More Taxes, More Free Services, Less Trump, Say Democratic Candidates

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By Matt Murphy

WORCESTER — Three Democrats vying for the opportunity to challenge Governor Charlie Baker — widely expected to seek re-election next year — laid out for party faithful their opening case against the popular Republican incumbent on Saturday, largely embracing a left-leaning agenda with appeal to the progressive wing of the party.

Almost 3,300 Democrats, including many first-time delegates, gathered at the DCU Center in Worcester for an off-year platform convention energized by the unexpected victory last November of President Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump has united the Democratic Party in a way it has not been united in a generation,” U.S. Senator Edward Markey said in a fiery floor speech.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also up for re-election in 2018, also provided a spark on the day for delegates as she tore into the president and his administration. Warren could be facing a challenge from Republican state Representative Geoff Diehl.

“Massachusetts will lead the fight against a dangerous bully in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 until we once again have a President who cares less about himself and his billionaire buddies and more about serving the American people,” Warren said.

But while Trump and his policies on immigration, climate change and immigration provided the red meat for the parade of elected leaders who addressed the arena, the task of taking on Baker fell almost exclusively to the men hoping to defeat him in 2018.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren, former Deval Patrick budget chief Jay Gonzalez, and environmentalist and entrepreneur Bob Massie tried to cast Baker as an ineffective leader and one ill-equipped to lead the state in the Trump era, despite the governor’s long list of differences with the White House.

“We have always been a leader. But not now. Not under Governor Baker,” Gonzalez said. “I’m frustrated by how little Governor Baker has accomplished, but I’m even more frustrated by how little he has even tried. It’s not good enough.”

Gonzalez targeted Baker’s management of the transportation system and state finances, questioned the efficacy of his efforts to curb opioid addiction, and accused him of stacking state government with patronage hires.

“It’s not good enough to simply accept the world the way it exists and try to manage it better; we need a Governor who sees the way the world should be and takes us to that place,” Gonzalez said.

Setti Warren went even further, challenging the Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill that has worked closely with Baker and with whom proposals such as single-payer health care have failed to gain traction.

“Yes. I am challenging Charlie Baker, but I’m also here to challenge my own party — each of you and our elected officials. Don’t accept Charlie Baker’s idea that just getting to next year’s budget is the best we can do. Don’t hesitate to say clearly we need new revenue,” Warren said.

Trump’s victory may have galvanized party leaders and sparked a surge in grassroots activism in the heavily Democrat-voting state of Massachusetts, but for those hoping to prioritize winning back the governor’s office it has also become something of a distraction.

“Governor Baker is very popular and well liked, even among Democrats, so it’s going to be tough,” said Loretta Pellegrini, a first-time delegate from East Longmeadow who came to the convention with several friends. “We’ve been so focused on the national that we need to focus more on the local. It was good for me to sit through the three speeches.”

Pellegrini said she was impressed by Warren, but liked what she heard from all three candidates. “I’d like to see more of him,” she said of Setti Warren.

The Newton mayor called the party platform adopted by the convention, which included a new plank calling for carbon emission reductions, a start. He said it’s time to make single-payer health care a “reality” and for free public higher education.

“Do not believe for one instant that we cannot get to single-payer health care and free public college in Massachusetts,” Warren said.

Massie, who used call-and-response to engage the delegates, targeted Trump and Baker, rattling off goals from free public college and a $15 minimum wage to a ban on campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies.

“Not with Baker,” Massie chanted in unison with the delegates.

The Somerville resident urged voters to take the “grief and rage” they’ve felt since November and use it to “renew the promise of the United States of America.”

Born with hemophilia, Massie later contracted HIV and hepatits C from contaminated blood treatments and injections. “I emerged from the valley of the shadow of death not broken, not afraid, but transformed by the fire of suffering into a man of burning passion and resolve,” Massie said.

Gonzalez reminded the party of his ties to former Governor Deval Patrick, the popular two-term governor who has faded from the political scene since he left office. “Remember him?” Remember what it was like to have a Governor with a backbone?” he said.

“It is easy to be popular when you don’t do anything,” Gonzalez said of Baker.

More than a year out from the 2018 Democratic primary, some delegates couldn’t shake the idea in the back of their minds that the field is still not set.

Former state senator and Cape Air founder Dan Wolf, who did not attend Saturday’s convention, is still considering a run, and Attorney General Maura Healey, who says she plans to seek re-election, has not completely shut the door to changing her mind.

“I feel like it’s still open. I guess Maura Healey’s not running, but I would have loved to see her. But she’s also good in the position she’s in,” said Nicole Letourneau, a delegate from Greenfield.

Like others, Letourneau said she  was “devastated” by Hillary Clinton’s loss and felt helpless to affect change at the national level, so she became involved in local town politics. “I haven’t really tuned in to the governor’s race yet,” she said.

Healey, who has said she intends to seek a second term as Attorney General in 2018, did not mention those plans to delegates, focusing instead on the actions her office has taken to push back against Trump, relieve student loan debt, and protect consumers.

She also said she looked forward to helping elect Democrats in 2018. “We have to keep working for change, for a state and a country that works for all our families. Because here in Massachusetts, good enough has never been good enough,” Healey said.

Secretary of State William Galvin, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, and Auditor Suzanne Bump never mentioned Baker by name in their speeches, focusing instead on the work of their offices and national politics. All three will be up for re-election next year.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a frequent ally of Baker in legislative debates on Beacon Hill who was called out as “tone-deaf” by Wolf at a local party meeting in Somerville this week, did not attend the convention. But Senate President Stanley Rosenberg indirectly challenged his State House counterpart not to get lulled to sleep by the lure of being seen as an antidote to the gridlock in Washington.

“We need change and we should not be afraid to fight for it, and we should not use bipartisanship as an excuse for inaction,” Rosenberg said.

The Amherst Democrat called for passage of the “Fair Share” amendment to increase taxes incomes over $1 million, a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and “real criminal justice reform” that includes the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences.

“We need to make that platform a reality by passing laws and moving legislation through to the governor’s desk and even over his objection, our overwhelmingly Democratic House and Senate must fight for every provision in this party platform,” Rosenberg said.

“We have a big tent, but that doesn’t mean we stray from what we believe in,” he added.

Senator Warren said standing up for core principles like universal health care is not at odds with casting a wide net for candidates for state and federal office to build the Democratic Party.

“I didn’t hear party purity out there. I didn’t hear lock anybody out of the party if they don’t sign up to these 100 ideas. I didn’t hear that at all. What I heard out there was the energy of the people who say our voices will be heard in Washington,” Warren said.

Warren said Baker’s voice would be welcomed when he agrees with Democrats, and declined to offer an opinion of the governor’s performance, though she said she liked what she heard from the “good men” on the Democratic side running for governor.

“They’re making the case individually for what they’ve got to offer that they believe Charlie Baker doesn’t and I think that’s the moment we’re in. We need to let them make that case,” she told reporters after her speech.

Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford, presiding over his first convention since he was elected last November, also went hard after Baker, accusing the governor of treating public transit riders as “second-class citizens” and suggesting his efforts to fight back against Trump administration policies have been largely symbolic.

“Letters are not enough. Letters are not a place of action,” Bickford said, referring to Baker’s penchant for firing off policy-rich memos to members of Congress and the administration to express his views.

Bickford also told Democrats they should take credit for Baker’s decision Friday afternoon to join Massachusetts in a multi-state climate alliance formed after Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris accord.

“He caved to all of our pressure,” Bickford said.