Berkshire delegation reacts to Baker’s decision not to run in 2022
Wednesday’s announcement that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito will not run in 2022 is reverberating across the state.
In Berkshire County, the four state representatives and sole state senator who represent the state’s westernmost county – all Democrats – responded with mixed emotions to the news that the popular Republican administration will not pursue a third four-year term.
“I was shocked, initially," said State Representative Smitty Pignatelli of the 4th Berkshire District. "Probably more shocked at the Lieutenant Governor not wanting to take a run for it with Governor Baker out, so- Just kind of sent shockwaves to me personally and professionally. I've known both of them for quite some time; Lieutenant Governor for better part of 20 years. So I was just a little surprised, but it changes the landscape tremendously. And I think the dominoes will start falling now in the next couple of months.”
Pignatelli says the move makes the path to the corner office much easier for Democrats.
“I think the Republican Party in my opinion is in great dysfunction," he told WAMC. "The bench is not very deep. And I think we have some very high qualified candidates on our side running for governor.”
The only declared Republican candidate is former House Representative Geoff Diehl, a bitter enemy of Baker’s who – unlike the centrist governor – has embraced his party’s support of former President Donald Trump, even earning his endorsement.
2nd Berkshire State Representative Paul Mark – also a candidate for the Western Massachusetts state Senate seat next year – says he was also surprised by the news.
“I think it's really good news for both former Senator Ben Downing and current Senator Adam Hinds that have both already launched statewide bids for Governor and Lieutenant Governor respectively," said Mark. "I mean, when I was having conversations about them and about what I'm doing with the Senate seat, a lot of people would say really good things about both of them, but would then kind of segue into, but if Charlie Baker runs again, I think they're going to have a really tough uphill climb. And with that field now completely wide open, I think it's anyone's game. Anything can happen. And just last night, I was doing a meet and greet in Charlemont, and I was walking out, people were asking me, you know, what do I, what do I put their chances? And I said, for both of them around 25%. And I think now it's 50-50, which is about as good as you can ask for going into a field. It's going to be interesting to see what goes on if Attorney General [Maura] Healey decides to run for governor or anything like that. But with the field as it is right now, I say it's anyone's game.”
While Baker’s term ends in January 2023, Berkshire leaders reflected on his legacy as both an ally and combatant since his election in 2014.
“Today’s a time to thank the governor, for his service and his leadership during one of the most difficult times in our history, steering us through the COVID emergency that we're still in the middle of, and his take that leadership through the pandemic should not be mixed with the politics that a campaign will inevitably bring- So I really appreciate that," said 3rd Berkshire District State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier. She represents much of Pittsfield, the county’s largest community of around 44,000.
“I think the governor embraced the Gateway Cities, and that that made has made a big difference for Pittsfield," Farley-Bouvier told WAMC. "The investments in Pittsfield have been solid, and his willingness to work across the aisle on that- For example, the Transformative Development Initiative. We are really starting to see the fruits of that labor on Tyler Street, and all the investments coming in to Tyler Street. So of course, it started with public investment. And then, we're seeing it before our eyes, the private investment that is following.”
Farley-Bouvier also has her frustrations with Baker, including his opposition to her bill that would allow state residents without legal status to get driver’s licenses.
“I'm very, very, very concerned about what happened at the Holyoake Soldiers’ Home, which truly is squarely in his in his lap, what happened there," she said. "And that had to do with appointing a big donor and political ally, you know, as superintendent there, they had no experience in management and health care. I would say the other issue is my concern over using, you know, private vendors for government work, and, and the expense related to that, and I think that that came through during COVID, especially when it came to the vaccine clinics. There just hasn't been enough oversight of how those dollars were spent.”
State Senator Adam Hinds says he’s had a similarly hot and cold relationship with Baker over the years.
“We've had some big wins for the district working with the administration on the Berkshire Innovation Center investments and Greylock Glen," he told WAMC. "But I tell you, it's those that also demonstrate, you can do a lot from the administration when we authorize a lot of spending. And it's ultimately up to the administration to determine the programs and the grants allocation and beyond.”
“During the pandemic, we've not seen eye to eye on a lot," said Hinds. "We've had major challenges and questions related to the vaccine rollout, treatment of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and more.”
With Baker on the way out, Hinds is bullish on his party’s ability to retake the governorship for the first time since Governor Deval Patrick stepped down after two terms in 2015.
“It’s interesting that in the last 31 years or so we've had one Democratic governor," said the state senator. "And so it's time to for that for that opportunity, especially when the sole candidate on the Republican side has been endorsed by Trump. That's not what Massachusetts wants or needs. And so, that's good news for the Democrats. And it's clearly time for a change.”
1st Berkshire District State Representative John Barrett – the fifth member of the Berkshire delegation – did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.