Meet Charlie Baker: The Man Destined to Become Our Next Governor
Then he would get to Charlie, and Charlie would literally have a stack of files with him and would proceed to talk about these policy initiatives he was thinking about or to describe some sort of budgetary issue he was grappling with, and he would present it in such a compelling manner and with just this incredible sense of logic but also clarity….Everybody would just be kind of in awe, even all of his peers, watching him in action.” Doing away with pretenses, Baker eventually just sat right next to the governor at the meetings.
“He’s the most able guy I’ve ever met in public life,” says Weld. “He really became the one guy that I would look to gut-check just about any decision I was making…. He was so knowledgeable that he could set the table on almost any issue.”
It didn’t take long for Baker to prove the value of his ingenuity. “The way we were able to balance the budget the first year was just some creative thinking in the Medicaid area,” Weld says. Baker and his team discovered that, because of the amount of free care delivered by the state’s teaching hospitals, Massachusetts was entitled to a significant increase in what’s known as a disproportionate share adjustment. “Charlie and his people thought that up,” Weld says, “and it wound up being worth $600 million to the state. That was real money, and that’s just brainpower.”
Baker says his run for governor is motivated in part by what the Weld and Cellucci administrations were able to accomplish at a time when the state was in great trouble. “We walked into a situation with high unemployment, big budget deficits, the savings and loan crisis, and a big credit crunch,” he says. “It looked and felt a lot like today feels to a lot of people. Over that eight-year period of time, we balanced every budget, cut taxes, reformed workers’ comp and welfare and healthcare and education and criminal justice…. You could get stuff done, and a lot of it was stuff people said we’d never get done.”
To critics, however, the Weld and Baker reforms were essentially slash-and-burn cuts to social programs, cost savings carried out on the backs of the needy. The state’s housing budget was cut by more than 40 percent during the Weld years, and the portion of the state’s borrowing limit dedicated to housing programs was reduced from $202 million to $62 million. Weld’s administration also did away with 10 of the 11 state programs for homeless prevention, tightened the restrictions on homeless families getting into shelters, closed nine facilities for the mentally impaired, and eliminated the general-relief welfare program for some 20,000 poor people. Weld and Baker also outsourced many state-run social programs to private contractors.
Phil Johnston, secretary of health and human services in the Dukakis administration, says these moves amounted to “trashing poor women and children.” Johnston does acknowledge, however, that a friend of his, an “iconic” figure in child welfare, recently told him that she’s working hard for Baker. “What?” Johnston exclaimed. “Well,” she responded, “Charlie was good to us.” When it comes to private, as opposed to public, providers of social services, Johnston says, “You’ll find some support for him because of his ability to kind of sit down with people and try to work things out.”