tank with a libertarian, free-market orientation. In 1991 Bill Weld hired him as his undersecretary for health. Soon, Baker was running Weld’s entire health and human services office. Eventually, he became Weld’s secretary of administration and finance – budget chief to a governor for whom the budget was everything. At age 42, Baker was in charge of Harvard Pilgrim, one of New England’s biggest health insurance companies.
Baker, who grew up in Needham, is the son of a Republican father who served in both the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and a liberal, Democratic mother. That combination of influences, he often says, helped him learn to see both sides of an issue. Family dinners consisted of heated political discussions, and even as a boy Charlie could hold his own. “They really did discuss politics around the kitchen table,” says Mindy d’Arbeloff, who has known Baker since they were kids and their fathers were close friends. “My two brothers and I would sit at that table and really not have very much to say, and in the car on the way home my father would say, ‘What’s the matter with you kids? Why can’t you all be as smart as the Baker kids?’ So we actually came to dread those dinners.”
Terry McCourt, who served in the Weld administration with Baker, recalls the governor’s notorious morning staff meetings, when Weld would go around the table grilling cabinet members about what they were working on. Those foolish enough to respond, McCourt says, were subjected to “withering” cross-examination.
“You’re dealing with people that are very well accomplished and self-confident,” McCourt says. “The majority of the time the person would say, ‘I pass.’