February 14, 2010
Charlie Baker is going to be asking the voters of Southeastern Massachusetts to turn from Gov. Deval Patrick and the Democrats in the November election.
He will be counting on convincing voters here that he is the savvy business leader who can dig the state out of a frightening financial and economic mess.
That might be a tough sell all by itself for the former head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which was placed in receivership by the state's insurance commissioner shortly after he became its chief executive officer and which needed nearly $250 million in a state-sponsored bond issue to remain afloat. He also was the state's secretary of administration and finance during part of the Big Dig project.
What voters need to know now is that if the Patrick/Murray administration loses, New Bedford and Fall River lose their last, best hope for commuter rail to Boston.
Despite the painful fiscal crisis that has gripped the state for two years, no governor has been a better advocate for Southeastern Massachusetts -- New Bedford in particular -- than this one. He has been here more often and listened more closely to the region's elected leaders, economic development officers and fishing industry representatives in three years than his Republican predecessors did in the prior 16.
And Baker's at best lukewarm support for the region's commuter rail project offers few of us comfort that this most vital economic development initiative will go anywhere under his administration.
For too long, Southeastern Massachusetts has been forced to accept the scraps that fall from the only table that really has mattered to Beacon Hill: Boston and the wealthy suburbs nearby.
The Republicans' real constituency is in those wealthy suburbs, so none of us should be surprised that Baker doesn't much like the preferred rail route that would send trains along the so-called Stoughton route and through the wealthy communities that line it.
Nine months must pass before voters will elect the next governor, and much will happen between now and then. But one thing has been clear for two decades and is clear now: The Republicans will not do much, if anything, on South Coast Rail if they can help it. They would rather talk about other things, but the other things that GOP governors have talked about haven't helped much in old mill towns like Fall River and New Bedford, where unemployment and underemployment are chronic.
It is up to us in Southeastern Massachusetts, therefore, to force the conversation.
South Coast Rail and the future of historic old cities like New Bedford and Fall River must not be left out of the discussion during the 2010 election season. We must force statewide candidates to take positions on issues that are central to our future.
If we do not, we should not expect them to pay attention to us after Election Day.