In her recent Globe column (“Nothing Pragmatic about Charlie Baker’s Death Penalty Gambit”) Renee Loth writes, “[f]or someone who has based his entire political persona on a non-ideological, pragmatic approach to government, Governor Charlie Baker’s recent flirtation with reinstating the death penalty is a distressing swerve.” I respectfully disagree.
The premise of Loth’s column is that Governor Baker’s effort to appease those on his party’s right flank is a betrayal of his pragmatic brand. What Loth seems not to appreciate is that a “pragmatic approach to government” requires a pragmatic approach to politics. Promising a crowd of party activists that he would file death penalty legislation cannot reasonably be seen as an ideologically motivated push by Baker to reinstate the death penalty. As a pragmatic politician, Baker understands the need to court the voters he needs to win re-election. Like it or not, he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor and as such culturally conservative voters are a very important constituency. Baker also understands that though the odds of passing a reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts are long, it’s an issue that appeals to many Bay State voters, not just fire breathing wingnuts.
Governor Baker has to walk a tight rope this fall. On the one hand, he will need to defend the transgender antidiscrimination law he signed against what will undoubtedly be a “lively” campaign by the state’s small band of wingnuts and to burnish his anti-Trump creds at every turn. On the other hand, he has to convince as many conservative voters as possible to pull the lever for him even if they think he’s too liberal. A promise to file death penalty legislation may give him some useful cover with culturally conservative voters. In other words, contrary to Loth’s argument, Baker’s willingness to file death penalty legislation is not a “swerve” from his pragmatic approach, but rather is a prime example of it.