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OPINION| Thomas: That’s No Fish, That’s Governor Baker Politically Flopping

Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Photo by Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Campaign season 2014. Then, candidate Charlie Baker wanted to banish mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Fast forward to August 2017. Governor Baker does an about face. He files a bill making it manslaughter on people who sell illegal drugs resulting in death. On top of that, the Gov wants a mandatory minimum 5 years in the gulag for these dealers.

Let me be perfectly clear. Any dirty dealer who knows of or intentionally spikes an opioid or cocaine with deadly fentanyl, Borax or other lethal product, that heinous, criminal act and should be dealt with using the strongest available legal measures. In fact, Massachusetts already has a plethora of laws aimed at stopping drug deals. Each time one dealer goes to jail, someone new takes over the territory.

However, there are several reasons why a manslaughter charge coupled with mandatory minimums is less practical and more political:

  • Since state records reveal the mandatory minimum law hasn’t reduced illegal drug transactions and use, why introduce this legislation?
  • If communities aren’t any safer because of mandatory minimum sentencing, what good is the policy? Please don’t regurgitate something needs to be done.
  • Speaking with a host of users and dealers of harder drugs, there’s no doubt users seek out dealers, not vice versa. The user craves the product. The seller delivers the product. Both are willing participants in this transaction. Hard to pin a manslaughter rap on two willful parties.
  • How would the prosecutor know, beyond a reasonable doubt, who spiked any drug leading to the death of a user. It’s possible the user cut rat poison into his cocaine for potency, to add weight and resell to another. Absent strong evidence law enforcement will be off on witch hunts.
  • Interestingly, the Governor’s announcement appears around International Opioid Awareness Day. Timing is everything.

Sadly, this legislation is aimed at street dealers, not the big money rollers. Small time pushers usually sells to individuals that die with the spike in their arm. As usual, the huge operator will get away like they always do.

Governor Baker is pandering to the state’s near non-existent conservative base. To them, he’s been weak on the Mexican Wall, Sanctuary cities and healthcare. Baker let Attorney General Healey railroad a copy cat gun measure on the people. He lost the charter school battle and recreational marijuana ballot initiatives. Baker jumped on the transgender bathroom bandwagon. This governor is praying that manslaughter/mandatory minimums will be the political shot in the arm his campaign needs to catapult him, not only into another four year term, but maybe a future senatorial run.

What mandatory minimums will do is feed new bodies and repeat offenders into an exploding prison industrial complex. And, governor Baker is willing to flip flop on an earlier campaign pledge to prove he’s a part of the swamp.

New Bedford.  He can be heard weekdays from 10am-Noon and Saturdays from 6am-9am.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

 

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