The Importance of Listening
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker stressed the importance of local authority and urged collaboration on issues ranging from the enforcement of immigration laws to public health during a talk at Tufts on Feb. 23 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series.
He talked about the importance of hearing out those with whom you don’t agree, a lesson he said he learned early on, listening to conversations between his conservative Republican father and his liberal Democrat mother. “If you don’t honestly engage in debate and discussion with people you don’t agree with, you really do minimize your capacity for growth,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of collaboration. He noted that although he and State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who has introduced legislation to ensure due process for people detained for civil immigration violations, don’t always see eye to eye, he worked closely with the senator to get a piece of transportation networking legislation passed, which has resulted in background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers and door-to-door ride service for people with disabilities.
Thanks to bipartisan efforts, four bills aimed at fighting the opioid abuse epidemic have passed unanimously, Baker said, resulting in required opioid therapy courses for doctors, nurses and dentists; pain medication education for athletes, coaches and parents; hundreds of new treatment beds across the state; and a 50 percent increase in spending on treatment and recovery programs.
Shortly after Baker began speaking, a group of 10 students began chanting “No ban! No wall! Sanctuary for us all!” The governor, who had been speaking about improvements to the MBTA public transit system, stopped his talk as students asked in unison, “Gov. Baker, will you make Massachusetts a sanctuary state?”
“No, and I’ll tell you why,” Baker said, but the students cut him off and resumed their chant before marching out of the hall.
The governor continued his talk, saying that local officials are more knowledgeable about their communities than legislators on Beacon Hill. “I don’t want to take away the right of duly elected local officials to make the decisions that best serve and support the people they see every day,” he said.
During a question period at the end of the event, Baker said he believes state government’s role is not to mandate, but to facilitate. “We don’t want to be the ‘thou shalt’ people,” he said. “What happens when somebody is in charge who you disagree with, and they ‘thou shalt’ you into something you think is fundamentally wrong for your community?”
Separate groups of student protesters interrupted Baker twice more. “This administration is against education,” one group chanted, before a student asked Baker whether he would stop cutting funds to public education. “I got bad news for you,” Baker said. “We never cut funds to public education.”
Another student asked about police brutality, and Baker responded that since he took office in 2015, there hasn’t been a single incident during a political demonstration. “I’m proud that in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we support marches and protests,” he said.
At the end of the program, Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont, A70, A08P, who served as moderator for the event, had one final question: What can be done about young Americans who have lost confidence in their government and been turned off politics?
“Come and spend some time with it,” Baker replied. “Things happen every single day in government that are positive.”
Monica Jimenez can be reached at email@example.com.