Baker, Dem leaders ally on Olympics, other issues
BOSTON (AP) — In some ways they seem a mismatched trio: Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican from upscale Swampscott; House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a moderate Democrat from working-class Winthrop; and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, the more liberal Democrat from the college town of Amherst.
Yet despite following different paths to power, the “big three” — as they’re often dubbed in Statehouse corridors — have mostly succeeded in forging an image of bipartisan cooperation during Baker’s early months in office, most notably during Boston’s now defunct pursuit of the 2024 Olympics.
The trio agreed on the strategy of hiring a consultant to review the bid to determine if state taxpayers could be adequately protected from exposure to cost overruns. Their insistence upon waiting for the consultant’s findings before lending support to the bid ultimately became a key factor in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s decision to ditch Boston.
While it was a coincidence that Baker, DeLeo and Rosenberg were holding a regularly-scheduled leadership meeting when the final word came down, it was no coincidence they emerged standing side-by-side before TV cameras. While Baker did most of the talking, all read from roughly the same script, declining to express either disappointment or relief over the bid’s demise.
Beyond the Olympics, Baker and the Democratic leaders have largely avoided public bickering on other hot-button issues, such as overhauling the beleaguered Boston-area transit system and patching a budget deficit Baker inherited upon taking office. It’s been noted that the relationship between Baker and the Democrats has often seemed warmer than the one between DeLeo and Rosenberg, who have quarreled in past months over legislative rules and taxation powers.
While Baker and Rosenberg may be the furthest apart on the ideological spectrum, Rosenberg has noted that he and the governor share a passion for the nitty-gritty of governing.
“We’re both policy wonks to a certain degree,” he once said in an Associated Press interview. “We basically can disagree without being disagreeable.”
How long the alliance can hold up without serious cracks remains to be seen and could begin to come into view when the Legislature returns from summer recess in September.
Baker certainly won’t expect any free ride from Massachusetts Democratic Party officials who recall warily the election in 1990 of another popular Republican, William Weld, which started a 16-year hold on the governor’s office by the GOP until Democrat Deval Patrick’s election in 2006.
In recent press statements, the party sharply criticized Baker for vetoing $162 million in “crucial services” in the state budget before “hobnobbing with Republican presidential candidates” at a Republican Governor’s Association meeting in Colorado.
For now, the dynamics between the big three are likely driven as much by political pragmatism as mutual admiration. As a Republican in Massachusetts, Baker has little margin for error in dealing with the Democratic supermajorities that control both chambers. An example of that math came in the past week when lawmakers effortlessly overturned nearly $100 million of the budget vetoes without upholding a single one that came up for a vote.
Conversely, Democratic leaders realize Baker is riding high in public opinion polls, in part because of his handling of record winter snowstorms, so alienating the governor could risk alienating constituents.
In the background may also be a desire to repair public confidence in the Legislature after the convictions last year of three former probation department officials in what federal prosecutors called a scheme to rig the agency’s hiring process to favor politically connected applicants. The names of DeLeo and several other legislators came up during the trial, though none were ever charged with crimes.
GOP officials, meanwhile, see a clear opening to bolstering their ranks on Beacon Hill — a sign the good feelings may be fleeting.
The national Republican State Leadership Committee said Thursday it was including Massachusetts as one of its growth targets in the 2016 election. Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the MassGOP, touted Baker’s early successes and the “opportunity to capitalize on that momentum” to pick up more seats.