Baker has the experience and temperament for the corner office

By Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 22, 2010

So there I was, being carried backward through the Statehouse by Charlie Baker and Howard Foley of the Mass. High Technology Council, their arms under mine, my feet kicking uselessly a few inches from the marble floor, as I insisted I was not going to meet with Senator Chester Atkins, no way, no how.

Howard was grimly determined that this time, I was going to do as I was told; Charlie as usual was laughing, supporting his boss while assuring me that my cooperation was really appreciated.

It was 1983, and the new governor, Michael Dukakis, had filed legislation attacking Proposition 2-1/2. Under that initiative petition law, enacted in 1980, several cities still had to cut property taxes to reach the required 2.5 percent rate. Dukakis' bill would stop the cuts, taking away the tax relief due many city taxpayers. Citizens for Limited Taxation immediately declared war and ran to the media, especially talk radio; at one point calls from taxpayers shut down the Statehouse phones.

Meanwhile, the Mass. High Tech Council (MHTC), which had funded the Prop 2-1/2 campaign, quietly lobbied the Legislature to reject the Dukakis plan. Foley worked out a compromise with Atkins, the Senate Ways & Means chairman, in which the state would lend money to those cities that were having trouble cutting their property tax. It was a reasonable compromise, but I was in full battle mode and not inclined to be reasonable.

President and CEO of Harvard-Pilgrim Health Care, Charles D. Baker receiving CLT's 2005 Warren T. Brookes Award for "economy in mind" from Barbara Anderson
at CLT's 25th anniversary of Proposition 2-1/2.

However, in the end, we agreed and it all worked out. In 2005, CLT celebrated the 25th anniversary of "the people's law," and Charlie Baker was guest speaker at our brunch, where he received our Warren T. Brookes award for excellence in economic activity.

Howard Foley, like many business types, didn't enjoy interacting with the press. He complained that I was quoted more than he on Prop 2-1/2 issues. "You have to return reporters' calls," I explained. So he hired Charlie out of college to be the MHTC media contact, and soon the Council began getting the credit it deserved for helping Massachusetts property taxpayers.

CLT stood pretty much alone against the powerful public employee unions and the entire political establishment, until Howard brought MHTC into the ballot campaign; I worshiped him as the big brother I had always wanted. However, we had occasional disagreements over strategy, and Charlie became the go-between; I saw him as a little brother who, though 15 years younger, was calmer, wiser and smarter than I was, there to keep peace in the family.

We kept in touch over the years. For a while he ran the Pioneer Institute, created by entrepreneur Lovett Peters just in time to collect ideas across the political spectrum for "better government," helping Gov. Bill Weld address a giant budget shortfall.

Charlie had received a master's degree in management from Northwestern's Kellogg School, so was prepared when the Weld/Cellucci administrations asked him to be secretary of Health and Human Services, then secretary of Administration & Finance. Soon he was implementing changes in public policy that saved taxpayers millions of dollars. He was later elected selectman in Swampscott.

My point being: Charlie Baker has experience as a taxpayer advocate, think-tank idea man, state official and local official. Then there's his experience turning around Harvard Pilgrim's finances as its CEO. This put him in a position to become involved in the Massachusetts health care debate; I remember him telling me about his priority for Gov. Romney's legislation, the transparency about various plans that would help consumers make their decisions.

After Romney left, the Legislature never got around to the cost-control part. If voters want to fix the state health care law, and all the other things wrong with this state, then they need to elect Baker. He worked with Weld, cutting taxes and spending during that state fiscal crisis, overseeing welfare reform.

Another favorite memory of mine, if not Bill Weld's, was the time his young HHS secretary was negotiating with human service providers, who were making their usual accusations about budget cutters not caring about the poor. Charlie was quoted in the Globe telling them to "cut the crap" and be useful. I sent him a note of congratulations while liberals screamed. But as I recall it, the advocates settled down and began working with him to address abuses while supporting real services.

Having had experience with advocates, the media and negotiating with unions (and with me, in my difficult phase), Charlie can deal with anything; He can make the commonwealth work. However, he can't save it by himself. Voters mustn't do to him what they did to Mitt Romney: elect him for reform, but give him no help from fresh, committed legislators.

No governor, alone, can change the Massachusetts tradition of irresponsible spending leading to high taxes, high debt and huge, unfunded liabilities. Voters must carefully pick "their team" in both the executive and legislative branches, come November. I've got my own team lined up, from Charlie Baker down the ticket to a local state rep. candidate. If you too help some good candidates win, you will share in the excitement of this revolutionary election year.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.

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