Analysis: As Decay of State Gov’t Grows, So Does Urgency of Task for Healey…
It has happened again.
Another state agency has become embroiled in controversy and ostensibly the cause is an appointment of former Governor Charlie Baker. It is a reminder that for the commonwealth to have the government it needs and deserves, it must reckon with the true legacy of a governor who polled better than a sunny spring day.
David D’Arcangelo, the head of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, is at the latest Baker appointee to exemplify the problem. A damning report in The Boston Globe found D’Arcangelo had pursued wasteful projects, verbally abused staff and undermined services for the visually impaired. He resigned Tuesday. The commission joins several agencies whose reform now falls to Governor Maura Healey. To do that will require spending political capital more artfully than Baker ever did.
At least rhetorically, Healey appreciates the scale of the challenge. Yet, filling out her admin has been a glacial process. Many Baker functionaries remain. It is plausible that even with the highest levels of her cabinet filled, her administration is only just beginning to discovery the rot in the upper echelons of agencies.
This blog is self-aware. They say a columnist has only a few dozen columns before they are writing the same one again and again. It is frustrating to keep beating the dead horse of Baker’s reign.
Still, there is no way to sugarcoat this. D’Arcangelo’s appointment mirrors the army of minimally qualified hangers-on Baker appointed, a stark contrast with the professionals he promised. D’Arcangelo’s principal qualification was being legally blind himself. He was rewarded with a plum post for conducting a suicide mission against Bill Galvin in 2014. The results speak for themselves. It is fair to ask why it took so long for problems to surface, but D’Arcangelo’s exit leaves little doubt the complaints had merit.
It is a pattern repeated at the former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and God knows the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. More agencies yet may burst thanks to lingering leadership. In some case, like the veterans homes, the process of reform began under Baker. Others have a long road ahead.
In addition to reps and senators, both the press, many advocates, and the people themselves deserve blame for this. Sophisticated actors like Reid Hoffman, a tech entrepreneur, LinkedIn founder, and usually Democratic donor was a Baker fan, too. Interestingly, in a recent interview with Kara Swisher, Hoffman explained how he defends government to his more libertarian colleagues in Silicon Valley.
“But if the government is actually the infrastructure in which we live, we have to be responsible. We have to try to help it,” he said.
Charlie Baker polled better than Santa Claus and looked like he was in command. Little did Hoffman or others know, while Baker ho-ho-hoed across the state, his elves and reindeer were wrecking the workshop’s civic infrastructure. Hence the lumps of coal in Healey’s stocking as well as those of MBTA riders, convention center staff, and now the blind.
To be clear, not every Baker appointee was a dud. Jay Ash, his economic development secretary, was widely praised. Baker’s energy and environmental secretary, Kathleen Theoharides also enjoyed popularity during her tenure. But for each of them there are two or three mediocrities or worse. Indeed, Theoharides’ predecessor’s undermanagement nearly saw a scandal spill over into an electoral contest.
On some level, the press realizes it. The Globe practically has Baker’s post-gubernatorial spokesperson on speed dial now to answer for his appointment fails. Donors and the public may not need to realize how bad it really was. Yet, the continuing love for Baker does color how Healey moved forward.
One obstacle to restore the ship of state is, as ever, the legislature. It shares blame for this status quo, a fact made even more maddening by the fact that when they conducted oversight, whether over the Registry of Motor Vehicles or COVID-19 response, lawmakers had a positive effect.
Legislative leadership today have no clear ideological or personal impediment as may have been the case when Deval Patrick was governor. Nor do they love Baker’s reign so much that they oppose any change. Though few on Beacon Hill complained that Baker shoved few hard decisions in their face save that last minute maneuver with an arcane tax law.
Healey, by contrast, may need to ask much more of them. Will they change laws and spend money—recession or not—to make things work? Transitioning from a governor whose agenda you can ignore to one you cannot is a challenge.
Neither chamber is telegraphing enthusiasm for changing laws governing the workforce and agencies if it means riling up base constituencies. Yet, breaking the logjam on hiring, housing, and process will be the difference between having a functional state government and an ever-imploding one.
— Matt Szafranski (@MSzafranski413) January 28, 2023
There is no natural constituency for reform this boring. At least when it comes to zoning and housing, there are developers and those priced-out of buying a home. People may want to the MBTA or the Commission for the Blind to function, but they are not actively advocating for a new governing ethos that does not assume government always fails.
Still, this will be most important task in the first months and years Healey is in office. While she specifically prioritizes the MBTA, there must be a change across the executive. There is a throughline from the MBTA to agencies like the Commission for the Blind that touch people throughout the commonwealth. It’s not Baker per se but rather a dismissal that how government works is as important as what lawmakers assign it to do.
Certainly, Healey can name new people. In time, her appointees will remove the detritus of her predecessor’s administration. However, that will only be the beginning. As the breakdowns at the Veterans Homes’ or the implosion of services for the blind show, the cost of inaction or insufficient action is not only being late for work. It is life and dignity, often of the most vulnerable in society, in this commonwealth itself.