Baker Reflects on 1st 100 Days in Office

The new governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, dealt with a particularly harsh winter in his first 100 days in office.

The state's new governor, Charlie Baker, glanced out the window of a briefing room at the bare ground outside and remarked that while he had plenty of other fiscal problems to deal with, at least he was "not that worried about the snow and ice budget."

That was Jan. 20.

Within days, Baker's misplaced optimism would lie buried under the first of a bruising series of winter storms that shattered snowfall records, collapsed roofs, brought public transportation to a near standstill and quickly exhausted snow removal budgets for the state and its cities and towns.

For Baker, a Republican who ran on a platform of reforming and streamlining the machinery of state government, it meant putting some major policy initiatives on the back burner as he struggled to guide the state through its winter of epic discontent.

"There is no question that in this particular job, you shouldn't be surprised when you get surprised," said Baker, reflecting on his first 100 days in office during an interview with The Associated Press.

Despite the weather, the governor said, he was able to achieve key objectives of his early tenure: assembling a strong team to lead his administration, taking steps to right the state's fiscal ship and strengthening the state's ties with local governments.

The record snowstorms, meanwhile, provided an opening to dramatically restructure the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Baker said, after countless riders were left stranded on frigid platforms waiting for trains and buses that never arrived.

"I certainly don't ever want to see what happened this winter happen again with respect to the T," he said, adding that he planned to file legislation next week to implement some of the recommendations of a special commission he formed. That panel found a "pervasive organizational failure" at the transit agency.

Baker acknowledged that the MBTA's deficiencies rarely came up during his own yearlong campaign for governor, and the T wasn't among the key challenges facing state government that he cited in his inaugural address. The governor also faced some criticism after initially appearing to distance himself from the T as service deteriorated - suggesting it was an independent agency outside his control.

He attributed the early hesitation to past reform measures that "moved the governor's office further and further away from the T each time." He would eventually become heavily involved with the transit recovery efforts, directing National Guard troops to help clear snow from tracks and securing private buses to help shuttle passengers when a branch of the Red Line shut down.

Baker took office amid questions about a Republican governor's ability to work with an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature. He appeared to answer those concerns - for now at least - by shepherding through the House and Senate a bill to close a $768 million budget deficit inherited from the administration of Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

In a recent address to area business leaders, state Senate President Stan Rosenberg praised Baker for forging a "productive relationship" with Democratic lawmakers, which he attributed in part to Baker's experience as a top Cabinet official in previous Republican administrations.

"We won't agree all the time," Rosenberg said. "But let's just keep the lines of communication open and not let things break down. We don't want to be Washington."

Baker, who named several Democrats to his own Cabinet, believes he has lived up to his promise to be a bipartisan leader and seems comfortable with his growing national profile as a moderate force within the GOP.

"I hope what that means is I'm a proactive problem solver that doesn't really care where a good idea comes from," he said.

Jeffrey Berry, a professor of American politics and political behavior at Tufts University, said Baker showed his fiscal acumen by responding with relative ease to the budget deficit and demonstrated leadership in his handling of the snow crisis. But the weather, Berry added, likely forestalled other early accomplishments as the governor approached Friday's 100-day milestone.

"I don't think he was able to take full advantage of the honeymoon because the snowstorms got in the way," Berry said. "He was responding to another agenda, not his own agenda."

As for his ill-timed January remark about the mild winter Massachusetts had been enjoying: "Believe me, you will never see me say that again during my time in this job," Baker declared. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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