Charlie Baker and the Border

Why the candidate for governor is treading lightly on immigration this time around.

AP photo

AP photo

Four years ago, Charlie Baker spent much of the last two months of the campaign bashing Deval Patrick on immigration issues. He was against Patrick’s stances on Secure Communities, on in-state tuition, and drivers licenses—and was quite vocal about those positions.

The 2014 Baker is meant to be kinder and gentler, which is probably why Baker came out quickly in support of Patrick’s decision to let federal authorities temporarily house border-crossing children in Massachusetts.

I think this is one of the most interesting things that has happened in the gubernatorial race so far, which tells you a lot about the race. It’s one thing for Baker to be kinder and gentler on gay rights (see: video with his brother), abortion (see: endorsement of buffer zone and Hobby Lobby fixes), and guns (see: support of new gun bill), because conservatives have never thought he was on their side on those issues.

But they did think he was with them on undocumented immigrants, and a great many of them are very, very opposed to Patrick’s plan.

From the get-go, Baker seemed to realize the tricky path he was treading. The morning the above-linked Globe story came out, he posted this statement on Facebook:

With homeless kids and their families stuck in hotels and a broken DCF system barely able to care for our most vulnerable kids, Massachusetts cannot afford to pick up the tab for Washington’s failures. The current crisis is heart breaking and is the result of Washington D.C.’s failure to come up with bipartisan reforms to our broken immigration system. All of the states, including Massachusetts, should be part of the effort to provide humanitarian relief for the unaccompanied children that have crossed the border. But before a decision is made, the feds need to make clear how many people they are considering, how long they are expected to be housed and provide an absolute guarantee that this is a temporary situation completely funded with federal dollars.

Not quite walking it back, but throwing up a lot of caution flags, and seeming to suggest that he was not quite saying yes (“before a decision…”) without more answers from the feds.

It took until Saturday morning for Independent candidate Jeff McCormick to seize the opportunity, releasing a statement that began: “I am opposed to Massachusetts hosting migrant children from Central America…”

Richard Tisei, who like Baker is trying to steer far from associations with the party’s national conservative policies, has nevertheless come out strongly against Patrick’s plan in his congressional campaign. John Miller, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, has seized on the issue as well. And both online and, at least anecdotally, in real life, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have been pounding the hell out of Baker for wanting the state to allow housing of these children.

Baker, meanwhile, has continued to talk about it much like that Facebook status sounds, at least to my ear: like someone who doesn’t want to look like a meanie for denying the children, but who doesn’t want to look like a softie for accepting them.

So far, I don’t see McCormick getting any traction from it, but it’s something to keep an eye on.