and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #3

Charlie Baker: an executive for all seasons
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, October 21 2005

As Citizens for Limited Taxation prepared to celebrate 25 years of Proposition 2 at its fall membership brunch, I asked Charlie Baker to be our guest speaker. He was the perfect choice for a number of reasons.

I first met Baker in 1981, when he was hired by Howard Foley, president of the Mass. High Tech Council. The council was CLT's partner during the 1980 Prop 2 ballot campaign, raising the money to make us competitive with the public employee unions who were funding a TV ad campaign against it.

After the election, it was our job to defend the new law against all the special interest groups who wanted it immediately repealed. To its credit, the Legislature decided to abide by the will of the people and cut state spending in order to share more state tax revenues with the cities and towns. They also rejected all proposals to "tinker" with the law, while passing a few changes that we supported.

So all went well until Michael Dukakis beat our friend, Edward J. King, in the 1982 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Dukakis began his administration with an attack on Prop 2, which Baker helped us resist. His negotiating and people skills also stood him in good stead when, several years later, he became Secretary of Health & Human Services, then Administration & Finance, in the Weld and Cellucci administrations. Before that he was executive director at the Pioneer Institute, a private sector think-tank advocating for individual freedom, personal responsibility, and accountable government.

Always principled and firm in his beliefs, Baker had a way of getting along with, and earning the respect of, allies and opponents alike. Clearly he liked a challenge, which led him to his next position, CEO and president of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. He took a troubled institution and transformed it into what is has been acknowledged as the "best health plan in the nation" (according to a national accrediting group) for the past two years.

For all these reasons, he was a prime candidate to receive CLT's Warren T. Brookes Award for "the economy in mind," which honors those who exemplify "the universal moral standards, particularly honesty, trust, self-respect, integrity, and loyalty without which the marketplace quickly disintegrates."

But I was also eager to introduce CLT activists to the next governor of the commonwealth, since, when we were planning the brunch, Baker was thinking of running for that office if Mitt Romney moved on.

Instead of falling on their knees in gratitude that someone of Baker's experience and stature was willing to take on the commonwealth challenge, however, the governor and major Republican leaders made it clear they were backing Kerry Healey, who has done an excellent job as lieutenant governor, but whom I never imagined would run for the higher office next year.

Faced with a probable primary against Baker, her husband cashed out stock options in his company to help fund her potential campaign. Already hesitant to give up his rewarding present job and disrupt his family, Baker decided to put off his quest for the governorship until his three children are older.

Now we learn that Sean Healey's company received an unjustifiable tax break in 2001 when it was building at a site in wealthy Prides Crossing.

The taxpayer subsidy was originally intended to encourage companies to create jobs in depressed areas, so state Inspector General Greg Sullivan wants the money returned to the commonwealth. The Republican Party responded by attacking Sullivan, who was one of the Democratic legislators most supportive of Proposition 2, taxpayers in general, and legitimate tax credits during his years in the Legislature. Small world.

The tax break itself should not be held against Kerry Healey, who wasn't in office at the time it was granted and isn't responsible for her husband's business activity. But her inadequate response to the allegations from Sullivan shows she is not quite ready for prime time.

Yet I know Baker just promised his kids that he wouldn't run next year, and I admire his family values. So for now, his only political jobs will be as Swampscott selectman and in an advisory role on state health-care reform.

Along with stories about his years at MHTC and in state government, Charlie shared his ideas on this reform with the CLT activists, talking about the need for transparency that will allow both doctors and consumers to compare various health-care providers and make informed decisions about their care. Perhaps it's a good thing that he can focus on this vital issue for now.

I think Romney would make a fine president or second term-governor. If necessary, I like to think that Kerry Healey would grow quickly into the role of gubernatorial candidate as she did the role of lieutenant governor. Because I would NOT like to think that Tom Reilly will be the next governor of Massachusetts.

As with Mike Dukakis in the '80s, we'd have all Democrats all the time, only worse. Because in this decade, unfortunately, there are no pro-taxpayer Democratic legislators like Greg Sullivan in the Massachusetts House.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.