Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican in his second term, delivered the annual State of the Commonwealth address Tuesday night.
In an address that struck a mostly optimistic and reassuring tone, Baker said Massachusetts would bounce back from the pandemic “better” and “stronger.”
"The end is in sight," said Baker. "We will beat this virus and life will begin to return to normal."
As expected, his administration’s response to COVID-19 dominated Baker’s 24-minute address. He announced no new programs or initiatives. Baker said the state would need to adapt its housing and transportation policies to reflect permanent changes after the pandemic such as more people working from home.
"We've always lived by our wits, figured out the future, and got there first, and this time will be no different," said Baker.
Baker recounted how at the onset of the pandemic the state scoured the world to secure personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, incentivized local companies to alter production lines to make face shields and gowns, and gradually reopened the economy that had been shut down to protect the healthcare system from collapse as the virus relentlessly spread.
He thanked health care workers, first responders, and essential workers.
"These heroes are the most beautiful part of this most difficult experience," said Baker. "Because of who they are and what they do I can say to you tonight that I know the state of our Commonwealth is strong."
By some measures, Massachusetts lags in its efforts to get people vaccinated against COVID-19. Initiatives announced by Baker his week and highlighted in his address are intended to change that. The state will open more vaccination sites, both large and small, and will prioritize about a million seniors to be eligible to get the vaccine in the next couple of weeks.
" We can only move as fast as the federal government delivers the vaccine," said Baker. "Everyone has shown tremendous patience throughout this long ordeal and many are justifyingly running out of it. I am too. That is why this can't happen fast enough."
COVID-19 not only dominated the substance of Baker’s address, but dictated how and where it was delivered. Instead of speaking from inside a packed House Chamber at the State House, Baker stood at a lectern in his ceremonial office facing a television camera.
Baker highlighted accomplishments achieved with the Democratic-dominated legislature including a police reform bill, authorizing telemedicine services, and a $600 million economic development bill.
Before Baker’s speech, legislative leaders announced the House and Senate planned to vote to pass a climate bill Baker had vetoed as time ran out on the prior legislative session.
As he often does in his speeches, Baker took aim at partisanship and the harsh rhetoric from politicians and pundits amplified on social media.
"It has become the source of so much anger and hatred in this world that I wish I could just shut it off for a month and see what happens," said Baker "Over time too much of our daily discourse has come to resemble it."
For inspiration, Baker referenced a streaming TV show “Ted Lasso” and an episode with a quote attributed to Walt Whitman.
"My biggest wish for 2021 is for all of us to take Walt Whitman's charge to heart: Be curious, not judgemental," Baker said.
Responding to Baker’s address, the Massachusetts Democratic Party said in a statement that there had been many failures in his administration’s response to the pandemic, pointing to deadly outbreaks at long term care facilities, the disproportionate impact on communities of color, and the slow rollout of the vaccine.