2022 departures leave big shoes to fill by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons Barron’s own blog.

As a longtime journalist (and it’s still in my DNA), I have sometimes succumbed to the reporter’s credo that bad news is good news and good news is no news at all. Having spent a couple of decades in that specialized part of journalism – opinion writing – , my job has been to point out problems and tell the world ( or at least the New England viewing area) how to fix them. You would be justified in asking: how well is that working for you? Today I’m a Good News maven.

As 2022 ends, I feel called upon to take note of some leaders on both sides of the aisle who are walking offstage for now, who have left us better off for their efforts and whose absence will be felt. Prime example: Nancy Pelosi. As her Republican counterpart John Boehner said recently, “No other Speaker of the House in the modern era, Republican or Democrat, has wielded the gavel with such authority or with such consistent results.” Her image – the primary-colored high-end outfits, the color-coordinated COVID masks, the stiletto heels, – is burned in our brains, but her accomplishments as the first female Speaker and perhaps the most powerful woman in U.S. political history will endure well after the click-click-click on the marble floors has gone silent. She made the Affordable Care Act happen (PelosiCare as much as Obamacare) and defended it against all efforts to upend it. She led the way to keeping democracy together when violent extremists sought to undo it on January 6th. She is a superb tactician, leading to more numerous legislative accomplishments in the last two years than I can list here. Devoted to her family, her faith and the country, she is a role model for both genders in the effective use of power.

Across the aisle, a void will be left by Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who put her country above her party in co-leading the Committee to investigate the January 6th investigation. Defeated by fellow Republicans in Wyoming’s August primary, she had earlier been stripped of her leadership of the House Republican Conference because of her support of the second impeachment of Donald Trump. She persevered at the cost of her career, at least for now. A devout conservative in the tradition of George Bush and her highly controversial father, Vice President Dick Cheney, her positions on most issues are ones with which I could never agree. But she carved out a principled role following the facts of the insurrection, and her effective leadership of the Committee earned her the Kennedy Foundation’s Profile in Courage Award. (The other Republican on the Committee, Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, decided not to run for reelection following the redrawing of district lines after the last census.)

On the state level, two-term Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker – always at or near the top of polls measuring America’s favorite governors- will be leaving after two terms. I first met him over dinner when he was a 30-something working as Human Services Secretary in the Weld administration. Earnest, thoughtful, caring and hardworking, he went on to become Secretary of Administration & Finance, a high-level position sometimes labeled “Deputy Governor.” After eight years, he became CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, where he earned national acclaim for his performance there and local respect for his efforts supporting, among other good causes, efforts to place women executives on public boards. He was also a selectman in his hometown of Swampscott. These details are important because his engagement at different levels of government, in business and elected office, nurtured in him a willingness to listen to different perspectives and an ability to navigate and compromise. He had learned this early: Baker’s father was a conservative Republican who served in the Nixon Administration, and his mother was a liberal Democrat.

Conservative Republicans diss him as a RINO. Progressive Democrats fault him for being too cautious. Fiscally conservative and socially liberal, he made meaningful advances in the areas of climate change, affordable housing, economic development while, at the same time, failing to clean up corruption in the State Police and not going far enough to solve decades-long problems in public transit. His pragmatic and amiable style was very comfortable for the people of Massachusetts, decidedly blue but where a majority of voters identify as “unenrolled” in either party. Perhaps recognizing the public’s frustration with highly polarized politics, Baker’s successor, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey, holds him in high esteem and in many ways emulates his tone and approach. The National Republican Party would do well to follow suit.

There are others, of course, whom you will miss, and I’d welcome your suggestions in the comment section of this blog. As the year comes to an end, and as the tenures of these highly productive, respected public servants draw to a close – at least for now – whom would you include in any expression of gratitude for distinctive contributions in an era where raucous and divisive partisanship and heat-seeking media make it increasingly difficult to put oneself and one’s family forward into the political arena?