Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Democrat for Charlie Baker? I'm thinking about it.

I met Charlie Baker, currently CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, and now gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts last year.  Baker came to speak in Ernest Berndt’s Economics of Health Care class when I was at the MIT Sloan School of Management.  I came away extremely impressed.  

Baker is articulate, intelligent, confident and fully looks the part of governor.  He has an assertiveness to him that Deval Patrick has sorry lacked in the governor’s office.  I was extremely impressed by his understanding of the health care industry, operational insight and financial savvy.  He’s done well running a profitable business in a union controlled industry.  It seems that he’s done a good job working with them to ensure they are creating value.  

I can’t say for sure how these will translate on the campaign trail.  Baker has experience in government, but also understands the needs of private businesses.  More importantly, he knows how to run them, and that might be just what we need in these tough times.

I’m a registered Democrat, but I would consider voting for Charlie Baker in a general election.  I was a very big Mitt Romney fan for his fiscal discipline and the way he provided a balanced and competent voice (a voice of reason is needed in sometimes in what is essentially a one-party state.  I’m really a Massachusetts moderate, but national Democrat.  But I think Massachusetts may need something different.  

Right now I’m rather down on Deval Patrick after supporting him strongly a few years ago.  Even when he spoke at MIT’s graduation, he seemed very out of touch with the needs of the common people. He told one story about his daughter doing a school project about the four seasons about the Four Seasons Hotel.  In another case, he talked about “looking down upon a sea of people” at Barack Obama’s inauguration.  A few of his actions (pay raises for cronies, re-decorating his office) combined with some of the things Patrick says just give me an intuition that he doesn't really get "it", as smart a guy as he is..  

There has been almost no business innovation in solving many our state’s business problems.  For instance, the MBTA.  When I walk into Government Center, I see a Dunkin’ Donuts and a lousy hot dog stand that sells fake Louis Vuitton bags.  In Hong Kong, if you wanted to, you would never have to leave the subway station.  Their stations are full of value-adding business paying rent.  These people watch the station like hawks to make sure it is safe, increasing security without paying for security guards.  Sell advertising on the Mass Pike.

How did Baker do running Harvard Pilgrim?  When he took the company over in 1998, it was coming off a year where it lost $94 million.  Since then, Harvard Pilgrim has had turned into a profitable coming with one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the country (it's one the US News and World Report award for this 4 years running).

So count me in as someone who will strongly consider Charlie Baker’s candidacy for governor of Massachusetts.  Time will tell how he does on the campaign trail and whether like Bill Weld and Mitt Romney, he can get moderates to break ranks.  If it's innovation, business savvy and job creation that end up being the key points of debate as I suspect, I believe Baker will do very well.  

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