Charles in charge?

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  October 7, 2010

Baker is taking pride in his willingness to "make the tough decisions," as he did in throwing thousands in Rhode Island off of their health insurance, according to a recent Boston Globe report. Questioned about it by media the next day, Baker promised to do the same for state government.

I posed a question Baker about his philosophy toward the state government's providing of human services — to the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted, the unemployed, and others. He answered that "the system is too complex," with too much of the budgets spent on administration and poor organizational structure.

I followed by inquiring whether any areas of human services that might be affected by his budget cuts, cause him any concern. He did not name any; instead he spoke again of cutting administration and bureaucracy. If Charlie Baker sees the "faces behind the budget" that Patrick speaks of, he doesn't let on.

That may or may not be an insight into Baker's character, but it definitely says something about his limitations as a candidate.

Those limitations are especially surprising, given Baker's close proximity to the campaigns of Weld, Romney, Brown, and others who were so good at it. (Baker even got to play-act as candidate, standing in as Ted Kennedy for Romney's debate practice in 1994, and as Cellucci's foe Scott Harshbarger in '98.) Interestingly, the one question of mine that most stumped Baker in our 10-minute interview was what he had learned and adopted from those other candidates.

Angry man
It is worth noting that Baker took my queries calmly and answered pleasantly. I have not personally been subject to the irked, petulant, and even angry behavior that several journalists have written about, and many others describe privately.

This is nothing new, apparently. A Boston Globe article from December 1994, not long after Baker moved to his state A&F position, suggested that he had "enrolled in the Bill Parcells School of Media Relations." Baker, it seems, "blew his stack" at reporters, calling them "[expletive] idiots."

"For Baker . . . such scatological outbursts are a kind of inaugural address," the article, a political column attributed to several writers, continued. "His last such eruption took place just after he got his previous Cabinet appointment."

Perhaps that helps explain why Baker has been generally ill-treated by local columnists and opinion-mongers — an odd turn, given the almost universal (and clearly mutual) dislike of Patrick in the fourth estate.

It may be another piece of the Baker persona, along with his failure to relate to average people and his seemingly cold heart toward the needy, that help explain his inability to connect with voters.

They may also see him as a bully, some argue — particularly in his rough and dismissive treatment of state treasurer Tim Cahill, running as an independent candidate. That continued this past week, when Cahill's running mate, Republican-turned-independent former state representative Paul Loscocco, defected to the welcoming arms of the Baker campaign.

Whatever the causes, Baker has somehow reached the final month of the campaign — the campaign he has been talking about for years — without nearly the level of goodwill he would want, to stand against the inevitable coming onslaught of attacks. He is still trying to close the deal with voters, who have not yet seen what convinced Baker and his wife, way back when, that he should be governor.

To read the "Talking Politics" blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at dbernstein@phx.com.

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