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Baker touts his GOP gospel of moderation, bipartisanship

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/file
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

Governor Charlie Baker, responding to pushback from a prominent gay and lesbian organization for his decision to speak at a GOP conference featuring top conservatives, said Friday that it is a “good thing” for him to share his moderate, bipartisan brand of Republicanism with others in his party.

“I think we’ve tried pretty hard as an administration to seek common ground and celebrate it where we can, as opposed to identifying points of difference and exploiting them,” Baker said.

“And, for me, the opportunity to go talk to a group about the way we think public governance should work — bipartisan, collaborative, and open — that’s something, I think, is important for us to say. Especially in this day and age where so much of our political dialogue is just the opposite,” he said.

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Baker’s comments came a day after he was disinvited from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s gala in part because he’s speaking at the GOP conference in Las Vegas this weekend. The group is also pressuring him to support a transgender rights bill pending on Beacon Hill.

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Baker was headed Friday to the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring leadership meeting, where speakers will include conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and controversial pastor John Hagee, who strongly opposes gay marriage. Baker is set to give a closed-door speech on Saturday.

The chamber declared Thursday night that it had dropped its plan to celebrate Baker at its “Best of the Best Awards Dinner” on April 26 unless he avoided the Las Vegas event and also embraced the bill that would protect transgender people in Massachusetts from discrimination in malls, restaurants, and other public accommodations.

Asked about the pulled invitation to the chamber’s gala, Baker said he views it as “petty and unfortunate.”

Baker, who one poll found was the most popular governor in the country, typically enjoys cordial relations with the heavily Democratic Massachusetts Legislature. And while he generally focuses his energies on his home state, he has made several trips to GOP events across the country since taking office in 2015 — encountering national Republicans who are often more conservative.

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The announcement from the chamber Thursday marked a turnabout. Baker had worked closely with the group on an initiative to boost state vendors that contract with businesses certified as being owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people.

“No one was looking to seek attention or awards here,” he said of the state vendor initiative. “We were just trying to do something we thought was a good idea.”

The announcement from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce came after Representative Joe Kennedy III, a Brookline Democrat, found out Baker was going to be feted. The congressman then asked the group to strike his name from the list of honorary cohosts for this event — given his support for transgender rights and Baker not having a stance on the public accommodations bill.

Kennedy, at the State House Friday for an unrelated event, dodged questions about the imbroglio, saying “that was an issue between the chamber and the governor; I don’t really have any comment on that.”

But he pressed what he sees as the importance of the transgender legislation, as did other groups backing it.

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Kennedy said the legal protections he enjoys are “more robust than some other members of our community. And people are treated differently. The law affects people differently and I don’t think that’s right.”

Kennedy said people in Massachusetts should make sure the law protects everyone equally.

“Governor Baker has undoubtedly shown leadership on a number of these issues,” he said, “and I think and I would hope that as he dives into this, and does his research and analysis, that he would come around on it.”

The bill remains mired in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary and it’s unclear if or when the Legislature will vote on it, and if the governor would sign or veto it.

Freedom Massachusetts, the main advocacy group supporting the bill, which is also backed by many local businesses, echoed Kennedy’s sentiment.

Campaign manager Carly Burton said in a statement that Baker has shown a commitment to equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community “in his support of the freedom to marry and his endorsement of a groundbreaking initiative to support businesses owned by LGBT people. He has an opportunity now to cement his legacy by endorsing an urgently needed measure that would ensure full protections for transgender people in public places.”

And Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said now that so many businesses support the bill, it will be easier politically for Baker to back it.

“I believe that at the end of the day, the governor will support the bill because if he listens to his heart,” she said, “it will get him there.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos and subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics at bostonglobe.com/politicalhappyhour.