Politics

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl knocks Charlie Baker for TCI, coronavirus business restrictions

Baker hasn't said if he'll run for re-election, but he's already catching criticism from his potential primary opponent.

Geoff Diehl, in November 2018. Craig F. Walker / The Boston Globe

Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he’ll decide “soon” whether to run for a third term. And if he does, the Republican governor won’t only have to contend with the winner of an increasingly crowded Democratic gubernatorial field, but also a fellow Republican hopeful lobbying criticism at him from the right.

Geoff Diehl, a former state representative, Senate candidate, and supporter of former President Donald Trump, officially jumped into the 2022 race over the Fourth of July weekend. In a GBH interview Wednesday night, Diehl characterized Baker as a “center-left” politician, knocking the governor’s initiative to cut down climate change-causing emissions from vehicles, as well as his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diehl said the Transportation and Climate Initiative being spearheaded by the Baker administration would amount to “an additional tax on commuters,” referring to the modest impact supporters say the “cap-and-invest” proposal could have on gas prices. Diehl also noted that the Sierra Club dropped its support for the TCI, arguing it wouldn’t do enough to lower emissions, among other reasons. With support for the multi-state program waning in the wake of the pandemic, Diehl said he opposed the government-led approach.

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“I think he needs to let it go, but it doesn’t seem like that’s happening,” Diehl said.

In response to the pandemic, Diehl suggested that Baker should have furloughed or laid off state government workers for the sake of “reciprocity” since many private sector businesses were forced to shut down in-person operations last spring. He also falsely claimed that “nobody” in state government was deemed “nonessential” (many, but hardly all, state workers were given essential status for in-person work).

“I saw zero layoffs, zero furloughs from state government; even when we have storms, there’s nonessential employees that go home,” he said. “Nobody was nonessential in state government, so there was no sort of reciprocity or alignment with the people who basically are working in the private sector from the state side.”

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Diehl also criticized the state’s essential designation for allowing big-box stores to remain open, while some small businesses were forced to close.

“Not every small business was able to get that essential clarification or status, whatever it was,” he said. “I mean let’s face it, it’s been pretty recognized that across the country and in Massachusetts, the big-box stores were left open, while the smaller businesses were forced to suffer.”

Diehl also said he held the Baker administration, though not the governor personally, responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak that killed 77 veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

He also faulted the state’s early issues with the vaccine rollout. Noting that Massachusetts now has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, GBH host Jim Braude asked Diehl if Baker deserves credit for how the rollout ultimately turned out.

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“We also had the third highest per capita death rate,” Diehl said. “I mean, does he deserve blame for that?”

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