Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito announced Wednesday morning that they won't seek reelection in 2022.
The long-awaited decision, which comes despite Baker's consistently high approval rating, opens up the race for governor
"After several months of discussion with our families, we have decided not to seek re-election in 2022," they announced jointly via email. "This was an extremely difficult decision for us. We love the work, and we especially respect and admire the people of this wonderful Commonwealth. Serving as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts has been the most challenging and fulfilling jobs we’ve ever had. We will forever be grateful to the people of this state for giving us this great honor."
Baker began telling friends and allies of his decision over the past 24 hours, and informed his Cabinet during a meeting Wednesday morning. The governor and lieutenant governor, in their statement, cited the need to focus on building an economic recovery as Massachusetts emerges from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That work cannot and should not be about politics and the next election," they said. "If we were to run, it would be a distraction that would potentially get in the way of many of the things we should be working on for everyone in Massachusetts. We want to focus on recovery, not on the grudge matches political campaigns can devolve into."
"When the voters of this great Commonwealth gave us this opportunity to serve, we had plans. Lots of them. They didn’t include 30 days of snow in our first 60 days in office. Or a natural gas explosion. Or a global pandemic. But with your support, and the creativity and resilience of the people of Massachusetts, we worked through these and other unanticipated crises and events to move our state forward," they added.
The question of whether Baker would seek a third term had been hanging over the state of Massachusetts for months. He has long had among the highest approval ratings of any U.S. governor of either party, despite being a Republican running a state that predominantly votes for Democrats.
But Baker said during a news conference later Wednesday that the decision took so long because it was so big.
"It was in fact a very complicated and difficult decision for a number of reasons. We both love the work, we love the people and we love the experience that comes with this," he said.
But he continued that the pandemic has posed "an enormous challenge" to Massachusetts, and that he and Polito want their administration to focus on that, rather than the political rhetoric that comes with running a campaign.
Baker said there's "a ton of work ... left to be done as we come out of this pandemic to rebuild, recreate, reimagine many of the things that were busted during the course of all this."
The governor had remained tight-lipped about his plans as recently as Monday during a GBH radio appearance, other than to reiterate his decision would come "soon."
Though it was suggested in some political circles that Baker could run as an independent in 2022, the governor brushed that notion aside, professing a belief in his brand of Republicanism molded under his political mentors former Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci.
"I've been a Republican for most of my -- well, almost all of my adult life, and I believe in my brand of Republicanism," he said Monday. "I guess what I would say is that I've never run for anything based on whether or not I thought I could win, period, OK."
Asked Wednesday if he might run for president, Baker laughed and said "Yeah" sarcastically.
Less than a year out from the 2022 election, Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat widely thought to be considering a run, has yet to announce her intentions, while Republican Geoff Diehl and Democrats Danielle Allen, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Ben Downing have jumped into the gubernatorial race.
Downing issued a statement after Baker's announcement saying the decision "marks an opportunity to both upend the culture of complacency on Beacon Hill and elect leadership committed to delivering much-needed change to all 351 communities in Massachusetts."
Chang-Diaz also put out a statement, saying Massachusetts residents are "ready for a new chapter with new leadership."
"For far too long, people in power have asked working families to wait for change — despite a growing affordable housing crisis, inaccessible and expensive child and health care, the existential threat of climate change, and long-standing racial injustice," she added. "In 2022, our next Governor must be someone willing to take on challenges even when they’re hard — who recognizes the urgency of this moment, who tackles these issues with the courage to solve them, and who has a record of winning bold, systemic change on Beacon Hill."
Healey issued a statement thanking Baker for his service.
"I have deep regard and respect for the way he has led, with a commitment to doing what is right on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth," she said. "I also appreciate that, in this time of divisiveness and challenge, he has always been willing to listen and make his own calls with a focus on respect and finding common ground. Governor Baker should be proud of his record of service to Massachusetts and the country, and I am grateful to call him a friend."
Diehl thanked Baker and Polito for their eight years of service in a statement, saying while he has differed with them on policy he wishes them both the best.
“I am honored and gratified to have been endorsed by former President Donald Trump to be the next Governor of Massachusetts, and I look forward to a spirited campaign presenting my vision for the future of Massachusetts," he said. "My campaign is providing Bay Staters with a hopeful choice for fresh leadership and a bold new direction for our state."
Recent polling had suggested that Baker could fair well in hypothetical matchups against the Democrats running or thinking about running, but he would also face a potentially bruising Republican primary as his relationship with the base of his party has frayed in the Trump era.
Baker did not support Trump during either of the former president's runs for the White House, and Baker's approval ratings are stronger among Democrats and independents than with voters in his own party.
The governor turned 65 on Nov. 13, a milestone birthday that brings with it Medicare eligibility and, for many people, thoughts of an upcoming retirement. Baker suggested during Monday's radio interview that such thoughts, for him, are not a near-term consideration.
"I've always said that I'm one of these people who's going to want to be purposeful and productive as long as I can be purposeful and productive," he said. "I don't have any hobbies. I don't, I don't -- I read books, that's probably the only hobby I have. I don't golf, I don't boat, I don't fish, I don't do any of that stuff, and my wife would lose her mind if I didn't have something useful to do. So I have a feeling I'm going to be hopefully working for a long time."
State House News Service contributed to this report.