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Tue September 17, 2013
Meet The 'Second Most Dangerous Man In America' Running For Governor
Dr. Donald Berwick is a Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts. He's a former administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and a former president and CEO of Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Berwick spoke with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio on Tuesday about why he'd be a good leader for the state.
Why would a physician make a good chief executive of the Commonwealth?
I’m a physician but my career has been spent more broadly on improvement. I’ve been working on improving large systems, health care, and other systems. Public health, working with governments all over the world, through the Institute for Health Care Improvement. When President Obama asked me to run Medicare and Medicaid, I went down there as a doctor, but I ran a $820 billion agency, the largest one in government, with 5,000 employees. So my experience is broad.
You were a recess appointment of Pres. Obama's. Why didn't you get to keep the job at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services?
The Republicans mobilized against me.
I think [it was] symbolic. Glenn Beck called me the second-most dangerous man in America. (…) I had to fight hard. I fought Mitch Daniels when he was trying to restrict reproductive rights, and defund Planned Parenthood in Indiana. It was a very tough environment.
Does Massachusetts need stricter gun laws? Would you restrict them if you were governor?
Yes we do, and yes I would. It’s largely a federal issue, but in my opinion we can’t push hard enough. I have respect for purely recreational gun use, but I’ve seen too many kids injured, and it’s time to really solve this problem. And America wants to solve it, we know what the public thinks. We need more background checks, registration, and basically making the problem much more visible to the public.
Tell us about the "tour" you recently embarked on in Massachusetts.
I’ve been enjoying it so much, and part of it is, I think it’s listening. I think people want to be heard. Every living room I’ve been in, people have things they really want government to open their ears and listen to what people are concerned about. Of course, that’s part of my skill base, I’m trained — as a good doctor, the first thing you do is, don’t talk.
Give us a 15-second review of Governor Patrick's seven years in office.
Magnificent achievement, I think he’s the best governor in America. That’s my opinion of Gov. Patrick. He’s done a great job. We have the most progressive energy policy in the country except maybe for California. We’re trying to execute and he’s done pretty well on the healthcare reform we need. He’s helped us a lot with education. He’s got a great track record.
If you're elected governor we'll have total, one-party rule in the state. Is that a problem?
I don’t think so. The Democratic Party in Massachusetts is a very diverse party. It’s a big tent , there are lots of points of view under it, and I think people can trust this party to take public policy forward and have really good debate.
Many people have commended Republican gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Baker for pulling Harvard Pilgrim Health Care out of bankruptcy. That's quite an achievement, right?
He’s a friend, a good businessman and he ran a healthcare insurance company well, but the voters rejected Charlie in 2010. He’s going to have to come back and make the case that it’s something different now. He is tied to the Republican party, and that’s the party right now that’s hurting our poverty programs, it’s fighting against gun control, and it’s doing things that are not consistent with the progressive agenda, and I think that’s the agenda this state wants.
Would you authorize more charter schools in the state?
It depends on the subtleties of it. I think charter schools are okay, I would work with the [teachers'] unions to make them more [amenable to it]. Most important thing about a charter school … is that it’s an experiment, it’s a way to learn so we can take those lessons and bring them into the mainstream. That’s what I did in healthcare for 30 years.
What do you think about our statewide transportation system?
You look at the state of our transportation system right now, it is really nearly disastrous. The average railroad engine in Massachusetts is 22 years old. You own 5,000 of them if you’re a taxpayer here. The average lifespan of a railroad engine is 20 years. Now, give me a break. (…) We’re going to have to get the system back up on its feet.
Former Congressman Barney Frank was your tutor at Harvard. How long did it take you to recover from that experience?
I remember the house master who oversaw us both. He pulled me aside one day and said, 'Of all the people you’ve met as a college student, you’ll be proudest to have known Barney.' And I have often felt that [he’s] a terrific leader.
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