State Representative Shawn Dooley’s New Boston Post Column Against Governor Baker’s Coronavirus Rules Still Reverberating

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By Sam Doran
State House News Service

As Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker continues to hammer away at flattening COVID-19 with measures like reduced gathering sizes and restrictions on certain out-of-state travelers, a fellow State House Republican thinks the hammer is being swung much too hard — and is planning to support a lawsuit in the state’s highest court challenging the governor’s authority.

State Representative Shawn Dooley took to Facebook late Friday night to question the constitutionality of the quarantine and testing conditions that Baker recently placed on some people traveling from Rhode Island into Massachusetts.

“On it’s [sic] face I was ok with it until I started reading into the specifics and began to think of different scenarios where he was depriving Massachusetts residents of their personal liberty by this completely subjunctive edict,” Dooley wrote in his self-described “bashing the Governor rant,” a version of which was published as an op-ed Monday, August 10 in the conservative New Boston Post.

“BTW,” Dooley wrote, “I firmly believe this is unconstitutional and I’m trying to find an attorney to help me file suit in federal court — so if you know someone, please let me know.”

In taking issue with Baker’s executive actions, the post referred to him as “King Charles.” Dooley told State House News Service on Wednesday that the nickname was tongue-in-cheek but identified his problem with the governor’s orders:  “That it was just one person being in charge and making these rules unilaterally, which is the problem I have. I have less problem per-se with the rules than I do with the methodology.”

The Norfolk Republican said Wednesday he no longer planned to file his own lawsuit, but that he would be filing an amicus brief to an existing suit scheduled for arguments in September before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that challenges Baker’s authority to issue his numerous COVID-19 executive orders.

Baker clarified at a Friday,August 7 press conference that travel between the two states was all right for errands like grocery shopping or banking, but Dooley cited “other real world situations” like a friend who keeps a boat in Rhode Island and motors out on fishing excursions in the Ocean State without coming into contact with other people.

“He typically goes down, drives to the pier, walks down to his boat, and goes fishing with his kids. Never sees another person — and certainly not closer than 6 feet,” Dooley wrote. “If one of his neighbor’s would rat him out to the Governor — this would be a high crime — think about it, 10 days = $5,000.”

In response to a question about Dooley’s post, Baker said Tuesday, August 11 that by giving options to interstate travelers — quarantine, testing before arrival, or testing after arrival — “we believe it meets any Constitutional test that would be associated with that.”

“And as I said last week, Rhode Island — I mean, the numbers are the numbers,” Baker said. “We had set a travel advisory based on a certain set of criteria and they exceeded them. And if they come back down and fall under them, then we’ll change our policy. But as it stands right now, we’re giving people coming from Rhode Island options with respect to how to meet the terms of our advisory. … So I’m not worried about a challenge on that one.”

Dooley said Wednesday, August 12 that he would have preferred Baker to urge caution through a travel warning rather than threaten $500 fines, adding that it “smacks of ‘not America.’ ”

House Republican Leader Brad Jones said Wednesday he had not seen Dooley’s post but planned to look for it and reach out to him.

Jones assessed that House Republicans are “probably generally” supportive of Baker’s actions in response to COVID-19. “I think there are specific issues that people have concerns about. One of the challenges is that everybody represents different areas with different experiences, different interactions with COVID,” Jones said.

Second Assistant Minority Leader Betty Poirier, a Republican whose district abuts Dooley’s along the North Attleborough-Plainville line, told State House News Service she respects the governor but also understands how Dooley feels.

“I think all of us feel kind of mixed feelings about the whole thing. I have tremendous empathy with all the business people, I’m very close with many of them in my district,” Poirier said. “Fortunately, we live in an area of the state that has been not as affected as some other areas, so perhaps we don’t feel the same kind of urgency that other places feel. But I understand how Shawn feels. You know, there are many people who feel like he does.”

Poirier, who is retiring in January 2021 after more than 20 years in the House, said she has “no complaints” about Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, or Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, saying they have “done everything they possibly could in a situation we have no history in” to listen to health experts and protect lives.

Longtime MassGOP activist Ed Lyons, a computer programmer and pundit who worked on Baker’s 2015 transition team, expressed admiration for Dooley, calling him “the best of us” and “a great political player,” but said his commentary was “outrageous” and represents a growing schism between the state’s top elected Republican and the party apparatus which leans more conservative.

“To attack him as if he is some sort of uncaring monarch is unthinkable,” Lyons told State House News Service. “It shows that this enduring exercise of massive government power is wearing out the conservatives who oppose government power … and they are bristling under it.”

Asked Tuesday, August 11 about Dooley’s concerns with the Rhode Island restrictions, Baker did not indicate whether he had read the Facebook post in which the Norfolk Republican referred to the governor variously as “King Charles,” “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Baker,” and “King Charles Duane (not the rock) Baker, IV.”

“I’m sure he might disagree, but this isn’t done as anything against Governor Baker,” Dooley said Wednesday. “This isn’t personal, this is something I firmly believe as a representative of my district. … Taking away somebody’s liberty should be done very judiciously, and it should not be a knee-jerk thing because some kids in Providence had a party and caused a little spike.”

Dooley said he had reached out to Baker’s office indicating he was “happy to chat” but had not heard back, though he had heard from several legislators — Republicans and several Democrats — who thanked him for his article and said they agreed with his points.

“I truly believe he’s doing what he feels is in the public’s best interest,” Dooley said, referring to Governor Baker. “But my argument against that is it’s a slippery slope. … Especially as a Legislature, if we allow the executive branch to start doing our jobs for us, and not have oversight and not have debate and not have deliberation, and randomly declare ‘I have to do this because it’s an emergency,’ where does it stop?”