Monday Musings: What Does Gov. Baker Do Next?

What does Gov. Charlie Baker do next?

Does he really run for governor for a fourth time? (His record thus far is 2-1.)

Even if he did somehow manage to prevail, third terms are seldom successful for any chief executive, whether governor or mayor. Look at Mike Dukakis’ final term, for instance. More recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s in New York.

It’s easy to hide in a legislature. In the Corner (or Oval) office, not so much.

Baker is 64 years old, would be 66 at the end of this current term in January 2023. With the exception of a few years in “health care,” he’s spent his entire adult life with his patrician snout buried in the public trough.

His current salary is $185,000, plus a $65,000 “housing allowance.” He is driven around by the State Police, which came in handy when his son A.J. was dragged off a JetBlue flight three years ago after a female passenger accused him of groping her.

Unlike every previous other case involving allegations of sex crimes on incoming flights to Logan Airport, the State Police immediately turned the state case against the governor’s son over to the then-Republican US attorney.

And nothing more has ever been heard of the charges.

It’s nice to be the governor (and if you’re the State Police, it’s equally convenient to have a governor like Baker – neither Charlie nor anyone else in state government ever had the slightest interest in how all the MSP’s pre-2015 smoking-gun payroll records were mysteriously destroyed before any indictments for embezzlement could be handed down).

Will Baker run again? The signals are mixed.

Last summer, he was said to be salivating about the opening of the CEO’s job at the newly-combined Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Last week, the new CEO was finally picked – an out-of-state black guy. Sorry Charlie. So put that loss of a no-heavy-lifting million-dollar-plus job on the positive side for a fourth term. Baker still needs a parachute, preferably golden.

Indicating he might not run is the fact that last month Charlie’s campaign raised a mere $9900 – nothing, in other words.

On the other hand, recent indications are that he is again gearing up his fundraising. His aides have reportedly been reaching out to Sun Belt GOP fat cats asking for meetings, citing Baker’s desire to “tap in” to new sources of money.

People, presumably, who haven’t been paying close attention to his increasingly woke record at home.

For instance, his dismissal of the widespread looting and rioting (and attempted murder of police officers) in downtown Boston last spring as “mostly peaceful protests.”

Then there is his obsessive quest to raise Massachusetts’ gas tax to the highest level in the nation, with neither legislative nor popular approval. Even as Democrats in the Northeast have backed away from the wildly unpopular scheme, Baker has doubled down.

A study from Tufts University estimated that under Charlie’s “Transportation and Climate Initiative,” gas taxes could rise from 24 to 62 cents per gallon. (New Hampshire has already vowed to keep its tax at just under 24 cents per gallon.)

Then there are his increasingly quixotic quests to remain “woke.” Massachusetts is the only state in the Union that bans menthol cigarettes. 

As of this year, “Juneteenth” becomes yet another paid holiday for underworked state employees in Massachusetts – as if the courthouses and town halls haven’t been basically on vacation for a year already.

In this last catastrophic year, Baker has presided over the third highest COVID death rate in the nation (behind only NJ and NY), the highest unemployment numbers in the US last summer, and for a while even the highest nursing-home death rates (until his Department of Public Health suddenly “adjusted” the numbers overnight from 9018 to 5500).

Yet somehow Baker has managed to remain under the national radar screen of gubernatorial calamity. The president has confused him with the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. The clueless junior senator Ed Markey recently called him “Gov. Bacon.”

His administration has been beset by multiple scandals – in addition to the State Police, there’s the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the DCF, the mass-transit authority known as the MBTA and patronage running amok, among other disasters.

Yet according to polls (some of which are paid for at least partially with public funds), he remains relatively popular, at least for someone with as dismal a record as his.

As a “technocratic” governor, Baker was supposed to be good with the basic mechanics of governance. Instead, he has made even the long-gone, unlamented Jane Swift look competent in comparison.

Luckily for “Parker” (or if you prefer “Bacon”), his ascendancy has coincided with the abject decline of the Boston media, which can no longer be considered “mass,” given the precipitous drops in circulation and viewing.

From the start, Baker has shamelessly courted what remains of the alt-left press in Boston. He constantly expressed his “disappointment” with President Trump, claiming he blanked the presidential ballot in both 2016 and 2020. 

More recently, Baker pompously announced that the man who overwhelmingly won the GOP presidential primary in MA in 2016 should be impeached.

From the start of COVID, Charlie was allowed to come out and deliver, on live local TV, his daily doses of panic porn, reported breathlessly and credulously by “reporters” who saw no career upside to asking legitimate, let alone tough, questions.

With Baker thus largely inoculated from media criticism, no one ever mentioned the horrifying death toll in the state’s nursing homes – regulated by his Department of Public Health, whose drug labs were so bad that the convictions following 65,000 tests have all gone away.  And it’s not over yet.

Likewise, few inquired about the $52,000 Baker’s campaign had collected from the operators of those same nursing homes (along with $45,000 to the then speaker of the House and $35,000 to his lieutenant governor, Karyn Polito).

Even fewer raised an eyebrow when golf courses were suddenly allowed to reopen last spring after hiring a new lobbyist – the former district attorney who had allowed the case of the governor’s son to be transferred from his jurisdiction to the US attorney’s office.

A Democrat state rep from Lowell was indicted by the feds for systemic corruption. Only a couple of media outlets pointed out that despite his party affiliation, he was a staunch supporter of Baker, and that any number of embarrassing photographs existed of him posing at campaign events in the Merrimack Valley with both Baker and Polito.

This slobbering kid-gloves coverage – reminiscent of how Joe Biden has been pampered in DC – made the Boston Globe’s investigation of his covered-up mishandling of the Holyoke Soldiers Home somewhat surprising.

It was, as the late Rush Limbaugh might have said, a random act of journalism, trying to figure out how deeply Baker’s incompetence was involved in the deaths of 76 aged veterans in a state-run nursing facility a year ago.

Despite his denials, the Globe reported that Baker essentially hand-picked the former superintendent of the home, a third-generation Hampden County hack named Bennett Walsh.

Walsh has since been indicted on state charges of criminal negligence, and Baker’s flacks say the governor has “taken accountability” for the deaths. (Accountability, but not responsibility.)

In its front-page story this weekend, the Globe (which has endorsed him twice) flat-out accused Baker of lying about not having interviewed Walsh before hiring him. 

It was a tough story, a complete turnabout from the Globe’s recent editorial philosophy of afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable, especially when they’re named Baker.

According to the paper, apparently Walsh’s nominal boss begged the Baker administration to replace him as superintendent of the Home as far back as 2018. But that plan was nixed, Baker’s State House hack told Walsh’s boss, because Walsh’s family of connected Springfield Democrats was needed for the governor’s reelection effort in western Massachusetts.

By the way, Baker ran his first successful campaign in 2014 on a platform that included a pledge to “root out patronage.”

Yet he went out of his way to hand a $124,000 state job to the son of two Springfield city councilors who was also the nephew of the former district attorney of Hampden County. Democrats one and all.

It was the same story earlier at the Registry of Motor Vehicles across the state. The Democrat mayor of Quincy, Tom Koch, was one of Baker’s earliest supporters on the South Shore. He – and the hacks in neighboring Braintree – had a direct hiring pipeline into the Registry, whose headquarters are conveniently located in Quincy.

Like his GOP predecessors, Baker is always playing footsy with old-line Democrats in the cities, whether in Lowell, Quincy, Springfield or Boston. (Baker’s first patronage secretary was the Democrat rep from East Boston.)

Given the GOP’s weakness statewide (fewer than 10 percent of the state’s registered voters are Republicans), this might be politically tolerable, if it hadn’t led to one scandal after another, often deadly.

For instance, when the Registry neglected to pull a foreign career criminal’s suspended driver license, he killed seven motorcyclists in New Hampshire while allegedly driving under the influence of drugs.

This weekend’s Globe story could have been even more devastating, had they reported more fully on Baker’s hack hiring spree at the Soldiers Home. Walsh’s appointment was rammed through by a Baker operative who’d just been handed a $150,000 patronage job at Westfield State University.

The home’s $104,000-a-year director of nursing was married to a high-ranking administrator at that same state college.

And after getting the $124,000-a-year job, Walsh immediately donated $950 to Baker and $1000 to Polito. 

All of these simmering scandals have been watched with growing concern by rank-and-file members of the state’s GOP. Baker lost control of the state committee (and its money pipeline) two years ago. 

He is much more popular with Democrats and independents than Republicans, but to get onto the 2022 ballot, he would have to win the state’s GOP primary.

Ex-Rep. Geoff Diehl of Whitman, who lost to US Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the 2018 Senate race, has been talking about challenging Baker in the primary. Predictably, Baker’s cheerleaders in the (formerly) mass media have begun sliming Diehl.

You can understand Diehl’s interest in the fight. In 2018, when Baker was supposedly the nation’s most popular governor, an under-funded fringe challenger got more than one-third of the vote against him in the GOP primary.

And that was before Baker’s horrible mismanagement of COVID, his kowtowing to radical leftists, and his pledge to make the state’s gas tax the highest in the nation. (And that flip-flop came after Baker campaigned in 2014 against a less onerous, not to mention constitutional, proposal to automatically increase gasoline taxes annually.)

At this point, it is hard to overstate the loathing that most of the state’s Republican electorate feels for Baker. Time and again, he has betrayed the base that elected him.

What MacDuff said of MacBeth near the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy sums up Baker’s status among Bay State GOP voters today:

“Those he moves move only in command, nothing in love.”

And if possible, Polito is even less palatable to the GOP base – her nickname is “Pay to Play.” A year ago, as she and Baker threatened anyone who violated their ridiculous “protocols,” she brazenly violated the administration’s own policies by throwing a graduation party at her lakefront mansion in Shrewsbury.

Think of her as the Gretchen Whitmer of Massachusetts, only with less personality. 

On social media Polito can be seen in even more photos with dodgy local characters (including a drug-dealing mobster’s moll who was then naturally hired by Baker’s State Police) than the governor himself with his corrupt cronies.

Polito is unelectable statewide. That could be Baker’s raison d’etre for seeking a third term. The most formidable likely Democrat candidate, AG Maura Healey, still seems in awe of his alleged electoral prowess.

On local Boston television last weekend, she inexplicably congratulated him on his vaccination rollout, which has improved somewhat after the initial efforts were hopelessly botched, in the usual Baker manner.

But there’s another possible twist to a fourth Baker campaign. Suppose that Baker could somehow ward off a serious primary challenge – by, say, raising $10 million in incumbent money by Labor Day.

Even if he did that, though, Polito would still have to win her own primary. Given the endless disasters and scandals of the past few years, she is vulnerable, to say the least.

And if a conservative Republican ousted Polito in the primary, and was suddenly running on the same ticket with Baker, all of his cheerleaders and pom-pom wavers in the Boston media would suddenly turn on a dime and support…whoever the Democrat candidate is.

That’s the m.o. for the corrupt modern media. Remember John McCain in 2008? When he was running in the primary against conservative Republicans, the Democrat operatives with press passes proudly crowded onto his bus, the Straight Talk Express.

Once it was McCain against Obama, a member of multiple protected classes, they began sneeringly calling the bus the Straight Jacket Express.

How ironic would it be if Charlie Baker, who has spent his entire below-average career sucking up to Democrats, was suddenly turned upon by the mob he trusted and succored, and tossed down the State House steps, like he was some kind of… Republican.

To quote Oscar Wilde, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

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