By Joe Finn, MHSA President & Executive Director
If conservatives find you too liberal, and liberals find you too conservative, then chances are, you must be doing something right. It means, perhaps, that you are approaching governance from a perspective of what is right to do under any given set of circumstances. In my mind, this represents Charlie Baker’s legacy as Governor of Massachusetts. This does not mean that he was always right or that every decision he made was flawless – it was not. He certainly heard from MHSA enough. But it did mean that he did not approach governance from some predetermined ideological bromide, which so many of us are so tired of, but instead from the facts as he understood them and what best served the people of Massachusetts.
I did not plan to write this farewell to him until I listened to his interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper and Baker quoted David Bowie. This is not because I was a tremendous fan of David Bowie – I was unfortunately oblivious to most of the musical artists of my generation. But rather, his noting Bowie’s prediction of the consequences of the internet upon our culture reflected that eclectic thought and reflection Baker brought to government. It reflected his personal philosophy of governing. He was thoughtful and not reactive to events happening around him. He allowed such reflection to inform the decisions he made, and he looked to all aspects of culture and society for his own thought related to public events. It is this approach of his to governing that I will truly miss.
I am not suggesting here that Baker was not political. He was quite political. But he was aware of something many elected individuals miss, that one of the key elements to being a politician is to be yourself. It was that aspect of his character that made him so successful over eight years of governing the Commonwealth. Perhaps this was learned as much in his failed electoral attempt as in his later successful elections. He was quick to grasp that the tired political rhetoric of political extremes was not effective in Massachusetts. Listening was more effective. He knew how critical it was to listen as well as to proclaim. The lessons he learned as a Selectman in Swampscott served him well.
A theme I have often stressed to anyone willing to listen is that we give far too much credence in our political culture to opinions. Unfortunately, opinions are legion – anyone can have one no matter how ill-informed or false. Our leaders are not elected to express opinions. Opinions are a luxury they cannot afford. They are called to make decisions. Governor Baker was never afraid to make and implement a decision based wholly on the facts on the ground. He would defend such decisions based on the facts as he understood them and not based solely upon a specific ideological position. In any discussion you had with him, though you may have disagreed in opinion, you at least knew decisions were rooted in reality, not ideology.
I have great hope that our new Governor-elect seems to be cut from similar cloth, but all that lies in the future. This essay is simply to say something not said often enough in our public discourse: thank you. Thank you, Governor Baker, for your years of service to our Commonwealth.