My friends who live in Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina have a case of Governor’s envy. They, like me, have come to appreciate what it means to have strong local leadership in the midst of a pandemic. And what it means not to have it. And from what they can see while they are elsewhere hunkered down at home, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker looks to be the right person at the right time.
My Florida pals are especially envious because, early on in this health crisis, they spent weeks panicked for their safety while their governor, Ron DeSantis, refused to close the beaches and bars. Effectively turning coastal towns into human petri dishes for the novel coronavirus.
But here in Massachusetts, Governor Baker took several initial steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 — shutting down all but essential businesses statewide, and the schools, and banning in-person visits at assisted living facilities. His own policy separating him from his 91-year-old father for the first time in 50 years.
The guy some call the "bluest Republican" did try early on to work with President Trump to secure desperately needed personal protection equipment, or PPE, from the national stockpile. But he withdrew from those conversations, publicly complaining about the frustrating chaotic process. And then he helped engineer a secret mission with New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft sending a Patriots plane to China to pick up masks for Massachusetts’ frontline health care workers — with enough extra for New York. Who would have thought that the guy who looks like a Lacoste ad could pull off an OG — Original Gangsta — move like that? New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo may be inspiring marriage proposals, but I would argue Gov. Baker’s straight talk and steady hand on the tiller is awfully appealing.
With the coronavirus as his main focus right now, Baker is on the largest stage of his political career addressing a huge daily audience, attempting to communicate to the nearly 7 million residents [of Mass.] about safety, and concentrated efforts to expand testing. His demeanor is calm, firm and occasionally emotional.
By contrast the President’s daily coronavirus briefings are, in the words of the Bard, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Last week President Trump angrily insisted that he had the “total authority” to reopen the country for business. While the President repeated his unconstitutional tirade, Gov. Baker joined forces with six East Coast Democratic Governors in a regional effort to determine when to lift stay at home orders. He dismissed the President’s tweet about the Governors' “mutiny,” saying “We’re focused on the work, not the noise.”
Lest you think I’m channeling Vice President Pence’s prostrating at the feet of the President, this is not a Hallelujah chorus for Gov. Baker. He deserved the pre COVID-19 criticism for his handling of the MBTA mess, and his characterizing Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s remarks at the annual Boston MLK breakfast as a “rant,” though he later apologized.
He’s rebounded handling the local impact of the coronavirus. A Suffolk County/Boston Globe poll last month found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they trusted his handling of the coronavirus. I’ve never been so relieved to live in a state where the person in charge embraces careful planning and respects medical and scientific experts.
This is definitely Charlie Baker’s moment. I’m counting on him to lead us through this period of fear and uncertainty, so we are prepared to face a post COVID-19 Massachusetts. It’ll be a long time before I spend time in Florida.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the name of the current governor of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo.