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Could a Health Plan Executive Actually Become Governor? Yes

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, July 15, 2009

Health insurance companies are often seen as the bad guys in politics, but one industry CEO is hoping to change that perception as he makes a move to become governor of Massachusetts. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charles Baker last week announced he is running for governor of the Bay State in 2010. His timing was not great with half of Massachusetts vacationing on the Cape and the other half in Maine last week, but his announcement pleased state Republicans.

Baker does not have name recognition now, but political insiders have expected a run for governor and the health industry knows all about him.

With his announcement, Baker, who was state secretary of administration and finance during the William Weld and Paul Cellucci administrations in the 1990s, became the second Republican to enter the race. The only other candidate at this time is Christy Mihos, a Cape Cod businessman, who ran an unsuccessful campaign as an Independent candidate in 2006. Mihos' candidacy three years ago helped sink any chance of interim Gov. Kerry Healey winning the governorship. Mihos hammered away at Healey during debates and the eventual winner, Democrat Deval Patrick, won the election easily.

Patrick rode into office with a game plan quite similar to the way Barack Obama would become president. Both men are dynamic speechmakers who painted themselves as outsiders and gave a recipe of hope and change. While Obama's slogan was "Yes We Can," Patrick led with "Together We Can."

Patrick's speeches inspired the Democratic base and he was seen as an outsider of Beacon Hill politics. Patrick's governance, however, has seen its share of missteps and now the one-term governor is facing not only a Republican challenge but likely an Independent foe—state Treasurer Tim Cahill, who recently announced he was leaving the Democratic party to become an Independent. Political insiders believe that was his first step toward a run for governor in 2010.

Patrick's unpopularity coupled with a possible challenge from a fairly popular third-party challenger points to the possibility of a Republican regaining the Corner Office. The thought of a health insurer CEO as a viable political candidate would be laughable in other parts of the country (imagine the uproar in a place like California). But, in Massachusetts, Baker has a real shot—and it goes beyond the current governor's sagging poll ratings and a third-party challenge.

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