Opinions, Column

Baker’s Expert Bipartisanship

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has been absent from so many recent protests that many people have started to ask the question: “Where is he?” Baker wasn’t at the Boston Women’s March, and he has not gone out to protest President Donald Trump’s ridiculous Muslim ban. He hasn’t visited a mosque like George W. Bush did after Sept. 11, 2001, and he hasn’t pledged to support Boston as a sanctuary city. Many might suspect that he is secretly a Trump supporter or some type of immigrant hater—a Republican insurgent, maybe.

I disagree. I see Baker’s lack of protesting as an even more powerful protest against the polarizing current of modern society.

In today’s age, you’re either on the left or the right. There’s Trump’s inauguration one day, a progressive Women’s March the next, and the day after that the conservative March For Life. People on Facebook and all over the internet are sounding the alarm within their personal bubbles, unfriending people who disagree with them and subscribing to whichever media outlets tell them what they want to hear.

Former President Bill Clinton acknowledged this in a recent interview with Daily Show host Trevor Noah: “America has come so far … We have one remaining bigotry: We don’t want to be around anyone who disagrees with us.” It is disappointing to see a strong nation torn apart by polarizing political parties. People are isolated within their own little groups, and the moderate middle, which is the nation’s greatest defense against further polarization, is disappearing.

Beacon Hill, however, is a completely different world than Washington, D.C. As an intern at the Massachusetts State House in 2014, I got to hear from a lot of different state senators, state representatives, former governors, and even Baker himself. These were Democrats and Republicans alike. What I noticed among all of them was a spirit of collaboration.

Democrats told me to look past the liberal media and try reading a conservative magazine once in a while. Republicans told me about how important it was to make friends across the aisle, and that no one was too worried about party lines because, otherwise, the government could come to a standstill. When the government doesn’t work, politicians cannot help the people in their respective communities, which is why they were elected in the first place. I could hardly believe that I was witnessing American politics. Today, I think of Massachusetts politics as one of the last holdouts of compromise and togetherness in an increasingly divided nation.

Baker is the epitome of such a system, which is exactly why he seldom says a word about national politics. He didn’t vote for a presidential candidate, and he won’t attend any anti-Trump rallies. He is completely put-off by American polarization, and that’s okay because he is the governor, not a senator. Massachusetts voters made him the governor of their state, not their representative to the nation. He doesn’t want to fight with Washington, and it’s not his job to do so.

This strategy is extremely effective. Baker has made sweeping progress on transgender rights, closed a $1 billion budget gap, made Massachusetts the No. 1 state for innovation, and began the “Commonwealth Commitment,” which cut the cost of state schools in half.

Announcing all of these accomplishments in his State of the Commonwealth address, Baker took none of the credit for himself. Instead, he gave a personal thank you to seemingly everyone in the room. He has increased government efficiency while also providing important civil liberties to marginalized groups of people, appeasing both Democrats and Republicans. His approval rating is 70 percent, tied for second highest in the nation among governors.

However successful and popular he may be, I can understand that it is frustrating to not see the governor by your side when taking a stand on something that is especially important to you. But that does not always mean the governor is against you.

In mid-April 2016, Baker took the time to go to a rally for an LGBTQ organization to express his support for the community. At the time, a transgender rights bill was working its way through the legislature. Baker didn’t want to commit to signing the bill at that time because he wanted to have further discussions with all the people involved. Passionate advocates were screaming at him, yelling “Trans rights now!,” and at least one person even started crying. It was seen as a betrayal. Nevertheless, in July, when the bill was finalized and put on his desk, he signed it into law. Baker was not and is not against transgender rights or the interests of their community. He showed that he cared not with his words, but with his actions.

What is commendable and unique about Baker is that he also took the time to talk to the people who opposed the bill before making his final decision. Instead of taking up the banner for one side, he included everyone in the conversation. Baker doesn’t burn bridges, which has allowed him to be so effective even with a Democrat supermajority in both chambers of the legislature.

The consequences of polarization are especially apparent at the national level. The most clear example of this was when the government shut down a few years ago because Republicans and Democrats were unable to come up with a budget. This past election was another result of polarization. Both major party candidates had well over 50 percent disapproval ratings. This stark division is not in the best interest of anyone.

Baker is a governor. He is not an activist, and he is not a senator. He is a compassionate listener. He hardly ever hits the streets, unless an issue is going to directly affect his job as governor, like expanding local charter schools and legalizing marijuana. To not see our governor out protesting injustices is a disappointment, but it is a worthy trade-off to have a thoughtful and competent head of the Commonwealth.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Staff

February 8, 2017