What does Baker’s exit mean for Mass. politics?

THE ANNOUNCEMENT BY Gov. Charlie Baker that he won’t seek a third term shakes up the Massachusetts political landscape in a way that few decisions by a single officeholder could do. 

Baker, a two-term Republican, has been one of the country’s most popular governors over a period when his party has lost legislative seats and made no serious play for congressional offices or other statewide posts. His looming exit – and the decision by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito not to run to succeed him – has many asking whether there will be anything left of the Mass. GOP, which only claims 9.7 percent of registered voters in the state and is helmed by a party chair enthralled by Donald Trump, who has twice been trounced by 2-to-1 margins in the state. 

Don’t write the obituary yet, says Jennifer Nassour, the former chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party.

She joined Democratic activist Liam Kerr, director of the state chapter of Democrats for Education Reform and the Priorities for Progress PAC, on The Codcast to size up the state’s political landscape in wake of the Baker announcement. 

Nassour thinks the state party has been run into the ground by current GOP chair Jim Lyons, and she thinks nominating conservative former state rep Geoff Diehl for governor would seal its downward slide. But she said the nomination of Diehl – who had been the only announced GOP candidate – is no certainty. 

“We actually have a bunch of people who are super qualified, who would be amazing candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, and I think that we will see them come out,” she said. Nassour wasn’t ready to name names, but said she’s been talking to potential candidates “for a long time” in anticipation of the day when Baker would take his leave. She called Lyons “an embarrassment” who only represents a tiny band of far-right Trump acolytes who are behind Diehl. She and other more moderate Baker-type Republicans are looking to appeal not only to the tiny slice of registered Republicans in the state but also the 57 percent of the electorate that is not enrolled under either party banner. 

(We invited Lyons to take part in the conversation, but he declined.) 

Kerr pointed to Baker’s sky-high favorability ratings among Democratic voters. “Anytime you have someone who’s 85 percent popular in the Democratic Party running against the Democratic nominee, it is likely an uphill battle,” he said of the scenario Democrats would have faced in a race against Baker.” His exit, therefore, is “macro level great news for Democrats,” said Kerr. Indeed, Kerr thinks barring the entry of a big-name Republican or wealthy self-funding candidate, the Democratic primary for governor may effectively decide the election. Without a prominent moderate candidate like Baker, he said, the Republican primary turnout keeps getting smaller, and as it gets smaller, he said, it gets “Trumpier and Trumpier.” 

Kerr underscored how anemic the GOP numbers have become in the Legislature by pointing out that “there are more Democratic state senators named Michael than there are Republican state senators.” (The Democrats can actually make that claim with one to spare, as they have five senators named Michael while the Republicans hold just three of the 40 Senate seats.) 

Nassour said the party gained seats under her stewardship a decade ago, and can do so again if leadership is wrested out of the hands of the far-right activists allied with Lyons. But she said the party’s future hangs in the balance. If Diehl is the party’s nominee for governor, she said, “Then I hope the Mass. GOP absolutely sinks. I mean then the best thing could be for it to totally blow up, crash like the Titanic and go down. And then it gives an opportunity for the Phoenix to rise again, where it is going to be the Republican Party of Massachusetts, not the Republican Party of Arkansas.” 

Meanwhile, Kerr said the shrinking state GOP means more unenrolled voters casting ballots in Democratic primaries – and more room for a moderate candidate against the field of three progressive-leaning Democrats now in the race. The roughly 3 million votes cast in the 2018 election, he said, divided roughly into thirds, with a third voting a straight Republican ticket with Baker at the top, a third voting straight Democratic, and another third – or about 1 million voters – casting ballots for Baker and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. 

Kerr said those results line up with polling done by the more centrist Priorities for Progress PAC showing voters held Democratic Party values “but don’t trust Democrats to get results.” Whoever can “unlock that door” and frame a message animated by those values, but also win the trust of voters to deliver results, he said, “will be in the corner office until 2026.” 

MICHAEL JONAS

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Franchise fracas: Massachusetts franchisees of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain are going before the Supreme Judicial Court this week seeking to be treated like employees of the chain. The case could upend franchise laws that govern some of the biggest names in the business world. Read more.

Tax take soaring: State tax revenues keep heading higher. In November, revenues were nearly 14 percent above last year and nearly 9 percent over the projections on which this year’s budget was based. Read more.

Baker gets ARPA bill: The American Rescue Plan Act spending plan finally heads to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. Read more.

OPINION

Dealing with loss: Douglas S. Brown lost his father and his dog within days of each other, prompting reflections on his own life. Read more.

Every electron counts: Philip Landrigan and Anna Goldman say the regional power grid operator, ISO-New England, needs to revise the rules governing the wholesale electricity market to promote the shift away from fossil fuels. Every electron is not neutral, they say. Read more.

FROM AROUND THE WEB

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

The once-grand Sterling Inn Restaurant and Hotel in Sterling is on the auction block due to unpaid taxes. (Telegram & Gazette)

Michelle Wu is aiming to have housing for about 200 people living in tents at Mass. and Cass by mid-December. Local hotels in the area are being eyed. (WGBH)

Medford city officials are forced to apologize after using a picture of a menorah published by Messianic Jews and labeled with Christian terms to represent Judaism in a display about world religions during a public holiday celebration. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Local activists are launching a virtual “Black City Hall,” an organization aiming to connect Black Boston residents with various services. (Boston Globe

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The first case of the omicron variant is found in Massachusetts. (Associated Press)

Southcoast Health fires 216 employees who failed to get the COVID vaccine. (Herald News) UMass Memorial Health fires over 200 employees. (Telegram & Gazette)

Coronavirus levels in Boston area wastewater are soaring, a worrisome sign that community rates are quickly rising. (Boston Herald

Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted for Donald Tump for president have been three times more likely to die from COVID. (NPR)

The Globe profiles Cain Hayes, the new CEO of Point32Health, the new health care insurer formed from the merger of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan. 

ELECTIONS

With business-friendly Charlie Baker’s decision not to seek a third term, who will Massachusetts business honchos back for governor? (Boston Globe

Republican Shiva Ayyadurai, a MIT graduate who has opposed COVID vaccines, claimed to have invented email, and tried to challenge Massachusetts election results after losing a US Senate race, is running for governor. (MassLive)

Kari Macrae, a Bourne Republican challenging Sen. Susan Moran, says she intends to continue service on the school committee in her town to make sure students are not taught about critical race theory or that they can choose to be a boy or a girl. (Cape Cod Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Massachusetts’s minimum wage will increase to $14.25, up from $13.50, in January. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Tim Wagner, the 18-year-old son of state Rep. Joe Wagner and a student at Springfield Technical Community College, was elected to the Chicopee School Committee after spending last year trying to negotiate a way for his fellow high school seniors to return to the classroom. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Massachusetts is expecting to get a large sum of federal money that it can use to remove contaminants from drinking water. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Police officers in New England are consistently found to be justified in investigations into fatal police shootings, and experts say reforms to the investigation process are needed. (USA Today

The Springfield Trial Court building remains closed because of mold, and a planned cleaning is now being delayed until after a report on the building is released in January. (MassLive)

PASSINGS

Former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, who was Gerald Ford’s running-mate on the 1976 GOP ticket and then the party’s nominee for president in 1996, died at age 98. (Washington Post