Massachusetts’ Democrat-controlled Legislature wants to have some say over how the state spends more than $5 billion in federal aid. Its Republican governor wants to spend more than half the money earlier, without lawmakers’ approval.
Both chambers of the Legislature, voting along party lines, rejected Baker’s proposal for his administration to spend around $2.8 billion and leave around $2.3 billion for the Legislature. Lawmakers sent the original plan, which would allow the Legislature to control all of the funding, back to Baker’s desk.
For most of the pandemic, Baker exercised emergency powers to control policies and spending in response to developments in the public health crisis. Baker has not backed down as the Legislature seeks to wrest power back, but Democrats have the necessary two-thirds majority to override a Baker veto, leaving him with few options.
Some lawmakers tout Massachusetts as a living example of bipartisanship, and on most issues, the moderate Republican governor tends to go along with the mostly moderate Democratic Legislature. Recent tussles, however, have illustrated that the aims of a Republican governor do, indeed, contradict a Democratic agenda at times.
In last year’s police reform bill, Democratic lawmakers wanted to ban police use of facial recognition technology, but the Legislature agreed to allow facial recognition in some cases after a Baker veto threat.
Baker in January vetoed a climate “roadmap” bill, arguing the Legislature’s interim goals for reducing emissions were too aggressive and could hurt the economy, although he signed a similar bill after the Legislature adopted some of his suggestions.
More recently, there’s the spat over spending, and Baker on Wednesday proposed a two-month expansion of the state’s sales tax holiday in a move that some Democrats have interpreted as a political stunt.
Baker, who continues to enjoy high popularity even among Democratic voters, has not said whether he plans to run for reelection in 2022, but Democratic operatives and left-leaning organizers alike have indicated that taking his job in 2022 is among their top priorities.
Democratic field grows to three
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who announced her run for governor Wednesday, appears to have already secured the backing of much of the Democratic Party’s activist wing.
The only declared candidate currently serving in elected office, Chang-Diaz led work on police reform and helped push through a 2019 education reform law. A former public school teacher before she became the first Latina to be elected to the state Senate, she lives in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
Even before Chang-Diaz announced her candidacy, activists had sought to “draft” her into the race. Many of those activists were “Markeyverse” members who had helped U.S. Sen. Ed Markey keep his seat amid a challenge from former U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III.
Chang-Diaz joins a field that includes Ben Downing, the former Berkshire County state senator who announced his run in February, and Danielle Allen, a political theorist and Harvard University professor. Attorney General Maura Healey is also thought to be considering a run.
Healey’s campaign account, which had over $3 million as of May 31, dwarfs those of the Democrats currently in the race. Chang-Diaz had just over $200,000, Downing had around $110,000 and Allen had roughly $280,000 as of that date.
Baker has just under half a million but likely would have the ability to raise significant funds in a short span if he ran again. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, whom some believe Baker has been preparing to run for his job when he leaves office, has just over $2 million in her account.
Lawmakers do not yet have the local census data they need to redraw legislative maps, but they have already begun the process of fielding input from residents. Both lawmakers and outside observers have said public input should play a key role in redistricting.
At a Monday hearing, 1st Congressional District residents expressed hopes for current districts to change as little as possible. The numbers will likely force some eastward expansion, although there may be some options for which communities districts expand to include.
The L-shaped 1st Congressional District, for example, could add more communities in Hampden and Worcester counties at its southeastern edge or in Hampshire and Franklin counties at its northeastern border.
While some residents said at the hearing that they feel Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire Counties share more similarities with each other than with Hampden County, a Hampden County resident voiced fears that adding population in Franklin and Hampshire would cause the 2nd Congressional District to take on population in Middlesex County, diminishing Western Massachusetts influence in the 2nd Congressional District.
Residents can offer comment to the Joint Committee on Redistricting through malegislature.gov/Redistricting/Contact.