During his victory speech Tuesday night, Charlie Baker gave a preview of his second term that made a lot of people’s ears prick up.
“That’s gonna be nonstop, pedal-to-the-metal, let it rock!” Baker said exultantly.
But what does that memorable turn of phrase actually mean?
A few different possibilities spring to mind. Here’s one: Armed with an impressive mandate from two-thirds of the electorate, Baker becomes an irresistible force on Beacon Hill, as Democrats who’d previously opposed him in certain areas bow to the will of the voters.
It would make for a dramatic story line — but Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College, thinks it’s unlikely.
“He has absolutely no coattails at all,” Ubertaccio says of Baker. “All other statewide Republicans lost in landslides, and the Republican Party lost ground in the Legislature — including, it appears, losing the state Senate seat once held by Scott Brown.”
And that, in turn, suggests that the Democrats who dominate the Legislature don’t have to worry about losing their jobs down the road if they balk at the items on Baker’s to-do list.
For the record, the governor doesn’t seem to envision himself steamrolling Beacon Hill Dems, either. At a post-election presser Wednesday, I asked Baker if his mandate might convince Democrats to back ideas they’d previously opposed, like loosening zoning restrictions to ramp up housing production. He responded by sidestepping the question.
“What people really want more than anything is progress,” Baker said. “And they want progress on the things that are going to improve the quality of their lives here in Massachusetts. And we’ve had a good working relationship with the Legislature.”
So here’s another pedal-to-the-medal scenario: After four years of very moderate Republicanism —including plenty of denunciations of President Trump — Baker outs himself as a closet conservative and tacks hard to the right. This would confirm the suspicions of liberal Democrats who see Baker’s moderation as a façade he’s assumed for political purposes.
But when Baker met the press at the State House today, he didn’t wear a #MAGA hat, or drop any other hints of a rightward shift.
Instead, Baker said his landslide win confirms an argument he made throughout the course of the campaign — which also sounds a lot like yet another rebuke of Trumpism.
“I think the big message was, we would really rather have our elected officials working with one another and trying to get things done than sniping at each other,” Baker said.
Which brings us to a third scenario for Baker’s second term. The governor’s conservative critics have complained for a while now that he’s a Republican in name only. What if they’re right? And what if his lopsided win makes Baker comfortable enough to actually acknowledge that — say, by leaving the GOP and governing as an independent, or by embracing liberal ideas like increasing taxes to improve transportation and education?
Again — heck of a storyline, if it comes to pass. But Ubertaccio doubts it will.
“Charlie Baker’s been a Republican his whole life,” Ubertaccio says. “He is a Massachusetts Republican, which is fiscally conservative and socially moderate.
“That, I think, is who Charlie Baker is by temperament. It would be astonishing if he decided to switch gears, and call for a major tax overhaul or increase.”
So maybe “nonstop, pedal to the metal, rock and roll” doesn’t mean the same thing to Charlie Baker that it might to you or me. Instead of using the phrase to suggest he’s going to get crazy in Term Two, Baker might just be really excited about four more years of moderate, consensus-driven, respectful bipartisan governance.
Actually, make that at least four years — because on Wednesday, Baker refused to rule out seeking a third term in 2022.
“I really like this job, and I really appreciate the voters’ decision to give us a chance to do it," he said. "But any decision like that would be made a long ways down the road.”
A road he promises to ride with the pedal to the metal.