Here’s the Diehl with wacky Mass. politics

IT’S OFTEN HARD for outsiders to make sense of Massachusetts, where Democrats reign supreme but Republicans have dominated the governor’s office for more than three decades. Today’s development does little to help clear things up. 

The thumbnail version: A former Republican president who is deeply unpopular in the state has endorsed a former Republican state rep running for governor who has virtually no chance of being elected – and yet it could be a sign of the trouble ahead for the Republican incumbent, who continues to be one of the most popular governors in the country.

Donald Trump, banned from Twitter, long his preferred platform for zinging enemies and offering “complete and total” endorsements, was left to put out a statement extolling the virtues of Geoff Diehl, the former Whitman rep running for governor. 

As is often the case with the ex-president, for whom grievances and payback are often what fuels his fire, this was as much an opportunity to unload a double-barreled assault on Charlie Baker, the Republican governor with temerity to wave off allegiance to Trump. Calling Baker a “RINO” (Republican in name only) who “has done nothing for the Republican Party,” Trump charged the two-term governor with driving up energy costs and crime rates, botching the vaccine rollout, doing nothing for veterans, and disrespecting police. For good measure, he likened his “green climate” views to those of lefty firebrand AOC. 

 

While it’s easy to laugh off the hyperbolic harangue, Baker and his minions may know better than to entirely dismiss its impact. The Herald’s Howie Carr, a huge Trump cheerleader, has a pretty clear-eyed dissection of the news. “Baker’s coat holders will say today that Geoff Diehl hasn’t got a prayer in the general election,” writes Carr, who doesn’t seem to disagree. The real issue, he says, will be in the Republican primary, where “Baker would first have to win back the deplorables, whom he has both betrayed and disrespected over the last 18 months.” 

Baker, who has yet to say whether he’ll run for a third term next year, faces an ugly intraparty showdown, where much of the Republicans’ minuscule remaining base in the state (only 9 percent of registered voters) remains enthralled with Trump – and disillusioned with his moderate ways. That schism extends to the party’s top ranks, where Trump loyalist Jim Lyons serves as state chairman – and ongoing thorn in Baker’s side.  

Four years ago, Springfield pastor Scott Lively, who makes Diehl look like a wishy-washy centrist, grabbed 36 percent of the Republican primary vote against Baker. Diehl is figuring he can do better. 

The state’s semi-open primary rules allow voters not registered under any party label to vote in primaries, and Baker’s strength comes from support from those “unenrolled” voters who take a Republican ballot. Next year, some of them will also feel the pull of a competitive Democratic primary, which already has three contenders. 

MassINC Polling Group president Steve Koczela tweeted last night that Trump’s “favorables” in Massachusetts in the last polling done before the 2020 election stood at 31 percent. That underscores his limited appeal here – and the limited impact of his endorsement in a general election matchup. “Even so, his numbers among Republicans were often higher than Baker’s own. So in a Republican primary, this dynamic is something to pay close attention to,” Koczela said. 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

 

New market for hemp: The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture approves a new rule that allows the sale of smokable hemp at marijuana dispensaries, giving hemp farmers a potentially lucrative new market. Smoking hemp in a joint may appeal to people seeking the calming effect of CBD; hemp does not have THC, the high-inducing active ingredient in marijuana. Read more.

Money keeps rolling in: State tax revenues continued to surge in September, exceeding projections and far surpassing what the state has taken in during the same month in previous years. The revenue growth comes as the state is already sitting on billions in federal aid, looking at the possibility of gaining more if an infrastructure bill passes in Washington, and preparing to vote next year on a constitutional amendment adding a 4 percent income tax surcharge on incomes over $1 million. Read more.

Addressing inequities: A Senate report warns that inequities exposed by COVID-19 may worsen post-pandemic unless the state makes a series of investments to support those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. The report calls for closing the digital divide, providing income supports, adding means-tested fares at the T, and boosting home ownership and rental assistance. Read more.

Funding issues loom: MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak says the transit authority has work to do on safety issues but has some time, thanks to federal aid, to address looming funding problems. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Senate President Karen Spilka says the recovery effort must create a model for “intergenerational care” to support women returning to the workforce. (MassLive)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Acting Mayor Kim Janey and the two Boston mayoral election finalists distance themselves from a proposal by Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins to use surplus space at the House of Correction to house 100 homeless drug addicts and provide treatment services to them. (Boston Herald

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini tests positive for COVID-19. (Eagle-Tribune)

Brookline Town Meeting approved an $11 million settlement of a racial discrimination case brought by a former firefighter. (Boston Globe

Lynn is exploring building a large waterfront park on a former landfill. (Daily Item)

The Raynham Park dog track betting facility is getting a makeover. (Taunton Daily Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

One year later, drafters of the Great Barrington Declaration, which suggested focusing COVID-19 protections on the old and allowing the young to live fairly normal lives, speak about the fallout. (Berkshire Eagle)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

US Sen. Ed Markey, at a congressional hearing, urges Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to revamp a business model that preys on children – or face consequences from Congress. (MassLive)

US Rep. Richard Neal, the Ways and Means chair, says he is confident Congress will pass a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and social spending bill, but with adjustments to bring down its cost. (MassLive) President Biden and Democratic leaders are trimming back the massive social spending legislation in order to win over moderate Democrats. (New York Times

ELECTIONS

Sen. Ed Markey makes it a twofer, joining Sen. Elizabeth Warren in endorsing Michelle Wu for mayor of Boston. Annissa Essaibi George must think no good deed goes unpunished, as she was one of the only city officials in Boston to endorse Markey in his primary tilt with Joe Kennedy. (Boston Globe

Essaibi George is making a strong play for support from Black voters, highlighting her “Equity, Inclusion and Justice Agenda” focused on issues affecting communities of color. (Boston Globe

EDUCATION

Cambridge becomes the state’s second school district, following Amherst-Pelham, to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for eligible students. (Boston Globe)

ARTS/CULTURE

Roughly half of the youth hockey referees in Massachusetts have quit, blaming abuse by parents, coaches, and players. (GBH)

The Northampton Arts Council voted 4-2 to cancel its biennial show after a local artist complained one of the paintings in the show harmfully depicted Native Americans. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Massachusetts hikes its fishing and hunting license fees, which have not been increased in 26 years. (Associated Press)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The State Police are sued for tackling a Danvers man with Down syndrome. (Salem News)

USA Today chronicles the case status of all the New England residents arrested for participation in the January 6 riots at the Capitol. 

A retired Black district court judge, in a letter to the editor, implores Rachael Rollins to turn down her US attorney nomination and remain as Suffolk district attorney, where she’s having a big effect on criminal justice issues for minority residents. (Boston Globe

MEDIA

Gannett, which owns the Providence Journal, is trying to sell the newspaper’s production facility. (Boston Globe)

Harvard Law professor Martha Minow has some concerns about federal legislation to support local news. (WGBH)