Charlie Baker vs. Republican Party — Weekly Roundup of Beacon Hill

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By Craig Sandler
State House News Service
(Review and analysis of the week in state government)

Nothing could match the surrealism of the scene in Washington this week, but the dynamic around this state’s governor’s race has its own strange feel — and poll numbers early this week quantified the weirdness.

Governor Charlie Baker may have endorsed the entire Republican slate, seemingly just to be polite, but if you charted the governor’s stances you’d find he opposes his party’s candidates for both U.S. Senate and attorney general on some of the defining issues of our political moment.

And what the heck, let’s do it.

We could extend this. And of course, there’s the all-consuming topic du an:  Brett Kavanaugh. Republican Geoff Diehl declared the series of misconduct allegations against President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee a “stalling technique” Monday, and did nothing to modify that position after Thursday’s momentous hearing. Republican attorney general candidate Jay McMahon is holding off on taking a position on Kavanaugh, but small-government, pro-gun, pro-life Republicans are solidly with the embattled nominee, and McMahon is all four of the above.

Meanwhile, Baker aligned with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Cambridge) and state Attorney General Maura Healey (D-Charlestown), continuing a years-long pattern of opposing almost anything Trumpian, and agreeing with Healey, his potential gubernatorial foe, at nearly every turn. See in this regard this week’s Baker denouncement of denying green cards to immigrants on public assistance.

As for his current opponent, well, Baker’s declaration that he believes Dr. Christine Blasey Ford yanked the hottest-button issue of the year away from Jay Gonzalez, who was lambasting Baker for not taking a stand. Baker said he believes Ford, meaning by implication he does not believe Kavanaugh, who was testifying under oath. That offhand intimation of perjury was lost in the tumult of a crazy week, but it was as stark an illustration as we’ll ever get as to how willing the GOP moderate is to align with Democrats.

Care to guess the result?

A WBUR/MassINC poll showed Baker leading Gonzalez by 20 points — among Democrats. That was the smallest margin of support — he only got 52 percent of respondents who identified with the other party. Among his own party, Baker polled at 80 supportive, 3 percent opposed. And among the state’s largest voting bloc, the unenrolled, Baker polled 70 percent to Gonzalez’ 30 percent. With only about a tenth of the governor’s money, five weeks to make his case, and 45 percent of the poll respondents saying they’ve never heard of him, Gonzalez has got to be feeling grim.

The disputatious, uncomfortably personal tone of policy decision-making was reprised to a small degree in a surprise resignation from an experienced and widely-respected leader Wednesday. Stephen Crosby, the chairman of the state Gaming Commission from its inception, said he’s quitting the board immediately. Crosby said insinuations of bias are compromising the commission’s ability to investigate whether the company is fit to hold a casino license.

“I simply cannot let my involvement in these critical deliberations be used by others to hamper the commission’s ability to do its work, or to undermine the confidence of the public in that work,” Crosby wrote in his resignation letter.

Wynn changed the name of its Everett casino and sparked a review of its suitability for a casino license after sexual misconduct allegations forced the resignation of its chairman, Steve Wynn. Crosby said both Wynn and Mohegan Sun, its competitor, had accused him of bias. The commission expects to receive a report on Wynn’s background, and hold a suitability hearing, in October; the casino is due to open in June.

At Thursday’s meeting, former New Jersey state police deputy lieutenant Gayle Cameron was chosen to succeed Crosby, and the board turned its attention to “Region C” — southeastern Massachusetts, the last section of the state not to receive a license for a casino. Commissioners will reopen public comment on possible licensees, and a group wanting to build a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds says it is ready to try again for a gambling facility there. An earlier bid for a fairground facility was turned down by the commission on the grounds it lacked a coherent, credible vision for community and economic benefits. The Wampanoag Tribe was planning to open a casino in Taunton, but that plan too was scotched, when a federal land grant fell through.

Another state board stepped directly in the center of a ballot battle that’s much closer than the gubernatorial race — Question 1, which would mandate nurse-staffing levels at hospitals statewide. The BUR poll showed the question tied 44 to 44 percent among those with a choice — and after months of not saying whether it would examine the impact of a Yes outcome on hospital finances and patient care, the Health Policy Commission (HPC) said it would. The governor said his stance on the question, currently “undecided,” will be influenced by that report.

The HPC issued its final report on the Beth Israel Deaconess-Lahey Health mega-merger and referred the matter to the attorney general, asking Healey to attach enforceable conditions to the deal that address concerns over negative implications for access to care and medical costs.

The sad saga of Brian Joyce took the saddest turn possible Thursday. The once-powerful former senator, facing trial on a slew of federal corruption charges, was found dead in his Westport home by his wife Thursday. Joyce was 56. An autopsy is planned.

SONG OF THE WEEK: The clamor in Washington sent echoes everywhere, including the Bay State.

STORY OF THE WEEK: He said, She said in D.C. somehow extrapolated to He Said, He Said in Massachusetts, as the Republican incumbent governor spoke to the Kavanaugh issue and his incredible following among Democrats.