As Charlie Baker winds down his time as governor of the Commonwealth, it should be clear to all those in Western Mass. that he will be missed in this part of the state.
Since he was first elected eight years ago, and even before he took office a few months later, he made it clear that the 413 would be a priority for him and his administration. And he has followed through on that pledge.
We bring this up because all governors say they are going to represent the entire state and take a keen interest in every community from Fall River to North Adams. But most don’t actually deliver on those promises. Baker has.
And he’s done it by doing more than showing up at the Big E for a creampuff or coming out to distrubute checks and get his picture taken while doing so — although he done that, too. He has actually taken a real interest in what happens out here, and he became visible, and influential, in ways most governors haven’t.
Whether it was listening to a group of entrepreneurs at Valley Venture Mentors — and asking them probing questions about how to take their ventures to the next level — or taking the lead in efforts to make projects like the Court Square Hotel and a new parking garage in downtown Springfield a reality, Baker didn’t just show in up this region, he became a strong advocate for it.
Before we go any further, we do need to note Baker was late, as in very late, in officially signing on to plans for a high-speed rail project that has been proposed, in large part, to help level the playing field between east and west and create more opportunities for those in this part of the state. This hesitancy to fully support the initiative, for whatever reason, certainly slowed the process.
Meanwhile, his administration’s response to the pandemic was more draconian than was necessary, and this deepened the challenge facing businesses of all sizes, but especially smaller ventures and those in the hospitality and tourism industry, one of the foundations of the Western Mass. economy.
That said, Baker made his presence felt in this part of the state, and in many ways made it a full partner in many initiatives here, not just in Springfield, but across the region.
It has been said by some that we have an inferiority complex in this state and that we spend too much time thinking we are slighted, ignored, or both. While there is some truth to that, it has been easy for some governors to talk a good game, but, in the end, pay lip service to the broad region west of Worcester.
Baker succeeded in getting his name on a menu item at the Student Prince restaurant — a bun-less hamburger, to be specific. But far more importantly, he let people in this region know that they not only had a voice, but that their voice was being heard.
We can only hope the state’s next governor can continue that pattern of involvement.