Meet Charlie Baker: The Man Destined to Become Our Next Governor

Today Charlie Baker is going to declare that things in Massachusetts have got to change, and as his tour bus rolls through Worcester's battered downtown square of empty storefronts.

Photo by Boston Globe/John Tlumacki /Landov

Photo by Boston Globe/John Tlumacki /Landov

Worcester. City of eternal disappointment. It’s bad here in the flush times, worse in the recessions.

Today Charlie Baker is going to declare that things in Massachusetts have got to change, and as his tour bus rolls through Worcester’s battered downtown square of empty storefronts, boarded-up buildings, and check-cashing outlets, it’s clear that he has come to the right place to deliver his message.

Baker and a busload of his supporters are here for one of two speeches the Republican nominee for governor will give today, part of his brand-new “Had Enough?” bus tour of Massachusetts. The motor coach pulls up to Worcester City Hall and campaign workers begin hauling colorful signs out of the luggage hold, lining them up against a wall. It’s an overcast morning in mid-May, and as people file off the bus, the empty sidewalks only add to the sense of gloom. Besides those on the coach, just 10 or so people have shown up for the event, and it looks like they, too, have been brought in by the campaign. Everyone from the bus grabs a sign and marches over to the public green. Baker, with his long, brisk strides, leads the way.

This tour is a kind of message reboot for Baker, an attempt at a clean start for a candidate who’s just fired his campaign manager after weeks of getting knocked around by bad press and worse polls. The idea is for Baker to recharge his candidacy by traveling to cities and towns all across the state for rallies with fed-up voters who’ve “had enough” of Governor Deval Patrick. Today it’s Worcester and Lowell.

The podium for Baker’s speech has been set up outside City Hall. Nearby is an “I’ve Had Enough” banner signed by 30 or so people. A speaker blares David Bowie’s “Young Americans.”

The rah-rah bus tour is a curious choice for Baker, a sober man who’s spent his entire career behind the scenes, digging into spreadsheets and thinking up clever accounting maneuvers. Baker is the kind of person who actually enjoys the mundane details of government, the drilling down into policy minutiae. When he was elected to the Swampscott Board of Selectmen in 2004, he was working as the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, the state’s second-largest health insurance company, and he’d once been the most influential adviser to Governor William Weld – the “heart and soul” of the administration. Yet far from commanding a leadership role on the local board, Baker was largely content to work in the background, busying himself with the details of the town budget.

Still, here he is, tall and trim, leading a bus tour. He’s standing right now in front of the podium, making small talk with a few of his supporters in the moments before his speech. A woman carrying an infant in a BabyBjorn walks up to the group and shares a laugh with the candidate. Someone, sensing the opportunity for a classic campaign photo op, calls out, “Awww, you’ve got a baby to kiss!” The mother is beaming. Baker leans forward to kiss the child. But then, for some reason, he pulls back, awkward and uncertain. Finally, he reaches out his arm and pats the baby respectfully on the shoulder.


It wasn’t that long ago that Charlie Baker was looking very much like our next governor. He was the man who’d single-handedly rescued Harvard Pilgrim, the sinking health insurance giant; the guy who’d balanced every budget and made the tough choices to turn Massachusetts around in the administrations of Weld and Paul Cellucci. A fiscal conservative and self-proclaimed social moderate (pro-choice and for same-sex marriage), he also had the benefit of challenging an incumbent governor with approval numbers so dismal even his supporters were all but conceding defeat. And he was a member of a party on the move. Scott Brown’s victory in the special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat had upended everything we thought we knew about politics in this state. Blue as it was, it turned out that Massachusetts was no different from anywhere else – sick of incumbents, sick of business as usual, ready for change.

And Baker was going to deliver it. He’d been borrowing from a Republican playbook in vogue back when Bill Weld was in office, painting Patrick as a typical tax-and-spend Democrat who’d “let the budget get away from him.” He attacked the governor for failing to make Massachusetts a more affordable place to do business, and for breaking a promise not to cut the local aid that the state gives to cities and towns. He pledged that, once elected, he’d reduce taxes and eliminate the waste in the state budget. The bell had yet to even ring and already Charlie Baker had knocked Deval Patrick out.

That was the thinking, anyway. It turns out that Patrick is not nearly as cooked as everyone had assumed. A ferocious campaigner, the governor has made few mistakes during his reelection bid – while taking advantage of opportunities to look like a confident leader during the flooding problems and drinking-water emergency of the spring. Then there’s state Treasurer Tim Cahill, the former Democrat whose campaign has been competing directly with Baker for the anti-Patrick vote.

But the real challenge for Baker hasn’t been his competition. It’s been Charlie Baker. What he has not shown, more than a year after announcing his intention to become the state’s next governor, is any real talent for campaigning. What he has shown is a troubling inability to connect with voters.

On the drive to Worcester, a campaign worker had explained that the job of everyone on the bus was to be as vocal and excited as possible at the rallies today. “So we’re all going to say how great Charlie is,” she instructed, “how he’s going to be the savior of the commonwealth!” Now the savior is ready to begin his speech outside Worcester City Hall, and he’s going to need all the help he can get.

Baker is standing at a lectern with his supporters lined up behind him on tiers of cement steps. But because the turnout is so dreadful, there’s almost no one left for him to address. As he begins his speech, he’s talking to just a handful of staffers and journalists. There are 13 people sitting at the tables and chairs that occupy the square behind City Hall, but their curious looks make it clear they haven’t come for the speech. “These are all his people,” a photographer from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette keeps saying. “There’s no public here.”

The stump speech is like kissing babies. Campaigning 101. It’s a formula that’s rarely tinkered with…for the simple reason that it works. You keep your sentences short and crisp, pause at your applause lines, jab your finger for emphasis, and maybe even throw in a foot stomp or two to get the crowd howling. Done right, the stump speech sets you up as someone worth listening to (a helpful illusion, since what’s said is rarely worth paying attention to at all). Done wrong, however, the stump speech can make you look like an amateur, someone not worth wasting a vote on. Done wrong, in fact, it looks very much like the rambling lecture Charlie Baker is now delivering outside Worcester City Hall.

Baker is going on and on about Patrick’s local-aid promise, about how the high cost of doing business in Massachusetts is costing the state jobs. He seems to be under the impression that, rather than stirring up the base with a few standard-issue fighting words, the purpose of this rally is to tackle the big, important issues of the day. “Think about it for a minute,” he’s saying, looking out at the small group in front of him but apparently addressing the supporters behind him. “Do you believe that Deval Patrick and Tim Cahill, both of whom have supported all kinds of tax increases over the past few years, are gonna deal with the impending budget disaster without going back to the taxpayers in the cities and towns for more money to balance the budget?”

No one seems to be sure if they’re supposed to holler Yes! or No! So no one says anything at all. Turning his head to the group behind him, Baker snaps, “That’s a question!” Half of his supporters then roar Yes! before realizing they’ve got it backward. Anxious to give him what he needs, they quickly correct themselves, but by now the whole thing has dissolved into a half-hearted no. Charlie Baker is somehow losing an audience the campaign bused to the event specifically to cheer for him.

Baker presses on. “We are gonna cut spending and reform state government, period,” he declares. “That’s the only way that makes any sense for Massachusetts. We’re too expensive, too complicated, and too inefficient to do it any other way.” A lone person responds with a “Hoo!” and three sad claps. Baker stops, mid-sentence, nods at the man, and says, “Thank you.”

Every time Baker turns around these days, somebody else wants to know why the hell he isn’t following the Scott Brown Blueprint for Massachusetts Electoral Success. Hadn’t Brown, tearing through Massachusetts in his pickup, shown the way? Hadn’t he hacked out of previously impassable terrain a sure-fire path to victory for Baker? “It’s incredible,” Boston University professor Thomas Whalen exclaimed in the Herald, “that in the wake of Scott Brown’s upset victory, [Baker] would find himself in third place in the polls. It’s pathetic.”

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.’

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.”

Another controversy from Baker’s time in state government involves his role in the financing of the Big Dig. In March, when the Globe‘s Brian McGrory asked Baker about the decision during the Weld administration to pay for a large portion of the massive public-works project by borrowing against future federal highway funds, Baker maintained that he was “one of about 50 people” with input on the decision. Subsequent reporting by the paper, however, found that it was primarily Baker himself who crafted the plan to fund construction via heavy borrowing, the repayment of which would fall to future administrations. Besides calling Baker’s honesty into question, the story undercut his assertions that the Weld administration, and by extension the one he would lead if elected, was all about taking responsibility, about solving today’s problems today.

When Weld is asked about his administration’s role in the public-works fiasco, he says it was actually his lieutenant governor, Paul Cellucci, who oversaw financing of the Big Dig. “I didn’t remember much Baker on the Big Dig,” he says. “But Paul Cellucci was in charge of a group that met monthly on the financing of the Big Dig. Paul and I were like alter egos. And I absolutely laid that one off on him because I knew it was going to be complex.” Cellucci chuckles when told Weld’s version of events. He says Weld asked him to chair “an interagency group” charged with keeping construction moving forward. “We really didn’t focus on financing too much,” Cellucci says. “The financing was more the governor’s office and the legislature.” The Big Dig is the Afghanistan of Massachusetts politics, an ugly, bottomless, legacy-destroying mess, passed from one administration to the next, owned by no one.

A final major criticism of Baker’s time in the Weld administration was his work to deregulate healthcare. True to their free-market instincts, Weld and Baker undid many of the state controls over how much hospitals could charge. Deregulation, they argued, would save money and improve services for everyone. Instead, says former Governor Michael Dukakis, “It’s been a disaster. We’re paying billions because of hospital deregulation. The market does not work in healthcare. Never has, never will. And when the market doesn’t work, you’ve got to regulate it. Charlie’s a very bright guy. But Charlie is largely responsible for the mess.”

Ironically, Baker himself would soon feel the pain of his own deregulation work. When Weld resigned in 1997, Cellucci became acting governor and asked Baker to be his running mate on the 1998 ticket. Baker declined and instead left state government. In 1999 he was named CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care – an enormous company that, following years of mismanagement, was in serious jeopardy.

“The plan was in big trouble,” Baker recalls. “People were concerned about its ability to pay its bills.” Baker instituted a series of cost-saving measures – outsourcing administrative functions, reorganizing the provider network, changing the pharmacy benefit manager – that normally might take three years but were carried out in just 90 days during the summer of 1999. Baker also made the decision, which he calls one of the most difficult of his career, to pull Harvard Pilgrim out of Rhode Island, a move that left 1,000 people without a job and 200,000 others in need of new health insurance.

Amid this furious restructuring came a discovery in January 2000 that turned an already bleak picture critical. Baker’s staff uncovered an accounting error of nearly $59 million, which inflated losses to an unmanageable $227 million. Baker had an emergency meeting with Attorney General Tom Reilly. They agreed on a plan under which Harvard Pilgrim was granted a form of bankruptcy protection and placed under state control for five months. The company then remained under state supervision for the next six years. Baker’s critics like to point out the irony in one of Massachusetts’ great free-market warriors requiring state intervention to save his company, but there can be no doubting the competence, creativity, and flexibility Baker displayed during the episode.

“Charlie Baker saved Harvard Pilgrim,” says Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where Baker once sat on the board. “Charlie arrived at Harvard Pilgrim to find the place was a disaster and was almost out of business, and he had to lead them out of that.”

But there was one challenge for Harvard Pilgrim that even Baker couldn’t overcome. Thanks to the recently deregulated healthcare market, hospitals were free to pursue higher payments for their services, which meant higher costs for Harvard Pilgrim and other insurance companies. In fact, it wasn’t long after healthcare deregulation that Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospital founded Partners HealthCare, the largest and most powerful healthcare provider in Massachusetts. Partners began wringing much higher payments out of insurance companies than other providers could get for the same procedures. In 2001 Partners reportedly demanded increases of 25 to 35 percent over four years. Harvard Pilgrim insisted it couldn’t pay that much without raising premiums and taking on even more losses. Partners prevailed. “He was part of the administration under which what had been a highly regulated healthcare system became less so,” says Levy, who is supporting Baker’s run for governor. “Charlie, ironically, ended up being a victim of that at Harvard Pilgrim because they were able to beat him up as a result of their market power and demand higher rates. It was not the way he probably anticipated it, and I think he’d be the first to admit that.”

Perhaps he would, but he certainly isn’t admitting that hospital deregulation was a mistake. “Generally speaking, hindsight’s a great thing, and people can always look back and draw their own conclusions,” Baker says. “But what I would say about this is that as times change, policy needs to change, too….People should think about this as an ongoing narrative in which over time different policy approaches are going to be more appropriate than others based on whatever else is going on.”

As Baker’s tour bus prepares to depart Worcester, a campaign worker named Debbie Drinkwater tries to shake the supporters out of their slumber. For the day’s second rally, the campaign is desperate for a better showing. “Make some noise for Charlie!” Drinkwater urges. “Don’t be afraid to interrupt him!” Baker climbs aboard a few minutes later, takes a seat at the front of the bus.

The poll in April that showed Baker in third place made it clear that something was going to have to change fast. From the day he got in the race, Baker has been highly successful at raising money, bringing in more than $2.5 million by February (about 10 percent of it from people with connections to the healthcare industry), which left him with significantly more cash than Patrick. And since announcing his candidacy in the summer of 2009, he’s done approximately 500 events – reportedly spending nearly $200,000 on catering and room rentals alone.

Yet no one seems to know who he is. And he keeps making the kind of silly political blunders that lead you to wonder about the advice he’s getting. One example: In March, he stunned observers by announcing that he would skip the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston. Even if you accepted his explanation – that months earlier he’d committed to attend a different St. Patrick’s Day event – you had to question how much of a threat any politician for statewide office could be if he wasn’t prepared to mix it up at the annual Southie roast.

Baker often touts his talent for turning around troubled organizations. After his dismal showing in the polls, it was his own foundering campaign that was in need of remaking. In typical Baker fashion, he acted quickly. The overhaul started a week after the poll was released in April. Baker fired his campaign manager and made the curious decision to replace him with Tim O’Brien, the man who had overseen Kerry Healey’s run against Patrick in 2006.

After taking over, O’Brien called a series of meetings with the campaign’s leadership team. Out of those meetings came the Baker’s Dozen list of 13 proposals to get the economy moving again, generally by cutting taxes, lowering spending, and eliminating waste. The centerpiece of the new effort, though, was the “Had Enough?” tour. Baker’s media office was sending out real-time press releases after every event, and had set up a kind of social-media war room right on the WiFi-enabled bus, blasting out updates every few minutes via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and the like.

As the bus hits the highway, the media team is hammering away at laptops and cell phones in the back. The goal of this frenzied effort is to fill the Twitterverse with the campaign’s talking points about Patrick and his tax-and-spend soul. The team has just discovered that Lowell’s Pollard Memorial Library, where Baker is going to deliver his speech, is the same spot where Patrick once proposed raising the Massachusetts gas tax to generate revenue for the state’s crumbling bridges and roads.

“Do you want me to tweet something about the gas tax?” asks Jay Altschuler, a campaign social-media specialist. “It says here that’s why we’re going to Lowell. We can retweet the hell out of that for the next hour.”

“Yeah!” says Rick Gorka, Baker’s press secretary. Then Gorka calls campaign headquarters. “Hey,” he says, “it’s true that Patrick’s never submitted a budget without a tax increase, right?” Hanging up, Gorka starts banging out a tweet on his phone. Three minutes later, the message, posted under the name CB_CommsDir, appears on Twitter: Heading to the same library in Lowell where Patrick called for a huge increase in the gas tax.

Gorka’s followers on Twitter – some of them campaign workers – immediately begin retweeting the post. Gorka, who headed up the West Coast communications operation for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, starts in with another message: Deval’s never submitted a budget w/o a tax/fee increase and has never met a tax he didn’t like, MA’s had enough. Between tweets, Gorka, who is 30, and his team trade lines from various Chris Farley movies and 1990s rap songs. “I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller!” Gorka calls out. “I wish I had a girl who looked good, I would call her!”

“I wonder,” says one of the media guys, “if it’s just our little world that does this.”

“It is to some extent,” replies Altschuler. “What you have to understand is it’s not so much the tweets that go back and forth, it’s the information that’s exchanged. You’re changing what people know.”

Here in the back of the bus, the governor of Massachusetts is changed into someone who seeks to raise taxes every year simply because he likes to.


The attempt to paint Democrats as financially irresponsible may have been an effective tactic back when Baker was in government, but it’s simply the wrong attack on Deval Patrick. That’s never really been the knock on him. In fact, as dismal as these economic times in Massachusetts have been, the state has weathered the recession comparatively well. Job losses were less extreme here than in other parts of the country, real estate has held its value better, the state has continued to earn sterling marks from the bond rating agencies, and job-creation data indicate that Massachusetts has already begun to emerge, however slowly, from a recession that remains dire elsewhere.

The actual rap on Patrick, his genuine point of vulnerability, concerns something that should be quite familiar to Charlie Baker, because it’s the same thing that was said of his old boss Bill Weld: He’s just not all that interested in being governor. Patrick spent the early part of his first term tangled in a series of mini controversies that share one common theme – his apparent preference for the trappings of the office to the job itself. He spent exorbitant amounts on his drapes. He flew the governor’s helicopter everywhere. He ordered an extra-fancy state-issue Cadillac. Two years ago, Patrick skipped town only hours before the legislature took up the controversial casino bill he had championed. While lawmakers were voting down the proposal, Patrick was in New York shopping his memoirs. A truly stinging attack on the governor might go something like this: Is he really the man we want running the state in these dangerous times?

Such a recalibration would also allow Baker to ditch his disastrous Scott Brown impersonation. Though recent polling has found Baker closing ground on Patrick, it has also revealed that, a year into the high-profile businessman’s campaign, a surprisingly large percentage of the electorate still has no idea who he is. When Weld is told how awkward and self-conscious Baker can look on the campaign trail, the former governor says, “That’s Charlie. He’s in some ways a shy guy.” Which is to say that Howie Carr has it exactly backward when he writes that “Charlie Baker should be spending some time with Sen. Scott Brown – in the truck, on the road. And he should be taking notes.” On the contrary, Charlie Baker should be embracing his inner wonk. It’s who he is and, more to the point, there’s at least a plausible argument that what Massachusetts needs at this moment is a governor who’s going to be personally tossing and turning every night, fretting about our fluctuating disproportionate share adjustment.

Baker himself seems to get the fact that a guy with his skills could be a useful Massachusetts governor right now. What appears to have escaped his notice – and that of the people around him – is that he hasn’t actually been running as a guy with those skills. Instead, he’s been running the campaign of a…a…well, what, really? “One of the things you search for here,” he tells me, “is some way to define what you want to be about relative to your competitors.”

What’s with all this searching just a few months before election day?

It’s pretty clear what Baker is about. “What would I like people to think of as representing the Weld administration?” Weld asks. “It would be Charlie Baker’s intellectual capacity, broad approach, and seriousness of purpose.”

Those are qualities not often associated with Scott Brown. They are qualities, though, on which you can build a campaign.


The motor coach pulls into Lowell. Baker’s speech is being held in a small room in the public library. The ceilings are low, and it’s dimly lit in here. Again, not many people and not much media. But there’s undeniably more energy than in Worcester. Only some of the Had Enough! Had Enough! chanting this time is coming from campaign staff.

Baker looks much more comfortable in this setting. The small room enlarges his presence. His suit jacket is off, and his sleeves are rolled up. It’s going to be a town hall meeting this time, so his supporters are arranged all around him, meaning he actually has someone to talk to. He keeps his statements short in this less formal, more conversational format. He’s clapping his hands for emphasis. His fundamental wonkishness has him coming across as reassuringly competent instead of intolerably dull.

Someone says they’ve had enough of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and Baker tears into the subject. Faced with budget cuts, he says, Patrick simply closed a bunch of branches. Other states have gone with low-cost ATM-type kiosks in malls and stores that allow residents to conduct registry transactions at their convenience. “Instead what we get is the closing of all the registries, longer lines, no creativity around how to deal with the lines…. That’s the wrong way to do this! We’re all about doing it the right way!” The audience explodes.

“What else have you had enough of?” he hollers.

Wasteful spending!

Health insurance costs!


In Worcester he couldn’t wait to wrap things up. Here, he keeps calling for “one last question,” and then taking another one. There’s no cheerleading to be done here, no babies to kiss or reporters to hassle with. It’s just Charlie Baker and his ideas for making government work. He’s come alive. And he’s got them howling.

Baker at last takes his final question, and then launches himself into the crowd, eagerly shaking hands. He’s glowing. Then a staffer in a corner starts in with Charlie! Charlie! The room picks up the call. As Charlie Baker looks around him, an embarrassed smile spreads across his face.