By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — Republican Charlie Baker knocked his chief rival for governor on Wednesday for running what he sees as a negative campaign as Martha Coakley and Massachusetts Democrats turned up the heat on Baker’s record of outsourcing jobs while head of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.
The line of attack from Coakley and her team of surrogates coincides with a planned Baker fundraiser on Thursday night with former Gov. Mitt Romney at the Lenox Hotel. Romney’s return to the campaign trail in New Hampshire for former Sen. Scott Brown has also sparked criticisms from Democrats in that state over outsourcing.
“I got to tell you something. I am incredibly disappointed generally with the thrust and the nature of the attorney general’s campaign. I have spent almost the entire race here talking about things we can do, real things we can do, to improve the quality of life for the people of Massachusetts from one end to the other,” Baker said Wednesday morning while campaigning in Roxbury, calling the outsourcing charges a “smear.” He later accused Coakley of “hypocritically posturing” for not doing more to stop the Health Connector from similarly sending jobs to Phoenix.
The Republican nominee for governor was at the opening of his campaign’s new Blue Hill Avenue field office in Roxbury to discuss his five-pronged “urban agenda” focused on economic development, public safety and incarceration, education, and housing.
Baker, who has spent considerable time campaigning in minority neighborhoods in Boston, discussed his plan to increase access to charter schools, reform the criminal justice system to focus on job training and reducing recidivism, hiring more teachers and law enforcement officers of color, and building affordable housing near public transit.
“Over and over and over again all I hear from the attorney general is negative things about stuff that happened years ago that’s taken completely out of context and I would like to see the attorney general make this race about what she thinks can make Massachusetts better than it is today,” Baker said.
Coakley and the state Democratic Party on Tuesday turned the spotlight on Baker’s record as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and in particular a deal struck with Perot Systems in 1999 to revamp the company’s IT system that moved about 800 jobs under Perot management, though employees remained in Massachusetts.
Several years later in 2006 after Harvard Pilgrim was on more solid financial ground, Perot Systems outsourced about 200 jobs to India to further shave administrative costs for the health insurer. Several hundred other employees kept their jobs in Massachusetts, under the arrangement.
Baker on Thursday did not directly address the outsourced jobs, but defended the steps taken to rescue Harvard Pilgrim from state receivership.
“I’m proud of the partnership we developed with Perot Systems which saved thousands of jobs here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts directly at Harvard Pilgrim and thousands of other jobs as well and I’m proud of the fact that those jobs, for the most part, continue to be here in Massachusetts. Go talk to the folks in Quincy and the folks in Wellesley if you don’t believe me on that one,” Baker said.
The state Democratic Party released a new web video on Wednesday critical of Baker’s acceptance in 2008 of an “Outsourcing Excellence Award” from a national business group. The video includes a picture of a smiling Baker in a tuxedo accepting the award.
“For him to have stood there in his tuxedo with a smile on his face accepting an award knowing that men and women had lost jobs. Those are not our values,” Treasurer Steven Grossman said at a press conference outside the State House.
Grossman, who as a candidate denounced Coakley’s economic development plan as “fake” during the Democratic primary, was deployed by the Coakley campaign to reinforce her campaign’s message.
“Charlie Baker is the ‘I will outsource jobs’ candidate for governor. Martha Coakley is the jobs creator. And it seems to me that the fundamental difference between Martha Coakley and Charlie Baker is which one of these candidates will stay true to our Massachusetts values,” Grossman said.
Grossman said Coakley had “done her homework” since he made those negative comments about her jobs plan during the primary, and said he was confident in her strategy to promote economic growth.
>>> For video of Grossman’s press conference, go to: http://www.statehousenews.com/video/14-10-15grossman/ <<<
A pro-Coakley super PAC on Wednesday also put out a new television spot criticizing Baker’s 94 percent rating from the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association and for authoring budgets under Gov. Weld that the group said cut as much as $100 million from public education.
“That super PAC ad was stunning in some respects,” Baker said, noting that he supported a state ban on assault weapons as well as the anti-gun violence legislation passed this summer by the Legislature. He said, “I’m thrilled to have the endorsement of (former New York City Mayor) Michael Bloomberg who is one of most significant gun control advocates in the United States.”
Harvard Pilgrim’s decision to contract with an outside firm for IT support is not unlike what the state Health Connector has done as it works to rebuild the state’s health exchange website. The state’s $102 million contract with the IT vendor Optum, which was authorized by Patrick administration officials, includes a provision for 250 customer service jobs to be located in a call-center in Phoenix.
When asked this week, Coakley said she disagrees with that provision of the Optum contract, and Grossman called it a “no bid contract” that might have looked different under a Coakley administration.
The Patrick administration says it tried to keep those jobs in Massachusetts, but could not be confident in the availability of qualified customer service representatives to fill those jobs.
“Martha Coakley did not support that Optum contract, nor did I. I think it was the wrong thing to have done and so does she,” Grossman said.Baker accused Coakley of hiding behind misleading ads. “The Attorney General should stand up for Massachusetts jobs and instruct her appointees on the Health Connector board to immediately halt their plans to outsource Massachusetts taxpayer funded jobs,” he said in a statement.
While Baker defended Harvard Pilgrim’s relationship with Perot Systems, and its successor Dell, as an outside vendor for services, Baker would not specifically say, if elected, whether he would pursue increased privatization of government services, as he and former Gov. Bill Weld did controversially in the 1990s.
“My primary focus is making management, making government work better and that’s the way I’m coming at this,” Baker said.
Baker campaigned in Roxbury on Thursday with former state Sen. Bill Owens, former U.S. District Court Judge Joyce Alexander Ford, VietAid Executive Director Nam Pham, Suffolk University Executive in Residence Richard Taylor and Robert Lewis Jr., a former Boston Foundation program director who runs a non-profit called Home BASE, using sports to engage youth and young men in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.