David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Republican Charles D. Baker officially entered the governor’s race this morning, filing his paperwork and then swiftly launching into an attack of Governor Deval Patrick’s handling of the state’s budget and economy.
Baker immediately pledged not to raise taxes as governor, and even said he would try to lower the state’s increased sales tax – which will go from 5 percent to 6.25 percent on Saturday – if he is elected.
“I’m a no new taxes candidate,” he said, adding later for the TV cameras, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
He said he was prochoice and was in favor of gay marriage – “My brother’s gay, and he’s married, and he lives in Massachusetts, so I’m for it. Is that straight enough?”
He also said he was in favor of the death penalty, which puts him at odds with Patrick.
Baker’s candidacy, which he informally announced earlier this month, jump starts a campaign as Patrick is grappling with low poll numbers. Baker will be running for the Republican nomination against Christy Mihos, a former member of the Turnpike Authority board who ran against Patrick three years ago as an independent. State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, who left the Democratic Party this month, is weighing a run as an independent.
Baker, who resigned this month as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has been seen by many of the party faithful as the leading Republican challenger but he is relatively unknown outside of political and business circles.
His financial background, at times dry, was also on display as he spoke of an “unfunded pension liability” and “swaptions.” He talked of the state’s “structural imbalance” four times during the first two minutes of the press conference.
“The only way we’re going to manage our way out of that one is a complete overhaul of the way the state builds the budget and manages its affairs,” he said during the 19-minute press conference. “And I’m going to make that my primary priority.”
When asked what needed to be cut, the former chief executive at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care said, “everything should be on the table,” including scaling back the state’s landmark healthcare reform coverage.
“I would start with [employee] head count,” Baker said. “We have cities and towns that are laying off and furloughing people all over the place and we don’t even have a hiring freeze in place at the state level.”
Even before the press conference, Democrats pounced on Baker’s candidacy. Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray released a statement saying Baker was “nothing more than an overcompensated insurance executive who placed profits over patients at the expense of hard working families and employers in Massachusetts."
Democrats have also set up a website, bigdigbaker.com, to tie him to the Big Dig. Baker sought to distance himself from the project this morning, calling it a “bipartisan headache.”
“I do think it’s kind of ironic that I’m being criticized for my small role in the Big Dig when one of its chief architects and enablers is the transportation czar for the current administration,” Baker said.
Patrick’s transportation secretary, James A. Aloisi Jr., is a former general counsel for the Turnpike Authority and drafted the actual legislation that put the turnpike in charge of the Big Dig.
Baker said he would not use his personal money to fund his campaign; he said he planned to begin raising money soon.
He also said he hasn’t decided if he would pick a running mate, as Republicans have often done in the past, and when asked if he would attempt to tap Cahill, who is weighing a gubernatorial run as an independent, Baker said, “I haven’t ruled anything out.”
Baker also attempted to distance himself from the national Republican Party, although he wouldn’t rule out taking money from it.
“I’m not going to participate in national discussions and national politics; I’m interested in what happens here in Massachusetts,” he said. “I’m very comfortable with my party in Massachusetts. I think the Republican Party in Massachusetts is the party of reform and change and the future, and I think the Democratic Party in Massachusetts is the party of the status quo.”
But he then turned to what will likely be his primary approach to the campaign – attacking Patrick on his handling of the state economy.
“I think he let the budget get away from him, and once the budget gets away from you, really bad things happen,” Baker said. It was an implicit attack on Leslie Kirwan, who has been Patrick’s chief budget adviser and who was a protégé of Baker’s.
“I’m not going to comment on Leslie,” Baker said.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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