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Shirley Leung

When passion is needed, Charlie Baker is nowhere to be found

As tens of thousands of people gathered on Boston Common for the March for Our Lives on Saturday, Charlie Baker was once again conspicuously absent.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2018

Another march, and another chance for us to ask: “Where’s Charlie?”

As tens of thousands of people gathered on Boston Common for the March for Our Lives on Saturday, Charlie Baker was once again conspicuously absent.

By now, we know our governor doesn’t do demonstrations. When an even bigger crowd packed the Common for last year’s Women’s March, our technocrat-in-chief decided he would rather hang out a few blocks away at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

When thousands gathered at a rally in Copley Square to protest President Trump’s executive order on immigrant travelers, Baker couldn’t make it. He was at a funeral.


Surely, a march led by teenagers who want Congress to pass tougher gun laws would be politically safe to attend in Massachusetts, where we have already instituted common-sense restrictions that have lowered the rate of gun deaths. Nope, not for Cautious Charlie.

At least Baker is coming up with better reasons for being a no-show.

“I was actually at an event in Roxbury at the Anna Mae Cole Center, which was a sports jamboree for a place that has had some real trouble with violence,” Baker told reporters Monday.

What else did the governor do Saturday? He stopped by a Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Quincy as employees prepared to flip the switch on a new software system. Later, he was in Foxborough for a conference and in Attleboro stumping for Julie Hall, a Republican candidate for state representative.

I was ready to give Baker a break until I learned the lengths other politicians went to to show up for what they believe in.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren crisscrossed the state, attending March for Our Lives demonstrations in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. All before she jetted off from Logan Airport that evening for a weeklong foreign policy trip to Asia.


Attorney General Maura Healey flew to Washington, D.C., marching alongside parents who lost children in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, as well as with Greg Gibson, a Gloucester father whose son was killed when a gunman opened fire on the campus of Simon’s Rock in Western Massachusetts more than two decades ago.

Seth Moulton was in California stumping for 19 candidates for Congress but still participated in the San Francisco march. Back in Massachusetts, the North Shore congressman’s office picked up round trip commuter rail costs for 300 students traveling from Salem to the Boston march.

And what about Boston Mayor Marty Walsh?

Like Baker, the mayor visited the Anna Mae Cole center Saturday afternoon. But unlike Baker, the mayor found a way to participate in what turned out to be a historic day in fighting gun violence in this country. Walsh spent his morning — close to an hour and a half — greeting marchers as they gathered at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Roxbury before they headed to the Common for an afternoon of speeches.

Emotions are running high in this country, and we have a governor who prefers to run away from them. In unsettling times, we look to our leaders for comfort and guidance. Other politicians get that.


But Baker finds comfort being on the sidelines at politically perilous moments, whether it’s strengthening transgender rights to hosting the Olympics. Or how about the time he left blank his choice for the White House because he didn’t like any of the candidates in the 2016 race? The next topic he’ll probably go neutral on: whether to support a sweeping set of criminal justice reforms that lawmakers unveiled last week.

A profile in political courage he is not.

Sure, Baker voiced support for March for Our Lives and described it as a “big success.” On gun control, Team Baker will tell you he’s making his mark by getting things done. Massachusetts recently joined a coalition of Northeast states to share data about people who are forbidden from purchasing or possessing a firearm within each state.

Baker has also shifted in recent years from being skeptical about the effectiveness of a federal ban on assault weapons to supporting a new one.

“I hope that the feds reinstitute the assault weapons ban. There is tremendous support for that across political parties and points of view,” Baker said Monday. “As I have said several times, I would love to see the feds adopt some of [the] policies, practices and strategies that have been very successful in reducing gun crime and gun deaths here in the Commonwealth.”

Hope, as they say, is not a strategy. What we won’t see as Baker’s reelection campaign kicks into high gear is the most popular governor in America using his political capital to stand up to the National Rifle Association. As the Republican governor of a state with the strictest gun control laws in the country, Baker could become — no, should become — a powerful voice in getting the NRA to back down and Congress to act.


Baker can do this. He has become a national leader in fighting opioid addiction. How did he get there? He met families on the campaign trail in 2014 who lost loved ones to these drugs. The opioid crisis wasn’t on his radar screen until he heard their stories, and they moved him enough to create landmark legislation that stands out as one of the high points of his first term.

This is why Baker should be marching. Policy is ultimately about people, and if you’re not with the people, you might not know what you’re missing.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.