Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker presented himself Tuesday night as an able administrator, while Democratic challenger Jay Gonzalez pushed for big programs and big spending in their first of three debates before Election Day.
A certain pattern defined the debate, held at the studios of WBZ-TV -- Baker would defend or describe his record, and Gonzalez would say, "it's not enough."
Case in point: transportation. Jon Keller of WBZ asked if either Baker or Gonzalez would spend more to address a major irritant for Boston drivers: some of the worst traffic in the country. Baker said he's working on it, and touted his efforts to fix the T by setting up a fiscal management board and spending $2 billion on core maintenance. And he said he wants to do more.
"Our plan is to spend $8 billion over the next five years on the MBTA, which will be $5 billion more than was spent in the five years before we took office. But we're going to spend on the stuff that's actually going to improve the quality of the service and the capacity of the system for the people who ride it," he said.
Gonzalez said it wasn't not enough, and accused the governor of doing too little. The Democrat wants to raise taxes on the very wealthy and invest billions in transportation and education.
"I am not trying to become governor to manage the status quo. The status quo is not working for working families across the state, and our transportation system is the thing I hear about everywhere I go. I will provide the bold leadership we need to fix it," he said.
Again and again, Gonzalez repeated, "it's not enough," and touted his agenda, which include tuition-free college, early education for all and single-payer health care. He called Baker a "status quo governor" who offers "small ball" solutions to big problems.
"It's the same old Republican playbook — no new taxes. And we know what we get for that: working families being left behind," said Gonzalez.
Baker says he will not raise taxes, and pushed back against the charge that he's a "status quo governor."
"If I was a status-quo governor, there'd still be thousands of homeless families living in motels and hotels in Massachusetts. There aren't. If I was a status quo governor, we wouldn't have a huge off-shore wind and hydro program going on replacing a third of our fossil fuel with clean, renewable energy," he said.
Baker took credit for improving conditions and care at Bridgewater State Hospital, for fixing the health connector and increasing spending on education. As ever, Gonzalez pushed back with what began to sound like a mantra.
"It's not nearly enough. That's not an ambitious agenda. There's so much more we need to do to make a difference to working families in this state," he said.
Baker said Gonzalez's proposed taxes wouldn't cover his ambitious agenda, which led Gonzalez to accuse Baker of using "fuzzy math."
He also sought to tie the governor to Geoff Diehl, who co-chaired Donald Trump's campaign in Massachusetts — and who's trying to unseat Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Baker did not vote for Trump, but he pledged to support the Republican ticket — which includes Diehl.
"And by backing Geoff Diehl, Gov. Baker is supporting an anti-choice agenda as well as an anti-LGBTQ agenda... pro-NRA agenda. And I'm curious, governor, why you have supported Geoff Diehl," Gonazalez said.
Baker said he had committed to support the full Republican slate before Diehl won the nomination. And the governor cited his support of Massachusetts strict gun laws, his pro-choice record and his opposition to several of Trump's policies.
"My views on Donald Trump are quite well known. I didn't vote for him, and I've made quite clear my view on what I think of many of his policies. And he's not running. I'm running for governor, not Geoff Diehl," he said.
Gonzalez is hoping that by linking Baker to Diehl, he can link him to Trump, who remains unpopular in Massachusetts. Baker is counting on voters to recognize that he's a different kind of Republican.
This report was originally published by WBUR.