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Baker alters campaign style for latest gubernatorial run

June 25, 2014 | G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker said he has learned a few things about running for office since he faced Gov. Deval Patrick four years ago. One of those lessons is that “you can’t talk about everything.”

This time Baker is emphasizing three issues during his campaign: “more jobs, better schools, especially on the achievement gap and stronger communities.”

During a western Massachusetts campaign swing on June 23, Baker visited Elms College and attended a fundraiser in Springfield. He also took time to speak with Reminder Publications during a break at the Munich Haus restaurant.

Baker, however, is open to about any question. When asked what he envisions as his relationship with western Massachusetts, he said he intends to “think about each part of Massachusetts on its own terms.”    

He is concerned about “a growing problem with what I call is access to opportunity.”

He added, “Not everyone has the same access to opportunity.”

He noted that Boston might be known for its high tech, financial and education sectors, in the Pioneer Valley there are 3,000 people employed in precision machining with 500 to 1,000 jobs going unfulfilled. He said he wants to build on those specific strengths.

“What drives one county is different than another,” he said.

“One size does not fit all,” Baker added when it comes to economic development planning.

He said that based on his conversations, the problem with job development in western Massachusetts isn’t the cost of labor or land, which are issues “inside [Rt.] 128,” but whether or not there are enough skilled workers.

Baker said he would like to leverage the Knowledge Corridor – a designated area that runs through Connecticut and western Massachusetts known for its concentration of colleges and universities – to develop partnerships with private businesses not unlike the co-op program operated by Northeastern University.

He praised a program at the Elms College that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 20 months, preparing them for a job in health care.

One the issue of commuter rail linking western Massachusetts to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority trains in Worcester and the commuter line Connecticut is building to the Massachusetts border. Baker readily admitted, “I’m a little vague on the numbers [statistics and cost].”

He believes a discussion on expanded commuter rail should be part of a statewide plan and he would like to review and discuss it.

Baker did not directly answer a question whether or not he supported the effort to repeal the legislation that made casinos legal in the state.

He did say he would have preferred seeing one casino licensed instead of three in the state. “Let’s see what happens from there,” he added.

Baker expressed concern about the impact of the proposed three casinos on local businesses and the state lottery. He did say the MGM plan of integrating the casino within the South End is interesting and MGM will add much to the community by its use of the MassMutual Center.

Baker is the former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and the candidate has a lot to say about improving the health care system in the state and how to reduce costs.

He said the Commonwealth needs a “more muscular primary care system than we have now.”  Rather than seeing a primary care physician to prevent illnesses or to manage chronic conditions, people become sick and see specialists, which are more expensive.

Baker said studies have shown that by proactively managing conditions through primary care, costs can be reduced. It will also improve the health of patients, he added.

He has seen first hand how time and money can be used on fulfilling “regulatory stuff associated with health care” and would like to reduce “what I can the ‘adminis-trivia.’”

If elected, Baker would pursue waivers that would exempt Massachusetts from some of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act because of the state’s own health insurance requirements. He believes that more of the decision-making should be on health care on the state level.

Baker noted there is no “price-performance data in the public domain” when it comes to health care costs. For the past 10 years, Baker has believed prices should be publicly posted and he noted that from provider to provider the costs of care could vary between 200 and 300 percent.

While Baker doesn’t anticipate people becoming “Wal-Mart shoppers” for health care, he does believe health care providers would benefit if potential patients could see and compare prices and performance evaluations. He explained another side of this issue is that people don’t know what the cost differences are between care paid for by private insurance and by Medicare and Medicaid.

There’s no transparency in the system and there should be, he said.

Although the relationship between governors, regardless of their party, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature can be contentious, Baker said that based on his experience as Secretary of Administration and Finance under Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci for eight years, he can work in a bipartisanship fashion.

Noting he has worked with independents and Democrats in both the health care industry and government, he said, “I think you have a unique opportunity as a Republican governor to create a check and balance between you and the Legislature.”

The differences can “force a conversation” between the two sides, he added.

“I like the idea having both teams on the field and you’re in that conversation,” Baker said.

Citing that he has known both state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert DeLeo “for a long time,” he said he’s not worried about working with them.

In terms of business development, Baker said his emphasis would be on retaining businesses, which he said would attract new ones. What he hears most from people is “time and complexity.”  

He said, “People don’t have a year to wait for a decision that can be made in some other states in two months.”

Permitting in the state should become simpler and quicker, he explained.

The interview was interrupted at one point by several supporters who told Baker, “You better win this time.”

Baker said one element of his last campaign that he didn’t do well was to allow people with whom he worked to speak on his behalf, such as nurses who worked with him at Harvard Pilgrim.

Some candidates like to be known as “the education governor” or the “job development” governor, but when asked about how he would describe himself in a few words, Baker replied, “This sounds a little corny, a success.”

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