Protesters interrupted Governor Charlie Baker three times Thursday night during a forum at Tufts University, pressing him to take a stronger stance against President Trump’s plan to increase deportations of immigrants in the country illegally.
The Republican governor was invited to speak about his vision and priorities for Massachusetts with Alan Solomont, dean of Jonathan M. Tisch College for Civic Life at Tufts.
Solomont, a former ambassador to Spain and Andorra under former president Obama, had asked Baker just one question on stage at the Distler Performance Hall when protesters started to chant from the back of the venue.
“No ban! No wall!” they shouted, according to an online livestream of the event. The chant was an apparent reference to Trump’s recent controversial steps to further restrict immigrants from entering the United States and to extend a wall along the Mexican border.
One protester yelled out over the crowd to ask Baker if he would support making Massachusetts a sanctuary state, meaning state law enforcement officials would be limited
in cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officials.
“No, and I’ll tell you why,” Baker answered.
A Republican in a largely moderate state, Baker said he believes those decisions should be left to local governments because city and town leaders know their communities best.
“Local communities should be able to make the decision that they believe is in the best interest of their communities,” he said.
“We don’t want to be the ‘thou shalt’ people,” Baker said later in the forum, when he was asked again about the topic. He said he has spoken to many mayors who each feel differently.
“You get into this ‘thou shalt’ business and what happens when somebody is in charge who you disagree with, and they ‘thou shalt’ you into something that you think is just fundamentally wrong for your community?’’ the governor said. “I mean, we wield a very heavy stick in government. We should be very careful about how we swing it.”
Protesters accused the governor of being “against education” and cutting funds to public education, but Baker said his administration has never done that.
At least two student groups organized the protests, during which about 60 students walked out, said Joe Walsh, executive news editor of the Tufts Daily, the campus newspaper.
“They were frustrated with him speaking there,” said Walsh, who was covering the event for the newspaper.
Walsh said he was alerted to the protests before Baker’s talk. After the students walked out, about 120 students and faculty remained to listen to the governor, who did not seem flustered, said Walsh, a sophomore from Southborough.
A spokesman for Baker declined to comment further.
Baker has been criticized for not attending rallies around the state that started the day after Trump’s inauguration, which the governor attended.
He told the Tufts audience that he is proud that the protests in Massachusetts since he took office in 2015 have had no major incidents.
He has been faulted for not speaking out as vociferously as the state’s Democratic leaders.
But the Republican governor has criticized some of the Trump administration’s policies in other ways.
Earlier Thursday he said he does not support Trump’s decision to lift some protections for transgender students. He has sent letters to officials in Washington, taking issues with the immigrant travel restrictions and asking the GOP-controlled Congress to maintain several key provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
Baker, as a Republican governor, faces a tougher political calculation in objecting to or criticizing Trump’s policies. He must balance public outcry over the president’s more controversial moves with more practical concerns, such as not jeopardizing federal funding to the state. He also must not risk losing support of the state’s more conservative voters.
Baker heads to Washington, D.C., Friday for an annual meeting of Republican governors.