Charlie Baker, former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and onetime finance chief for governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci, was scheduled to file papers this week to officially open his gubernatorial campaign. With that, he also unofficially kicks off the 2010 Massachusetts election season.
Baker does so with the tailwind of a stunning Boston Globe poll, reported this past Sunday, that showed widespread disenchantment with Governor Deval Patrick. Also hoping to take advantage of Patrick's blues are supermarket tycoon Christy Mihos, who has announced his second run at the office, this time as a Republican, and State Treasurer Tim Cahill, who is widely expected to announce his Independent candidacy later this summer.
The four candidates will have plenty of money to throw around, and with their early announcements they'll have plenty of time to campaign. The question is, will they thoughtfully deliberate the pressing issues facing the Commonwealth?
Let's put it this way: in serious times like these, we can't afford the frivolous general-election campaign we had in 2006. That year, GOP nominee Kerry Healey ran a disgraceful crusade based on fear-mongering; Patrick, after winning a relatively robust primary contest, cautiously nursed a large lead in the polls.
Baker certainly has the knowledge and experience to seriously discuss issues that have by no means gone away with passage of the state budget: economic development, public revenues, health-care-cost containment, and transportation, for starters.
However, the concern here is that Baker may play to his Republican primary audience by shrieking "socialism" and denouncing all taxes — or by saying that "Beacon Hill has . . . turned a crisis into calamity," as he does in the campaign video posted to his Web site earlier this week.
Fortunately, early signs are that Baker will not pander to the right on social issues, as his former boss Weld surprisingly and sadly did during his ill-fated run for governor of New York three years ago. Weld, a stalwart champion of gay rights, U-turned on his LGBT friends during that campaign.
To his credit, Baker recently affirmed his backing of same-sex marriage. He is also solidly pro-choice.
As for Patrick, we think he should welcome the chance to engage in a serious debate with a politician of substance, rather than the usual childish bickering with the crybabies of the legislature. In fact, that may be just what Patrick needs in order to gain the stature he has lost. (The Globe poll, for instance, recently found that residents trust the state legislature more than Patrick — that's particularly stunning given that all the recent indictments have been delivered to the House and Senate side of the building.)
But that resurgence will work only if Patrick uses the campaign to present his plans for guiding the state's economic recovery, and refrains from silly attack politics — unlike the state Democratic Party itself, which has already launched a "Big Dig Baker" Web site, tying the former state budget chief to the mismanaged project.
As for Cahill or Mihos, we are skeptical that they belong at the grown-ups table.
Mihos has hired sleezeball political charlatan Dick Morris to help him defeat Baker for the GOP nomination, and has already opted for gimmickry over substance when commenting on the most difficult state budget crisis in decades, by setting up a live Web-feed camera on the New Hampshire border (supposedly depicting Bay Staters fleeing our higher sales tax).
Cahill's contribution to the budget debate was to convince the legislature to include projected revenues from the state's entry into Powerball — even after he knew that Massachusetts would not be able to participate. This week, he needlessly inserted himself into a legal matter, publicly urging state officials to quickly resolve a toll-payer lawsuit, without taking a position on whether the suit even has merit. And his whining attempts to portray his defection from the Democrats as selfless, rather than self-serving, have been positively Palin-esque.
Baker and Patrick can do better, if they choose to. We hope they do.