The loudest and longest applause line Gov. Charlie Baker received in Tuesday night's State of the Commonwealth was when he rebuked insult politics. Baker was too polite to mention names, but there was little doubt he was referring to Twitter-happy President Donald Trump and rock-throwing Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“It’s one thing to stand in a corner and shout insults at your opponents," Baker said near the tail end of his speech. "It’s quite another to climb into the arena and fight for common ground. I believe it’s this conversation that makes us strong."
Thus did Baker claim civility as the hallmark of his own style. And, by aspiration, he sought to establish it as a Bay State norm.
Two years into his administration, Baker knows that to advance his fiscally conservative agenda on deep-blue Beacon Hill, he's going to need Legislative Democrats to go along with him. Courting the Legislature may seem quaint at the dawn of a presidency that seeks to establish it own alternative facts and its own alternative reality with its own abrasive style.
Baker made it clear that he seeks to win this legislative year, by playing to the center.
The flavor of the night was bipartisanship. Baker's job, he made clear, was to govern. And these themes were buttressed by the rest of his speech, which focused on the accomplishments of his first term.
Baker was direct. At the outset of his speech, the governor addressed not only the citizens of the Commonwealth, but the Legislature directly, thanking them for their cooperation and asking for their cooperation going forward.
“Our obligation to the people we serve is too important to place politics and partisanship before progress and results. The changes in Washington don’t change this powerful obligation. Our jobs remain the same. That is to represent Massachusetts to Washington and not Washington to Massachusetts," Baker said.
Baker warned reporters Monday that his Tuesday night speech would feature some "victory laps" to remind the Legislature what they've accomplished.
He wasn't kidding, as much of the speech was dedicated to budget prudence, transportation improvements, relations and aid to municipalities, child welfare, homelessness and drug abuse treatment, all topics on which Democrats and Baker have seen eye-to-eye.
In New Bedford, Baker said, the struggling city turned around a 6.5 percent unemployment rate to just 3.7 percent in the past year, due in no small part, Baker said, to the business-friendly economic development bills he and House Speaker Robert DeLeo have shepherded into law.
“It’s not an accident that Massachusetts is such an attractive place to do business. It’s a reflection of the quality of our people and the business climate we’ve create," Baker said.
Baker was short on new policy suggestions, mentioning only a handful of new initiatives he said he'll propose in upcoming legislation or in the budget plan he's set to file tomorrow afternoon. A plan to add $2 million to combat drug trafficking; a $4,000 tax credit to encourage businesses to hire veterans and a focus on new technologies like robotics, autonomous vehicles and cyber security were mentioned as future plans.
“Success in protecting databases and smart machines will ensure that people benefit from the best ideas in science, engineering and technology for decades to come," Baker said.
There was applause from Democrats in the chamber throughout the speech, but critics made their voices heard.
Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is looking at challenging Baker in 2018, took aim at Baker and his Legislative allies, saying in a statement that "it is time to ask why Beacon Hill seems to value 'getting along' and a 'spirit of collaboration' more than transparency and making tough decisions."
Warren blamed Democratic budget-writers for using one-time revenue sources to balance the state's books and accused his party-mates of being unwilling to raise taxes to stop service cuts.
"Beacon Hill 'gets along' and 'compromises' to craft budgets that rely on one-time spending and leave Massachusetts in a perpetual state of contrived economic crisis," Warren said.