GOV. CHARLIE BAKER recalled a backyard party in the fall with many of his staff where his wife said the biggest challenge associated with public life is not being present for so many family events and occasions.
“I think she said it about me,” Baker said at a State House press conference Wednesday after announcing he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would not be seeking reelection next year. “The point she was making was that there’s a lot of time when I might be in the house but I’m just not there because I’m thinking about or processing or trying to find an answer to some other thing.”
Polito shared similar stories, noting her two children were in elementary school when she became lieutenant governor and they are in high school now. “I’ve had some real heart-to-hearts with my family about how do you feel about doing this again,” she said. “The feeling is we’d really like to spend more time with mom.”
Polito also made a surprising admission. Most political analysts view the lieutenant governor’s job as a stepping stone to running for governor, but Polito indicated on Wednesday that was never her intention.
“My whole idea of running with the governor was to come into office with the governor, to serve as a team with the governor, and to finish with the governor,” she said.
The two politicians said they seesawed back and forth over the re-election decision for months as they struggled to deal with the pandemic and the normal course of government. Their campaigns were certainly active; between June and the end of October Baker raised $434,091 and Polito $362,321. Ultimately, however, they decided eight years in office would be enough.
They said that decision also freed them from what undoubtedly would have been a tough re-election campaign and allowed them to focus on spending the billions of dollars in federal aid the state has received and steering the state out of the pandemic.
“We think it’s most important that we spend the next year focusing on that and not focusing on — let’s call it discourse, and that’s probably an insult to the word discourse,” Baker said.
Much has been made of Baker’s low-standing with the tiny Trump-leaning Republican Party in Massachusetts and the potential challenges he would face in trying to win a Republican primary. Trump has already endorsed Geoff Diehl for governor and dismissed Baker as a RINO — Republican in name only.
Baker brushed questions about Trump and Diehl aside. He also laughed off a question about whether he would run for president and said it’s too early to start talking about life after Beacon Hill.
He was interested in talking about the type of politics he practices. “Our brand of politics, our approach to politics and both the way we operate and how we work with people and how we choose to focus on issues over personalities and motives stands apart from a lot of the bipartisan noise that is created in politics generally these days,” he said.
He said he wasn’t worried that his brand could evaporate in the next campaign, pulled apart by candidates on the left and right. On the contrary, he said, candidates will have to orient their campaigns towards the vast number of voters in the middle.
As for governing as lame ducks, Baker said he and Polito believe they can be effective, although their evidence for saying so was pretty limited. He said he and Polito heard Wednesday from people throughout state and local government and Baker said those people “sort of promised” they would continue to work with them for the remainder of the term.
As he left the State House press room, Baker wonkishly chided the many members of the press who showed up to talk about his political retirement to return when he starts talking about subjects like environmental infrastructure.