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opinion | Alan Wirzbicki

Charlie Baker’s refugee stance undercuts his image

After testifying at a hearing Monday before the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Governor Charlie Baker (center) answered a question about letting Syrian refugees resettle in Massachusetts. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

CHARLIE BAKER’S “data guy” act is starting to wear just a little thin.

The governor’s now-infamous statement on Monday — when he said that he’s “not interested in accepting refugees from Syria” into Massachusetts “as of right now” — threatens more than just the image of the kinder, gentler Charlie Baker 2.0 that he introduced in last year’s gubernatorial campaign to replace the angrier version that fell flat with voters in 2010.

It also cuts against Baker’s fundamental sales pitch to voters in both elections: that he was a smart, nonideological, fact-driven technocrat.

On Monday, explaining his reluctance to take Syrian refugees, he again described himself as a “data guy,” and said he lacked information when it came to the vetting of refugees.


But the refugee program has been in place for years. If Baker felt he lacked details about the federal government’s vetting process, why didn’t he ask before welcoming Syrian refugees in September? Wasn’t he a data guy then, too?

What changed, ostensibly, was last week’s deadly Paris attacks — most of which were carried out by European citizens. A truly data-driven guy like Baker says he is would, presumably, have to start by considering new limits on French or Belgian visitors. Thousands of foreigners pass through Massachusetts, compared to the 72 Syrians who have resettled in Massachusetts after extensive background checks since October 2011.

US governors began objecting to Syrian refugees after a Syrian passport was found on the body of one of the Paris attackers — a passport that investigators now believe is a fake. The German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, told the Associated Press the attackers may have purposely put a Syrian passport at the scene to provoke antirefugee sentiment.

The political risk for Baker doesn’t come from offending a powerless group like refugees. But he’s calling into question a big part of his reputation. One of the reasons Baker won last year in a heavily Democratic state, and has since had success at difficult tasks like winning new powers over the MBTA from the Legislature, was the trust, even among Democrats, that he was a practical thinker.


But following the national GOP herd, on the basis of a passport that could turn out to be ISIS propaganda? That’s not just mean-spirited, and reminiscent of the old Baker — it’s also the opposite of fact-driven.

Alan Wirzbicki is a Globe editorial writer. He can be reached at