Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez criticized Gov. Charlie Baker’s handling of civil rights issues including immigration, transgender rights and refugee resettlement — going so far as to compare Baker’s approach to President Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.
“Gov. Baker, long before Donald Trump, was doing some things that caused me to want to run,” Gonzalez said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Tuesday. “His gut reaction on these issues was not in the right place.”
“I’m not saying Charlie Baker is Donald Trump,” Gonzalez continued, “but he has done similar things here.”
Gonzalez cited a statement Baker made on Boston Public Radio in 2015, stating that South Carolina residents could “make their own call” on whether or not to fly confederate flags — framing it as a decision for individual states.
Baker later backed off the comments, following correspondence with friends who he said asked him, “Jesus, Charlie, you know, what were you thinking?” according to an interview later that day with WBZ Radio.
Gonzalez compared Baker’s apology to Trump’s final denunciation of white supremacists, which many critics said was just too little too late.
“These are flags that represent the type of thinking and hateful rhetoric and intolerance that these white supremacist groups are spewing,” Gonzalez said. “He walked it back … later, but we need a governor and we need leadership in the White House that don’t need coaching and pressure and second chances to get it right.”
Another example of Baker’s hesitancy to act, according to Gonzalez, was Baker’s resistance to sign last year’s transgender rights bill. “The governor ultimately signed it — after a lot of pressure,” Gonzalez said. “He stayed silent on the bill while it was working its way through the legislature, he had previously opposed the legislation, and he reluctantly signed it behind closed doors.”
Baker remained reticent until he could “see the details” of the bill, a hesitancy Gonzalez finds unacceptable. “In my view, it’s not okay,” he said. “What I would offer as a governor is the type of leadership where people across the state, every single person knows their governor is there for them, and doesn’t have to question whether or not hate and discrimination are going to be tolerated.”
According to a Morning Consult poll from April, Baker is the most popular governor in the country — again — with an approval rating of 75 percent. Gonzalez credits these high ratings to what he believes is an apathetic approach from Baker.
“I think it’s easy to be popular when you don’t do anything, when you never take a stand on controversial issues,” Gonzalez said. “If he’s got political capital, he’s not using it to move us forward and make progress on issues that are holding us back.”
Baker has yet to take an official stance on the "Millionaire’s Tax" — a proposal that would increase taxes for those with an income of $1 million or more.
“This is probably the most consequential public policy decision before the state in the coming year, and he has taken no position on it,” Gonzalez said.
According to Gonzalez, Baker has not offered a concrete plan for affordable college, childcare, housing or transportation. “We need a vision,” he said. “Right now we’re not only not making progress in these areas, he literally is not even trying.”
Jay Gonzalez is a Democrat running for governor in Massachusetts and the former Secretary of Administration and Finance for former Gov. Deval Patrick. To hear his full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio player above.