As any good speaker knows, starting with a joke−especially one well-targeted to your audience−is a time-tested way to engage listeners. “The secret to Cambridge’s success as a hub for innovation is simple: create two world-class institutions and wait two hundred years.”
Governor Charlie Baker’s humorous quip kicked off the latest event in the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Government Affairs Speakers Series. As the Governor reminded everyone in attendance, he has witnessed the evolution of Cambridge in the last few decades up close, having attended and graduated from Harvard in the 1970s.
The Governor, who spoke without prepared remarks, made it clear that his vision for Massachusetts starts at the local level and is focused on bringing every aspect of life forward to suit the 21st century.
A big priority for Governor Baker, he explained, is helping communities transform their downtown areas. With e-commerce shifting the retail landscape, the next evolution will be live-work-play districts. One of the biggest roadblocks in achieving this remodeling, according to the Governor, is the requirement that residential development initiatives earn a two-thirds or better vote from the municipal planning agency. The housing shortage is well-documented in Massachusetts, including here in Cambridge. As the Governor candidly pointed out, housing production has drastically declined in recent years (from 30,000 units per year until 1990 down to about 8-10,000 per year since) while the population has grown dramatically. The Governor’s Housing Choice bill would allow for zoning changes by simple majority for developments meeting particular criteria, allowing for greater housing production.
Education and job-training are important issues Governor Baker covered. He described the successes of the Massachusetts Early College Initiative, which provides high school students, often the first in their families to consider college, with opportunities to receive college-level education (and credits) and work experience. The program connects these students with partnering higher education institutions and employers while they remain connected to the high school teachers and school that are familiar. As a result, these programs have succeeded in helping students realize their own potential and develop the self-confidence they need to succeed after high school in ways they couldn’t have imagined. They are also helping to expand the workforce-readiness of future generations.
Equally important to the Chamber’s audience is the state of the Red Line. The Governor proudly touted MassDOT’s unparalleled $8 billion investment into the MBTA to help upgrade trains and signals – some of which are older than the Governor’s father – including $2 billion for the Red Line to double rush hour capacity by 2022. Investment and upgrades, he noted, have to be done in concert with maintaining operations. As an example, he shared a proposal that would see the Green Line shut down during Red Sox games with buses transporting departing fans. While this would have accelerated work, it was deemed impractical and not pursued, given the needs of riders.
Before he departed, Governor Baker offered some advice forged from his experience growing up with a Republican father and Democrat mother: learning comes from engaging with people who don’t agree with you. As a Republican governor in a heavily Democratic state, this is a daily exercise for Baker, but this approach has helped make him the most popular governor in the country.
On behalf of the Chamber, I’d like to thank the Governor and all of those who attended this edition of our Government Affairs Speakers Series.
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