BOSTON — Republican Gov. Charlie Baker announced Wednesday he won’t seek a third term as governor of Massachusetts, where his party is bitterly split between supporters and foes of former President Donald Trump. The big announcement was made official in a letter.
“This was an extremely difficult decision for us,” Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in an email to state employees. “Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor.”
Baker’s decision comes near the end of a second grueling year in which his singular focus has been trying to cope with a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baker long has been among the nation’s most popular chief executives. His decision means there will be an open race for governor next year, and could encourage more candidates to jump in.
A number of Democrats have already announced their candidacies for governor, including Harvard professor Danielle Allen, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and former state Sen. Ben Downing.
Chang-Diaz sent Boston 25 News the following statement after Baker’s announcement, saying:
“The people of Massachusetts are ready for a new chapter with new leadership. For far too long, people in power have asked working families to wait for change — despite a growing affordable housing crisis, inaccessible and expensive child and health care, the existential threat of climate change, and long-standing racial injustice. In 2022, our next Governor must be someone willing to take on challenges even when they’re hard — who recognizes the urgency of this moment, who tackles these issues with the courage to solve them, and who has a record of winning bold, systemic change on Beacon Hill. I’m proud to be building a grassroots movement across age, class, and faith to put power back in the hands of the people and to elect a governor who’s not afraid to fight for our values.”
Another possible Democratic contender — Attorney General Maura Healey — has yet to say if she will run for the top political office.
Geoff Diehl, a former Republican state representative, has already announced his candidacy. Diehl remains popular with the conservative base of the state GOP and has been endorsed by Trump.
Baker, who served in the administrations of former fellow Republican Govs. William Weld and Paul Cellucci, first ran for governor in 2010 and lost to incumbent Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.
Four years later, Baker ran again, defeating former Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and taking office in January 2015. In his second run for governor in 2018, Baker easily defeated Democrat Jay Gonzalez.
During his second term, the sudden emergence of COVID-19 pushed much of Baker’s political agenda to the side as he, and the rest of the state, raced to respond to the implications of a fast-spreading and deadly virus that scientists and policymakers were trying to grasp in real time.
Baker took a series of dramatic steps, shutting down nonessential businesses, requiring the use of face masks in public, closing schools and issuing stay-at-home recommendations.
While some bristled at the restraints, polls showed Baker’s response generally earned high marks from the public, although there were serious errors. The state was home to one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in a U.S. nursing home at a veterans home where dozens succumbed to the disease.
“If we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts. We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into,” Baker and Polito said in their email.
Instead they will focus on the pandemic recovery in their last year in office.
“The focus for us is going to be on the work, and that is one of the reason, the main reason, we are choosing the decision we made is because we want to focus on the work,” the governor said.
Baker has also had to weather the ire of Trump.
Massachusetts Republicans has long leaned to the moderate and progressive wing of the national party, but Baker made that divide even more explicit, refusing to endorse — or even vote for — Trump during his 2016 run. Baker again refused to vote for Trump’s reelection bid last year.
The public stance earned Baker the rebuke and moniker of RINO (Republican In Name Only) from Trump, but likely only strengthened Baker’s popularity in Massachusetts, where voters rejected Trump by double-digit margins in both elections.
The former president weighed in on Gov. Baker’s decision around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday:
“RINO Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has announced that, because I didn’t endorse him and he is incapable of getting the Republican nomination, he will not be running for reelection. He’s been very selfish, and is bad news for the Republican Party—actually, he shouldn’t even be considered a Republican. We wish him well!”
The Baker/Polito administration was sworn into office in 2015. Right out of the gate, they said it was quite a ride.
“We have had snowstorms, we have had gas explosions and we have had a pandemic that has lasted long over what anyone of us expected,” said Lt Governor Polito.
That pandemic, both have repeatedly said, became their primary job. COVID restrictions to COVID vaccinations to reopening schools and now responding to COVID variants. Both also talked about their work-life balance over the past seven years.
“There is a lot of time I might be in the house, but I’m just not there and I’m thinking or trying to find an answer to some other thing,” Gov. Baker said.
“It was a really big decision and that is why it took so long to get here.”
The governor did get emotional at one point when he thanked the Lt. Governor and his team.
“A whole bunch of really good cabinet secretaries and staff,” he said.
The governor is not going anywhere for a while. We did ask him if he thinks he can still be effective in a lame-duck status over the year. He told us legislators on both sides reached out to him and said the door is open to get some important work done.
Still, what happens to all of the political donations they raised while considering another run?
“There will be more seats opening up for Congress or Senate, so I’m not sure Karen Polito’s political career is done,” said Stonehill College political science professor Peter Ubertaccio. “I don’t think it should be, she has plenty of life left in her and I think Charlie Baker will still be able to use some of those funds to impact races that he thinks are important to the state.”
Some people told Boston 25 News that they had a sense when the governor did not make a clear decision right away. The governor kept saying they were still trying to decide. That decision now is to step down next year.
Frank Kilburg of Medford said he was somewhat surprised.
“Generally I have a positive view on his tenure,” Kilburg said.
Frank Addivinola said the governor went too far with COVID restrictions.
“There’s too much control over us already, we don’t need any more government interference,” Addivinola said.
Read Baker’s full statement:
“To Our Friends & Colleagues –
After several months of discussion with our families, we have decided not to seek re-election in 2022. This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth. Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor.
We have all been going through an extraordinarily difficult pandemic, and the next year will be just as important, if not more important, than the past year. We have a great deal of work to do to put the pandemic behind us, keep our kids in school, and keep our communities and economy moving forward. That work cannot and should not be about politics and the next election. If we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts. We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into.
Coming out of this pandemic, we are acutely aware, more than ever before, about how little we can take for granted when it comes to our family, our friends, or our time on this planet. Done right, these jobs require an extraordinary amount of time and attention, and we love doing them. But we both want to be there with Lauren and Steve and our children for the moments, big and small, that our families will experience going forward.
When the voters of this great Commonwealth gave us this opportunity to serve, we had plans. Lots of them. They didn’t include 30 days of snow in our first 60 days in office. Or a natural gas explosion. Or a global pandemic. But with your support, and the creativity and resilience of the people of Massachusetts, we worked through these and other unanticipated crises and events to move our state forward.
We are determined to continue to put aside the partisan playbook that dominates so much of our political landscape – to form governing partnerships with our colleagues in local government, the Legislature, and the Congressional delegation. That bipartisan approach, where we listen as much as we talk, where we focus our energies on finding areas of agreement and not disagreement, and where we avoid the public sniping and grandstanding that defines much of our political discourse, allows us to make meaningful progress on many important issues.
We’ve led the nation in battling the opioid crisis, with more to do and the resources to do it. Our energy future – the nation’s energy future – is cleaner and more cost effective because of our work on deep water offshore wind. We brought broadband to our friends and neighbors in Western Massachusetts. We’ve made historic investments in housing of all kinds, enacted a landmark law to battle our housing crisis, and anticipate using significant federal funding to level the housing playing field going forward. We secured landmark criminal justice and law enforcement reforms and successfully dealt with the decades-long stain at Bridgewater State Hospital. We have dramatically increased funding for our schools. And we cut the income tax to 5 percent and dramatically increased our Rainy Day Fund by managing the state’s fiscal affairs with discipline and care.
But today is about the future. This next year needs to be about recovery, not about politics. We are grateful for the chance we have been given to serve the people of this great state and will give it our all between now and the end of 2022.
Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito”
Boston 25′s Wale Aliyu contributed to this report.
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