Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican coming off a decisive re-election victory in Massachusetts, stuck to familiar policy themes and appealed for bipartisan governing as he embarked on his second four-year term.
Baker was warmly received by the overwhelmingly Democratic-controlled Legislature as he and Lt. Gov Karyn Polito entered the House of Representatives chamber for Thursday's swearing-in ceremony. He placed his hand on a bible held by his 90-year-old father, also Charles Baker, for the oath of office.
In his inaugural address, the governor bemoaned an era of "snapchats, Facebook and Instagram posts, putdowns and smack-downs," in urging lawmakers to avoid "bickering and name calling'' prevalent in today's political culture.
"Let others engage in the cheap shots and low blows. Let's make our brand of politics positive and optimistic, instead of cruel and dark," he said.
While the remarks clearly appeared aimed at President Donald Trump and congressional leaders, the Republican governor mentioned neither by name in his speech. Baker has been a frequent critic of the president and administration policies after saying he did not cast a vote in the 2016 election over concerns about Trump's "temperament."
Baker captured roughly two-thirds of the vote in his November re-election against Democrat Jay Gonzalez. Polls taken during his first term have suggested he is one of the nation's most popular governors. He's been helped by a vibrant state economy which, he noted, has generated 200,000 new jobs over the last four years.
Many Democrats, however, have signaled that they will expect more concrete achievements from Baker's administration over the next four years in areas such as the state's ailing transportation system and improving educational opportunities for low-income children. Some have called on the governor to ease his no-new-taxes mantra in the interest of creating new sources of revenue for some of Massachusetts' most pressing needs.
Baker said in his address that he would propose changes to the state's education funding formula which critics say shortchanges students in low-income or underperforming school districts.
"When it comes to the difference in performance between urban and suburban school districts, we can and must do better," said Baker, adding he would provide specifics of the plan when he files a state budget later this month.
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Reforming the funding formula was also listed as a key priority Tuesday by Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka as the Legislature began its 2019-2020 session, though House and Senate leaders have been unable in recent years to reconcile differing approaches.
While there were few other specific new initiatives outlined in the speech, Baker promised to continue focusing on key issues that dominated his first term, such as improving public transportation, confronting climate change, lowering health care costs and battling the opioid addiction crisis. He also indicated he would propose another bill to address the shortage of affordable housing in the state after a previous legislative effort fell short.
The Republican dedicated his inauguration to first responders, including several Massachusetts law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the lines of duty in recent years. He called for changes that would allow judges to consider previous crimes in determining whether a defendant is too dangerous to be released on bail.
"Too often, dangerous career criminals are arrested only to be released as soon as they appear in court. This sort of revolving door serves to undermine people's faith in law enforcement and the courts," he said.
Baker and Polito were scheduled to attend several inauguration celebrations Thursday in Boston, Springfield and Worcester.