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Mass. gubernatorial field feels the ripples from Baker’s decision not to run

Massachusetts Gov Charlie Baker at a lecturn
Governor's press office

With Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker not seeking re-election, gubernatorial candidates are facing a very different political landscape in 2022.

Baker’s enduring popularity since he was elected in 2014 made his announcement Wednesday a key piece of next year’s election puzzle – especially for the Democrats who have already entered the fray.

“I got into this race not to run against Governor Baker, right, but to take on a challenge, or take on a culture on Beacon Hill that too often has left behind the communities that I've called home, the communities that I’ve represented and to give voice to those communities to address the urgent needs in those communities- And I've only seen more of that over the last 10 months, as we've been out and about across the state,” said former State Senator Ben Downing, one of four declared Democrats contending for the party’s nomination. “It puts an onus on the Democratic primary and the Democratic Party, right? We have a responsibility to govern, not just in a way that preserves power for folks who hold it, but actually in a way that solves the problems facing our communities today. You know, we aren't going to see that from the Republican Party moving forward. There isn't going to be an open debate about what their actual solutions to climate, to economic inequality, to racial justice. So it puts an onus on us to the power we have in the Democratic Party with our majorities in the legislature and certainly in the corner office to address the big challenges facing Massachusetts families.”

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz downplayed the significance of Baker’s decision, saying the race should be about what Democrats are for as opposed to against.

“We do have big problems, big challenges that the commonwealth is facing, not least of which is continuing to push to get out of this global health pandemic and to close health equity disparities in Massachusetts," she told WAMC. "And so I hope that the governor will put on some more speed when it comes to doing those things, because we've got a lot of work to.”

All eyes are on Attorney General Maura Healey, one of the state’s most popular Democrats, to see if she’ll enter the race with Baker out of the way. As she told WAMC in November, the AG has yet to commit to a run.

“It's something I'm continuing to evaluate," she said then. "I love the job that I have as Attorney General and I'm continuing to weigh possibilities and options, and I hope to have a decision soon.”

Healey’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment from WAMC after Baker’s announcement Wednesday.

Chang-Diaz says she isn’t concerned about the possible entry of such a formidable foe.

“I'm in this race because I believe that we do have this urgent imperative to tackle these problems at their root," said the state senator. "And that is the case no matter who's in this race. Running for governor was never going to be easy. And indeed, you know, it probably should be hard, because governing and governing well does require us to have grit through things that are difficult, through things that are politically uncomfortable if we are going to deliver real systemic change for working families, right? If those things were easy, they would have been done by now.”

Harvard professor Danielle Allen said she would welcome Healey to the race.

“It's just been such an amazing thing already to be a part of such a diverse field," she told WAMC. "And it would be terrific to welcome more into the race as well. We have a lot of talent in this state, so it's just been a real pleasure and joy.”

Allen underscored that Baker, something of a pariah in his own state party due to his criticism of former President Donald Trump, has no fellow centrist to anoint in the Massachusetts GOP, especially with Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito also declining to run.

“I think it is time for us all to face the fact that the Republican Party in Massachusetts really is a party committed to Trump- And in that regard is just like the Republican Party in the rest of the country," said Allen. "We can't pretend that the question of what the Republican Party is up to is any different here in Massachusetts from anywhere else. So I think in that regard, this should be a wakeup call moment for everybody.”

In a statement, Republican gubernatorial candidate and former State Representative Geoff Diehl thanked Baker and Polito for their service, acknowledged their political differences, and noted his campaign’s endorsement from Trump.

Orlando Silva, the fourth Democratic gubernatorial candidate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WAMC.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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