Walking a tightrope between Donald Trump, national conservatives, transgender advocates, a fiscal mess at the MBTA and a catastrophically failing state child protection agency, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker enjoys stratospheric approval ratings. His counterpart to the south, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is the polar opposite, as the second least popular governor in the country.
Baker’s 72-percent approval rating as a Republican in the most liberal state in the country would be an achievement in itself. But add in the challenges he has faced the rating truly remarkable.
Perhaps Baker’s status as fixer-in-chief is the reason for his popularity. But midway through his first term, he certainly has ongoing problems. First, what does he do about Donald Trump? So far he has endorsed Chris Christie (pre-New Hampshire) and now politely says he won’t vote for Trump, but won’t for Hillary either. He leaves it at that.
Baker caught some heat for attending a conference of conservative big shots. The controversy lasted about 30 seconds or until the focus was shifted to the fact the governor didn’t tell anyone he was leaving the state.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Administration (the T) is a hot mess. The proposed Green Line extension has been reworked but is by no means a done deal. (Full disclosure: The Shad’s home office is in Somerville which would greatly benefit from the extension.) How the project got to the point of being $1 billion over budget is whole other post for another day.
Baker actually has seen what it is like when people don’t like you. Or at least don’t like your lack of commitment on an issue. He was booed by advocates for a transgender rights bill because he hasn’t publicly backed one. The issue is now moving through the legislature and Baker is signaling he won’t veto it.
Baker is also out front on the heartbreaking opioid crisis in the state. He signed landmark legislation that is considered among the most extensive in the nation.
Gov. Malloy is in the rather odd position of being in dumps at home and widely admired nationally. Malloy has raised taxes an absolutely phenomenal amount and several times at that. The wealthy don’t him because of this. The middle class doesn’t either. And advocates for the most vulnerable in the state feel like they are under attack as services and program get the ax. That’s a hat trick Gretzky would have trouble pulling off.
Malloy’s approval rating in Connecticut is somewhere between the governor of Michigan who poisoned his own people and the Zika virus.
It doesn’t help that Malloy has gone about the business of making tough decisions like a porcupine in gift shop filled with mylar balloons. He doesn’t care who he twerks off or how. He seems to have his eye on another ball—the national one.
While mired in an under-30 percent approval rating, Malloy seems to be viewed nationally as a successful liberal. He did survive the 2014 Republican midterm tsunami and he did it by embracing traditional progressive ideals and the president when others were running away from them. As the head of the Democratic Governors Association, Malloy has traveled extensively and has backed progressive candidates nationwide.
If Hillary Clinton wins the White House, is there a spot for Malloy? Very well could be. Secretary of Transportation is a possibility even though he fell well short of his efforts to fund transportation in his own state.
Baker is a star at home. Malloy is a rising national figure who is nearly despised at home.