For Diehl, a curious dance on abortion
GOP nominee emphasizes his lack of clout on issue
TO VOTERS WHO may be turned off by Geoff Diehl’s pro-life stand on abortion, his pitch to consider voting for him for governor anyway comes packaged in an usual argument for someone seeking the state’s top elected office: Don’t worry, I’ll be powerless to do anything about it.
That was essentially Diehl’s message last week in his second, and final, debate with Democratic nominee Maura Healey.
The pro-life Republican gubernatorial nominee applauded the Supreme Court’s ruling in June that overturned the federal right to abortion enshrined in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and left the issue for states to decide. But when it comes to taking up the anti-abortion cause as governor, Diehl suggested that was a non-starter.
“It’s the law of the land,” Diehl said, referring to recent state legislation further strengthening the state’s abortion rights statute. “My job is to protect women’s health care choices, and I will do that.”
The president of the state’s leading abortion rights group pushed back on the idea that Diehl could have no say at all on abortion, pointing to the governor’s role in implementing laws and appointing judges and members of various boards. “Geoff Diehl poses a serious threat to abortion access in Massachusetts, and his attempts to backslide on his staunch anti-abortion record and agenda will not deceive voters,” said Rebecca Hart Holder.
Jay McMahon, the pro-life Republican nominee for attorney general, took much the same approach as Diehl in his debate last weekend on WBZ with Democrat Andrea Campbell.
“The Dobbs decision does not affect a woman’s right in Massachusetts – not one iota,” he said, referring to the recent US Supreme Court case overturning Roe. McMahon said he wouldn’t be an “activist” attorney general and would work to uphold existing state law on abortion.
In dismissing the alarms sounded by Healey, Diehl seemed to double down on his point about the limits of the power he would have.
“I don’t think you seem to understand the difference between governor and Legislature,” he said to Healey. “The governor enacts the laws or executes the laws the Legislature passes.”
While technically true, the governor, of course, can play a big role in the process by submitting legislation and negotiating in the give and take that can take place with lawmakers. When the governor’s party doesn’t have enough votes in the Legislature to sustain a veto, however, that executive power is significantly circumscribed.Despite operating for his two terms under Democratic supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Gov. Charlie Baker has pushed a more moderate agenda that allowed for some of that give and take. Baker often points to what he calls the healthy, “creative friction” that benefits public policy when “both teams are on the field.”
But Diehl has touted other issues during the campaign that require Beacon Hill buy-in for which, like abortion restrictions, there is little appetite in the Legislature. On everything from suspending the gas tax to allowing tax dollars to pay for vouchers for private schools, Diehl has offered an appealing agenda to hard-right conservative voters, but he would be relegated to yelling from the sidelines if he could defy the odds and polls and win office.