Is Charlie Baker really a Republican?

Lyons, Walsh square off over governor’s political machinations

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER has an R next to his name, but many Republicans don’t think it belongs there.

Ed Lyons, a Republican activist who is a big fan of Baker, said the governor’s acceptance of the grand bargain in the recently completed legislative session disturbed many in the GOP.  The grand bargain embraced legislation raising the hourly minimum wage to $15 and mandating paid medical and family leave as a way to take ballot questions off the table that would have accomplished both actions more quickly and would also have cut the sales tax to 5 percent.

“They are worried. A lot of Republicans are losing faith in the Republican character of our governor,” Lyons said on CommonWealth’s Codcast. “Charlie Baker doesn’t sound like the Republicans they’re seeing on Fox News.”

Lyons said some Republicans would like to see Baker go to war with the Democrat-controlled Legislature and fight for more conservative causes. He, however, says Baker’s strength is in choosing which battles to fight and framing issues differently than a Democrat would.

The most radical thing Baker did with the MBTA was to see it as an organization of thousands of people, instead of a set of infrastructure liabilities, which is how progressives always frame the MBTA conversation,” Lyons said in an op-ed for CommonWealth. “He believed better management and more leverage with labor unions over costs and processes would be better long-term investments than new revenue.

Lyons said Baker has also recruited Democrats into his cabinet to help frame issues. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, for example, has embraced the governor’s reform-before-revenue approach and his use of privatization to secure concessions from the transit agency’s unions.

John Walsh, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, holds a very different view of Baker. While most elected Democratic officials speak highly of Baker, Walsh trashes the governor for his failure to address many of the major issues facing the state, including the T, road congestion, education, and health care. “I don’t think he’s driving any agenda,” Walsh said on the Codcast.

Walsh thinks Baker is vulnerable politically because he’s too busy straddling political fault lines. He said the Republican base in Massachusetts doesn’t like him. “The energy in the party is in opposition to Charlie Baker,” Walsh said, an allusion to the state party convention in April where, despite the governor’s support for cutting the sales tax and imposing the death penalty on cop killers, 27.5 percent of the delegates backed Scott Lively, a pro-life pastor who is a big supporter of President Trump. (The Massachusetts Republican Party has tried to ignore Lively, going so far as to not include him in a recent Facebook poll of candidates for governor.)

Walsh also said Baker’s support among Democrats and independents is thin and fragile, noting the governor has never taken a stand on anything, except for expanding charter schools, a policy that was shot down by voters in 2016.  Walsh said the partisan Charlie Baker that delegates saw at the Republican convention is the real Charlie Baker.

“He’s not a half-assed Democrat,” Walsh said of Baker. “He’s a Republican who’s just sitting and waiting and he has no agenda other than no new taxes.”

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.