Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday urged residents not to rush to judgment about Donald Trump’s emerging administration even as he sought to reassure immigrants and others that Massachusetts would remain a “welcoming state” despite the president-elect’s divisive rhetoric.
Baker’s comments indicated he is trying to strike a difficult balance as he represents a liberal state opposed to much of Trump’s agenda while also trying to find ways to work with the incoming Republican president on issues such as infrastructure spending and medical research.
“There’s way too much prejudging going on here,” Baker said after returning from a conference of Republican governors in Orlando, where he met with Vice President-elect Mike Pence. “Let’s judge people on the totality of their work, on what they say, and how they pursue what they’re up to.”
In his comments to reporters Wednesday, Baker also sought to reassure immigrants, Muslims, Jews, blacks, Latinos, and others who fear that Trump’s victory has set off a new age of intolerance. Trump disparaged many of those groups during his campaign, and last week saw a rash of incidents grounded in racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry.
“We’re a global Commonwealth here, and I can tell you point blank, as governor, that I will continue to work with my colleagues in state and local government and with others to make sure everybody feels welcome here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and we will not tolerate acts of violence against anyone,” Baker said.
Baker noted that people from around the world play a vital role in the state’s education, high-tech, and health care sectors.
“We have always been a welcoming state, and being a welcoming state is what has made us strong and successful,” he said.
Baker offered some criticism of Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s choice to serve as senior adviser in the White House, who has been assailed for promoting racist, anti-Semitic, and nationalist views. But he did not join those who have called on Trump to remove Bannon.
Trump “has made clear he wants to unify the country post-election, and I said that, based on some of Bannon’s previous remarks and activities, that was a concern to me,” Baker said of the pick. “But I’m going to take a page from President Obama’s book on this one, who said the other day that he thinks the Trump administration’s team should be judged on the totality of his appointments. Let’s see what else happens.”
Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, blasted Baker’s comments on Bannon.
“Steve Bannon is a white supremacist, and his appointment by the president-elect should be roundly denounced,” she said in an interview. “This isn’t a wait-and-see moment. There’s a bright line, and there’s right and there’s wrong. And Steve Bannon represents the worst elements not just in this country, but in history.”
She said all elected officials should demand that Trump rescind the appointment.
“I just think it’s more important than ever that we stand up and say this can’t be accepted, this can’t be tolerated anywhere near the White House and the presidency of the United States,” Healey said.
Baker, who would face reelection in 2018, spurned Trump during the campaign, saying he did not believe he had the temperament to serve as president. Baker has said he left his presidential ballot blank.
At the Republican Governors Association meeting in Orlando on Monday, Baker sat next to Pence during an hour-long meeting with other governors.
He said Wednesday that Pence assured the group that states will have an “important voice” in shaping Trump administration policy.
Baker said there was at least one area where he could work with Trump: on an infrastructure bill designed to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges and modernize airports and railways. He said that would be about as “big and early a bipartisan win as I can think of.”
At the same time, Baker indicated that he would oppose efforts by Trump to cut federal funding for sanctuary cities such as Boston and Somerville that have vowed to welcome all immigrants, regardless of their legal status.
“I said all along that I think decisions about how communities want to manage their public safety issues and their community issues belong to them, and they should make whatever decisions are in the best interests of their communities,” Baker said. “Then it’s incumbent on our administration and our congressional delegation to work hard to make sure our state continues to receive the federal support that we’ve previously been able to secure.”
Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, who has said his city risks losing $6 million in federal funding if Trump follows through on his pledge, applauded Baker’s stance.
“By promising to safeguard sanctuary cities, Governor Baker has made the right choice for our Commonwealth’s public safety, economy, and support of core values,” he said. “Amid the current political climate, he especially deserves praise as well for exhibiting the kind of thoughtful and bold leadership that I hope will inspire other elected officials to join him.”
State Representative Geoff Diehl, a Whitman Republican who was co-chair of Trump’s Massachusetts campaign, said Baker’s stance on federal funding for sanctuary cities “could certainly be a sticking point between the president and the governor.”
But he said he was encouraged by Baker’s overall tone toward Trump.
“It sounds like a wait-and-see approach by the governor, and I’m glad that’s where he is,” Diehl said.