Moderation in the Pursuit of Justice?

If Bernie Sanders is both right and wrong at the same time, then another Northeastern politician popular in his home state may be right for the wrong reasons.

Massachusetts is close to enacting legislation that will provide legal protections for transgender residents with regard to public accommodations, including public bathrooms. As Think Progress notes:

The House and Senate bills do contain a difference, however, as the House version includes a provision directing the attorney general to provide guidelines to law enforcement “for any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose.” The difference between the House and Senate version of the bill will have to be addressed before the measure can go to the governor’s office.

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said on Tuesday he will sign the bill if it makes its way to his desk. “No one should be discriminated against in Massachusetts because of their gender identity,” Baker said. He did emphasize that he prefers the House version of the bill, as it “supplies the right amount of clarity with respect to the public safety questions that other people have raised.”

Before his statement on Tuesday supporting discrimination protection for transgender people, Baker had come under fire for dodging the issue during recent appearances. And Baker’s current stance represents a dramatic shift from his position when he ran for Governor in 2010. During that campaign, Baker said he was opposed to a bill adding non-discrimination protection to transgender individuals in employment, housing, credit, education and other similar areas. Additionally, as recently as 2014, Baker came out against a ban on discrimination in places of public accommodation, saying: “No one’s been able to explain to me how the public accommodation piece would actually work in practice.”

If Baker signs the final version of the anti-discrimination bill, he will be hailed as an example of reasonable Republicans still walking among us. While it is long overdue for full legal protections to be extended to transgender Bay Staters, would it be too cynical to suggest that Baker’s motive for signing the bill is precisely to create the impression that he is indeed a forward-thinking Republican, and to take the media/political focus away from the more controversial aspects of his first-term record as his 2018 re-election effort (or a special election for an open US Senate seat, in the event Elizabeth Warren becomes Vice President) approaches?

Baker–whose administration is also signaling that it will push for a statewide carbon tax in response to a ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court that his administration is not in compliance with a 2008 law mandating aggressive cuts in the state’s carbon emissions–is no fool, and he fully understands that with the Massachusetts Democratic Party seemingly uninterested in challenging the more unsavory aspects of his record, he can maintain his popularity by strategically supporting policies he can point to as evidence that he’s “not one of those Republicans,” improving his prospects for winning a special US Senate election in the event Warren’s seat opens up, and virtually guaranteeing his re-election as governor if it does not.

With transgender rights under assault in most of the country, it certainly would be nice to have the Bay State become an oasis from such opprobrium…but ask yourself this: would Baker really sign this legislation if he felt it would hurt his popularity?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.