Charlie Baker should be more like Deval Patrick

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Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick: Two very different Massachusetts governors. While it is obvious that Baker and Patrick share different political philosophies, they also have vastly different leadership styles.

Where Baker digs into details; Patrick focused on the big picture. Where Baker is all facts and figures; Patrick emphasized rhetoric. Where Baker is a technocrat, Patrick was an ideologue.

I’m a Republican who agrees far more with Baker’s philosophy than Patrick’s. So why do I find myself wishing that Charlie would lead more like Deval?

Deval Patrick often appeared to care little about the workings of state government, or his relationships with legislative leaders. In that regard, Patrick was a poor manager, and a less effective political figure. But no one on either side of the political aisle would seriously argue that Patrick was not a strong leader.

To the contrary, Patrick knew how to move the people of Massachusetts. Again and again, he took to the bully pulpit and with eloquent speeches and masterful use of the press he urged policies too liberal for the Massachusetts mainstream. He hammered away, often without opposition from Republicans, in favor of very liberal policies. He argued for massive, unpopular taxes to finance a wasteful transportation system, and for previously-defeated ideas such as in-state tuition for illegal aliens. He used his personal popularity to encourage people to go along with ideas they initially opposed. They did not start off in his corner, but he led them to where he wanted them to be.

Governor Baker, by contrast, is the ultimate business executive. He has been in office for a year, and has yet to use his enormous popularity to advocate for or against a policy where the people of Massachusetts aren’t already in agreement.

Baker has focused almost exclusively on being an effective manager — bringing needed competency and personnel-based solutions to state government. He deserves a lot of credit for getting key stakeholders and legislative leaders to go along with his proposals, by focusing on the nuts and bolts of making government work again, rather than making any big, ideological arguments. He has successfully tackled issues where we’ve seen an enormous breakdown of a current function of government, such as the MBTA disaster, the crisis at DCF, and the broken Health Connector website.

Who could be opposed to fixing these things?

But to truly leave a lasting conservative legacy, he’ll need to think outside the box, or our state government won’t stay “fixed” for long.

Charlie Baker ran as a Republican, and that needs to mean something more than competence, common sense, and saving taxpayers a few dollars around the edges. For Massachusetts to truly be put on strong footing again, we’re going to need to change the way we approach government, regulation, economic growth, taxation, and social policy.

He’s going to need to lead the people of Massachusetts to a more conservative way of viewing our state’s challenges and take on the Democrats way of thinking in a public way. His recent refusals to publically oppose Common Core, the bathroom bill, minimum wage hikes, and a millionaire tax, will eventually leave moderate and conservative supporters of many stripes unsatisfied and potentially seeking something more in future candidates.

To lead is to take a stand and encourage people to follow — not just people who already agree with you, but also those who you had to convince. Deval Patrick excelled at this, and Charlie Baker needs to begin to do it as well.

People need to move from “I like Charlie Baker, but I disagree with Republicans,” to “I like Charlie Baker and I’m willing to give Republican philosophy and ideas a chance.”

One of the largest failures of prior Massachusetts Republican governors and the state Republican party is that they have failed to capitalize on the personal popularity of Republican leaders to advance conservative ideas and lay the ground work for future generations. Baker needs to step up and make the affirmative case for conservative principles, not just competency, and not just when an issue is non-ideological.

Who understands this distinction? Congressman Seth Moulton. In the recent debate over Syrian refugees, he’s waded into an area where he lacks public support. Yet he is making forceful, personal, moral arguments with the intention of moving the needle and convincing the people of Massachusetts to adopt his way of thinking. He’s mimicking a style of liberal leadership designed to appeal to the base and echo earlier statements regarding immigrants and “unaccompanied minors” advocated by Deval Patrick. He’s taking an unpopular position, and trying to make it a palatable one. If he’s successful, it will help all Democrats up and down the ticket by inoculating them against attacks on these topics. He’s using his popularity to advance ideological goals.

Charlie Baker, and Republicans in general, need not pick up every cross nor tackle every sacred cow of liberalism.  But they do need to show that they’re willing to engage in the battle of ideas, not just in the management of government. As he approaches the end of his first year, Charlie Baker has been a great manager, but right now, he could use a serious dose of Deval Patrick.

Chanel Prunier is the Republican National Committeewoman from Massachusetts.