By Scott Helman, Globe Staff
When the last Republican governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, left the State House to run for president, many Massachusetts Republicans celebrated his ambition and wished him well. Some Republicans, though, had a different message: Good riddance.
Their beef with Romney was that he was selfish, that he was furthering his own political career at the expense of Republican Party in his home state. They felt Romney's growing focus on social issues -- namely his outspoken opposition to gay marriage, abortion rights, and stem cell research -- damaged the GOP brand in the Bay State, which had historically emphasized fiscal conservatism and moderate social positions.
"One thing that hasn't worked well for Republicans all across New England is the tilt toward social issues that the national party has taken," state Senator Richard Tisei, then the incoming Senate minority leader, said as Romney was preparing to leave the State House in 2006. "I think the governor, in his attempts to position himself in the Republican primary, has highlighted a lot of social issues, and I think, quite frankly, that hurt [Lieutenant Governor] Kerry Healey and it also ... blurred the differences that we've had with the national party."
It is no coincidence that Tisei will serve as campaign chairman of the GOP's newest hope: Charles D. Baker, the former health care executive and Weld administration official who today formally joined next year's gubernatorial race.
Baker, judging from his early steps in the campaign, will try to thread the Republican needle of old, expressing socially moderate views but positioning himself as a fiscal conservative. Look for him to embrace the Romney messages of competent management and fiscal responsibility, while deliberately eschewing his socially conservative rhetoric, which was always designed to appeal to the Republican base nationwide.
In filing his campaign papers today, Baker offered some hints of what tack he will take. He immediately pledged not to raise taxes, even saying he would try to lower the state's newly increased sales tax Ė which will go from 5 percent to 6.25 percent on Saturday Ė if elected. ďRead my lips: No new taxes," Baker said, never mind that the pledge was made famous when George H.W. Bush broke it. Baker also called for "a complete overhaul of the way the state builds the budget and manages its affairs.Ē
"Iím going to make that my primary priority," he said.
What's not going to be a priority? Pushing a socially conservative agenda. Baker went to great lengths to cite his bonafides as a social moderate, if not a social liberal. Not only does Baker support abortion rights, he believes in gay marriage, for personal reasons.
"My brotherís gay, and heís married, and he lives in Massachusetts, so Iím for it," he said. "Is that straight enough?"
He added, ďIím not going to participate in national discussions and national politics; Iím interested in what happens here in Massachusetts. Iím very comfortable with my party in Massachusetts."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.