For months now, the three Democrats running for governor have crisscrossed Massachusetts, arguing that voters should fire Republican Governor Charlie Baker.
It’s an argument that, for the most part, their fellow Democrats on Beacon Hill have not echoed.
Much has been said about the seeming incongruity that deeply Democratic Massachusetts regularly elects Republican governors. Noteworthy, too, is the fact that Baker, the nation’s most popular governor, is often a vocal opponent of the policies of President Trump.
Less attention has been paid to how unusual it is that a lopsided Democratic Legislature has spent much of the past three years looking for ways to work with Baker rather than make his political life difficult.
“I think the dynamic on Beacon Hill is that everyone is getting along to go along,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez said. “There could be more oversight and checking in with what’s happening with the executive branch and whether they are delivering. It’s [the Legislature’s] role as part of the checks and balances in the system.”
That’s a relatively minor complaint, of course.
Consider how Democratic legislatures in other states have approached Republican governors.
In Illinois — another blue state that has voted for a string of Republican governors — Democratic lawmakers prolonged debate on the state budget to the point it erupted into fiscal crisis. Meanwhile, investigations into problems at a state-run veterans’ home have the incumbent Republican entering his reelection so bruised he only narrowly survived a primary challenge in March.
When Republican Chris Christie led New Jersey, the Democratic Legislature held hearings looking into his administration long before the Bridgegate scandal surfaced.
The dynamic is even more acute in relative swing states where the partisan culture might be more baked in. In Maine, for example, the Democratic House and even the Republican-controlled Senate voted on whether to impeach Republican Governor Paul LePage after he demanded a nonprofit rescind a job offer to a political opponent or he would deny some state funding. Then, of course, there is Wisconsin, where Democrats were united in putting Republican Scott Walker through a recall election.
But here in Massachusetts, despite issues with the State Police, MBTA, and the Department of Children and Families, as well as the hiring practices of the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Department of Revenue, the Legislature hasn’t crafted much of a narrative against Baker.
Massachusetts Democratic Party chair Gus Bickford accepts the premise that Massachusetts Democrats on Beacon Hill have been finding ways to work with Baker, but he is quick to point out that after the state budget is finished this summer and campaign season kicks off in earnest, the approach will change.
“When we get to the political season, the talk will be how it will make a huge difference if you have a Democrat in the governor’s office,” Bickford said.
Not that Massachusetts voters look poised to make a change.
A WBUR poll last month gave Baker a 66 percent approval rating and showed him defeating potential opponents by at least 34 percentage points.
That said, there were signs last week that Democrats might be ready to take the gloves off when it comes to Baker.
Hours after Democratic gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren, the former Newton mayor, called for the Legislature to open an investigation into State Police overtime pay, Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat and the state’s top prosecutor, said it was Baker’s responsibility to address the controversy.
“It’s time that the Baker administration take a leadership role on this issue,” Healey told reporters Thursday. “I hope they take these concerns — that are rightly raised — seriously, and move quickly to address these issues. Again, this is about a culture. This is about accountability. This is about transparency. It needs to be fixed, and it needs to be addressed now.”
On Monday, Baker outlined steps he would take to target some of the concerns with the State Police. Democrats, meanwhile, seemed to have little to say.
Contrast the tepid Democratic pushback to the governor with how Baker and the state Republican Party quickly criticize Democratic politicians on everything from opposing a sales tax holiday to slamming state Treasurer Deb Goldberg for layoffs that could have happened — but didn’t — at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
Leaving aside the usual partisanship in an election year, the real issue, as Bob Massie, another Democrat running for governor, put it, is a disconnect between where Beacon Hill is and where Massachusetts residents are in terms of policy.
“We have all of these problems from college affordability to the MBTA, and the Legislature has been slow to act to push Baker,” Massie said. “But the people on Beacon Hill have just talked to each other and there isn’t the healthy tension we need to hold the governor accountable.”