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shirley leung

Charlie Baker can’t go MIA on Trump forever

Senator Elizabeth Warren, flanked by Senator Ed Markey (left) and Mayor Marty Walsh, pumped up the crowd.
JohnTlumacki/Globe Staff
Senator Elizabeth Warren, flanked by Senator Ed Markey (left) and Mayor Marty Walsh, pumped up the crowd.

There were so many politicians on stage for the formal program of the Boston Women’s March that I thought Senate President Stan Rosenberg might fall off.

They were everywhere you looked: US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, US representatives, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and a good chunk of the City Council, House Speaker Bob DeLeo, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, and Auditor Suzanne Bump.

But the one person conspicuously absent from Saturday’s event on Boston Common — and the one person I really hoped to see — was Governor Charlie Baker.

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I know our governor champions women. He’s a pro-choice Republican who signed a bill that strengthened the state’s equal pay law and whose Cabinet is filled with formidable female leaders.

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But instead of standing up for what he believes in, before 175,000 demonstrators, Baker was holed up several blocks away at the Hynes Convention Center for the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Basically, he’d rather revel in details about waste management and municipal law than participate in what turned out to be a historic day in Boston and in America, where hundreds of thousands of people rallied for women’s rights.

In an interview with the Globe, Baker was asked whether he made a conscious choice not to attend, to which he replied “no.”

The governor is one busy guy. He was at Donald Trump’s inaugural in Washington on Friday. He has a budget to work on and his State of the Commonwealth speech, which he delivers Tuesday. And he wanted to spend time over the weekend with his daughter before she returned to college on Sunday.

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But if Baker truly believed in the women’s march, he would have sent Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito in his place or a member of his Cabinet. How about budget czar Kristen Lepore or Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack? Either would have represented the administration well. (Polito, it turns out, had a family commitment.)

We all know what’s really going on here. The women’s march was billed as a nonpartisan gathering, but at heart it was a protest against Donald Trump.

And that put Baker in a bind. He no doubt worries about getting on the bad side of our famously vindictive president. In a state of full of Democrats — some of whom are leading the resistance to Trump — the Republican governor might be one of the few people in the Commonwealth who can pull strings with Congress and the new administration.

For starters, Baker is counting on $1 billion in federal funding for the Green Line and billions more for revamping the state’s health care program for the poor.

But on the march, I wanted Baker to be true to himself. His generic response to this important moment in our democracy didn’t cut it for me: “I think any time a big group of people gets out there and engages in the civic discourse, that’s a good thing, no matter what their point of view is.”

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Here’s what I hope he really wanted to say: I wish I’d been there. I should have been there. Not just for all the women in the Commonwealth, but for my daughter and my wife. I’m not here for show. I’ve stood by gay marriage, reproductive rights, equal pay, and women on boards for a long time.

Our governor famously likes to play it safe.

During the campaign, Baker lambasted Trump but then chickened out and didn’t cast a ballot for any presidential candidate.

He stayed neutral as long as he possibly could on other controversial topics, such as whether to bring the Summer Olympics to Boston and on a transgender rights bill (which he eventually signed).

The strategy has worked. The latest WBUR poll shows Baker with a 59 percent favorability rating, making him more popular than Senator Warren.

But at some point — maybe not too far down the road — Trump will make it impossible for our governor to keep playing it safe.

Jim O’Sullivan and Joshua Miller of the Globe staff contributed reporting. Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.