For Diehl, an unusual dance on abortion 

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.” 

Diehl even seemed to acknowledge how unpopular his position on abortion is in Massachusetts by suggesting that Healey is trying to frighten people into thinking he could take action on the issue. “I know it’s Halloween,” he said. “Stop scaring people about abortion.” 

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 tack 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,” McMahon 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.” 

When it comes to executive orders that the governor can issue unilaterally, Diehl has made his opposition to COVID vaccine mandates front and center in his campaign. He has vowed to rescind the mandate on state employees imposed by Baker, and offer jobs back to anyone who lost theirs as a result. He was claiming at least a partial victory in that effort yesterday after Baker reversed course and offered jobs back to a limited number of state workers who had been fired under the mandate. 

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. 

MICHAEL JONAS

 

NEW STORIES FROM COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE

A first step: The MBTA, in a letter to Sen. Ed Markey, said speed restrictions on the Orange Line will be lifted by the end of December and the transit authority’s website will begin carrying information on average subway travel times sometime this winter.

– MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak  had promised the information to Markey at an October 14 hearing led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Markey, in a statement issued this morning, called the release of the information a promising first step toward greater transparency at the T. Read more.

LaHood credits Poftak: Former US transportation secretary Ray LaHood says MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak was making good progress on improving the transit authority’s safety culture when COVID hirt and derailed the effort. LaHood worked closely with Poftak in 2019, when he was hired to do a top-to-bottom safety review of the T that uncovered serious problems.

– LaHood testified during an oversight hearing of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee  and recommended a series of steps to address safety issues at the T. A key recommendation was moving the safety oversight function out of the Department of Public Utilities. “If you do nothing else, you need to do that,” he said. Read more.

Baker backtracks: Gov. Charlie Baker backtracks on his vaccine mandate, offering jobs back to 50 employees who refused to get vaccinated. Read more.

OPINION

Volunteer: Barbara Fortier of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts urges people to volunteer because it can be rewarding and fulfilling. Read more,

STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker celebrates a new law that helps military spouses transfer professional licenses and eases the school transfer process for children of military members when they move to Massachusetts. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The Boston City Council appears poised to adopt a once-per-decade redistricting plan today, but the exact contours of a new map defining the nine council districts were still in flux yesterday. (Boston Herald

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu huddled with top city officials and faith leaders to discuss ways to address youth violence in the wake of several shootings involving minors. (Boston Herald)

The Cambridge City Council voted to eliminate all minimum off-street parking requirements for new residential development, a move that backers hope will aid the construction of affordable housing. (Boston Globe

Cambridge also becomes the fifth municipality in Massachusetts to ban fur sales. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Beverly Hospital will close the North Shore Birth Center on December 1, despite a local outcry. (Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

One day after releasing a letter urging President Biden to seek a negotiated settlement with Russia of its war on Ukraine, a group of 30 House progressives, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Boston, retracted the letter in the face of blistering criticism. Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Newton had blasted the letter, saying it amounted to “an olive branch to a war criminal who’s losing his war.” (Boston Herald

ELECTIONS

The Standard-Times looks at the “stark differences” and strong disagreements between Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson and his Democratic opponent Paul Heroux.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report indicates housing production in the Greater Boston area has sharply increased over the last several years, but it has not been enough to making purchasing a home more affordable. (WBUR)

EDUCATION

State education officials are launching an investigation of whether the Boston Public Schools are violating the educational rights of students with disabilities following complaints that center  on the poor performance of the city’s school buses in getting students to schools on time. (Boston Globe

In a sign of how touchy the issue of school closures is, Boston officials are putting on hold what was a very modest school consolidation plan designed to begin addressing the sharp decline in district enrollment. (Boston Globe

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Vineyard Wind gets involved in a patent case that could prevent GE from delivering promised wind turbines for its offshore wind project. (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Nearly 80 criminal justice reform groups call on lawmakers to pass, again, a plan giving free phone calls to inmates, after an earlier provision was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Baker as part of Baker’s push for an unrelated dangerousness bill. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Pittsfield Police Department hits pause on body cameras because of union concerns. (Berkshire Eagle)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe is launching a newsletter aimed at students and young professionals. (Media Nation)

PASSINGS

Former defense secretary Ashton Carter, who was serving as director of the Belfer Center for Science and International affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School, died unexpectedly on Monday night at age 68. (Boston Globe