Here's the finished story from this weekend covering Republican politics in Western Massachusetts.
A couple of observations: I will find it interesting if Brown's supporters don't share the stance he has taken as an independent voice who will not always vote with his Republican colleagues. His comments about abortion have already caused some comment – he is against federal funding on abortions, but supports a woman's right to choice.
And the fact we have a gay Republican running for lt. governor is also one that social conservatives here might have a problem with.
Brown meets his supporters.
Charles Baker, State Rep. Don Humason and State Sen. Mike Knapik
The Republican spotlight was on Western Massachusetts last week with two events signifying a renewed interest in the GOP here.
Senator-elect Scott Brown kicked off a “thank you” tour of the state with an appearance in Chicopee on Friday that drew over 500 people. On Saturday, over 200 supporters met Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charles Baker and his running mate State Sen. Richard Tisei at a campaign event at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The bitter cold didn’t keep them away.
The lines were around the front of the He Ke Lau restaurant in Chicopee on Friday morning with people waiting patiently to enter the restaurant showroom to see Brown on the first of several stops around the state to thank supporters for sending him to the Senate.
Even as the doors were open and the event was underway, people still kept coming. Local officials who attended included Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette, Chicopee City Councilor Jay Croteau, George Moreau, Frank LaFlamme, and Charles Swider, Chicopee School Committee member Adam LaMontagne, Springfield City Councilor John Lysak, State Sens. Michael Knapik and Stephen Buoniconti and State Reps. James Welch, Michael Kane, John Scibak and Thomas Petrolati.
It was evident, though, the event was far less about Brown meeting with other elected officials and more about greeting the people who voted for him.
The event drew not only local press but also reporters from Boston television stations as well as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press.
Both Buoniconti and Knapik, who served with Brown in the State Senate, praised him for his bipartisanship and his willingness to listen and participate in debate.
Buoniconti said that in political circles Chicopee is a “bellwether community.”
“How goes Chicopee, goes the state,” he said. He added that when he learned Chicopee had gone for Brown he knew Brown had won the race.
Knapik said that Brown is “the real deal, a regular guy.” He added that in Massachusetts, Republicans have to work with Democrats to get legislation passed and that is a lesson Knapik predicted he will carry to Washington, D.C.
Knapik added Brown’s election was “a wake-up call to both parties.”
Driving himself from his home in his now famous truck, Brown was on time for the noon event, and appeared on stage after introductions from local businessman Brian Corridan and comedian Steve Sweeney, a friend of Brown’s.
Brown joked the last time he was at the Hu Ke Lau he could fit all of his supporters in one booth.
Brown said that with the boxes of cards, e-mails and text messages from supporters, “I have to tell you I’m so humbled and so honored to be here to say thank you.”
“Right now all I say is that I’m everybody’s senator for almost the next three years. It’s my job to make sure we have full representation down there for everybody,” he said.
After his short remarks, Brown stepped off the stage and into what quickly began a mosh pit of supporters, eager to say hello or grab a photo and an autograph. Many people carried the Brown yard signs from their lawns, while others had photos taken during the campaign and newspaper clippings.
Although Brown did have another stop in Chicopee, he stayed at the Hu Ke Lau considerably past his scheduled time so he could greet everyone there.
The next day area Republicans gathered in an event room at the Basketball Hall of Fame to listen to the man who would like to be the Republican nominee for governor.
Charles Baker served as the Secretary of Administration and Finance under Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci and was more recently the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. He said he understands the problems of municipal government as he served on the Select Board of his hometown of Swampscott.
Baker’s message to his audience this weekend was the Patrick Administration and the Democratic controlled Legislature has made Massachusetts “a really tough place to do business.” The increase in taxes, the complexity of regulations and permitting and the mid-year budget cuts have resulted in the state not being a “reliable, predictable, dependable partner” for businesses, Baker said.
As an example, he cited the state has changed the corporate tax policy four times in the last seven years.
Richard Tisei is the minority leader of the State Senate. He represents the Middlesex and Essex District, which consists of Lynnfield, Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham and Wakefield. He won his first election in 1984 at the age of 22, becoming the youngest Republican ever elected to the Legislature. After serving six years in the House of Representatives, Tisei has been re-elected to ten consecutive Senate terms. He owns a real estate firm as well.
As a realtor, Tisei said he personally has heard the stories from people who have been forced to move out of the state either because they had lost their jobs here or because the cost of living is much more affordable elsewhere.
Tisei is openly gay – having come out in a Nov. 19, 2009 interview with the Boston Globe – and fought for marriage equality in the state. How social conservatives across the Commonwealth will view his candidacy remains to be seen. Clearly no one who attended the event this weekend seemed to care about Tisei’s private life, as he and Baker were warmly greeted.
Baker said the state shouldn’t rely any longer on one-time revenue sources such as federal stimulus money to stave off a problem. He said he would undertake structural reform to lower the cost of government.
He also promised to lower the sales tax back to five percent and bring the income tax to that level as well.
“You don’t need the Legislature to do a lot of this,” he said.
Baker’s approach to economic development would not be by manufacturing sector, but by region. He said that in his travels across the state he has seen how the economic development issues of Pittsfield differ from Springfield, which differ from Worcester.
When asked about the cost of health insurance, Baker said the Patrick Administration has failed on the issue of health care reform by decreasing options and increasing regulations. He said he would reverse this situation and that he would set in place a public disclosure of all health plan costs.
Baker charged that Gov. Deval Patrick has been watching what he has been doing. Patrick put in place policy changes to help the state fishing industry after Baker had called for the reforms. Baker said he had called for pensions reform before Patrick and that Patrick’s bill contained many of the provisions Baker had suggested.
After the event, Baker spoke with members of the press. He maintained the economic problems of the state had been caused more by state policy than they had been by the deep recession that started in 2008.
“I think if you look at the data that just came out this week about the U.S. economy and the Massachusetts economy, the US economy grew by six percent in the fourth quarter and the Massachusetts economy shrank by whatever it was .2 or .5 percent. It’s kind of an indicator right there.
“I also think the inability of this state to send a clear and consistent message about tax and regulatory policy is a huge issue when I talk to businesses about investment decisions, “ he added.
Baker said this lack of a new message is nothing new and added the state hasn’t added any new jobs in the past ten years.
If the state is serious about maintaining or attracting businesses, it would address issues such as the cost of electricity, which Baker said was double that of other states. Policy decisions made by the state, he asserted, have caused high prices. He cited one company that has moved its 400 jobs to North Carolina because of electricity costs.
Baker believes that part of the job of governor is “figuring out how to work with the Legislature” and said he will be able to do that.
His number one priority is “jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.”
To build jobs, he said his first task to fix the state budget.
Will Brown’s victory help Baker reach Beacon Hill? Baker believes there is some momentum for the Republican message.
In the last five months of 2009, Baker said he was at 200 events that attracted 15,000 people. “If you spent any time with the voters, the electorate, you knew this whole thing was about jobs … in Scott’s case it was all about federal spending, taxes and all the rest. It was a huge over-hang for that race. I think Republicans actually in Massachusetts have a pretty good track record on that fiscal stuff and the fiscal discipline stuff. I think that’s going to matter a lot,” he said.
For more on Baker’s candidacy, go to http://www.charliebaker2010.com/.
© 2010 by Gordon Michael Dobbs