Baker Says Retribution Allegations Of Member Of His Administration Are 'Unbelievably Disturbing'

Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday labeled allegations that a member of his administration sought retaliation against a staffer whose fiance launched a bid to unseat a Republican state senator "unbelievably disturbing."

His office was made aware of the claims about 10 days ago, Baker said, and has called for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs — the secretariat where the conduct is alleged to have taken place — to conduct an investigation, with "oversight and input" from the governor's legal staff.

"The allegations are extremely troubling and we want to see what comes out of that investigation," Baker told reporters in the lobby of his office after a law enforcement awards ceremony. "And we expect it will be done soon and we will act accordingly."

Cynthia Lewis, a staffer in the energy and environment office, was warned that she would face retribution if her fiance, Democrat J.D. Parker-O'Grady, ran against Sen. Donald Humason of Westfield, The Boston Herald reported Thursday.

"I have no use for that stuff," the Republican governor said. "I really don't. I'm one of these guys who says all the time that I want people to engage in civic endeavors. I want people to serve on planning boards. There are people in our administration right now who are running for office, Republicans and Democrats in their spare time. It's a free country. They should be able to do that. I find these allegations unbelievably disturbing, but they are allegations at this point."

Baker appointees allegedly tried to get Parker-O'Grady to drop his race by harassing Lewis and threatening her career, according to the Herald. After Parker-O'Grady launched his campaign, Lewis was told that she was being transferred to Fall River and that the administration was unhappy with her, the paper reported.

Parker-O'Grady ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for the Second Hampden and Hampshire Senate seat, and is on the ballot against Humason in the Nov. 8 general election.

The allegations come about two weeks after Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Leo Roy and Deputy Commissioner Matthew Sisk were suspended for using state resources to plan and host a July party at the home of Ronald Kaufman, the state's Republican national committeeman. The DCR is within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and its secretary, Matthew Beaton, was among those invited to the party.

Asked if he was concerned about what goes on within the energy and environment office, Baker said, "They just passed the most comprehensive and important energy bill and they just helped us work through an executive order on climate change that's very important, but yeah, I have concerns about all this stuff.

"No one in our administration should ever, ever threaten anybody to engage in civic endeavors as a private citizen, period," he said. "And I take that type of allegation really seriously."

Baker stressed that the allegations have not been proven and said Energy and Environmental Affairs staff had been instructed to "start interviewing people" and provide the results of the investigation "as soon as possible."

With diversifying the state's mix of energy sources a major focus on Beacon Hill this session and a historic drought affecting crops and water supplies across much of the state, the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs has been in the spotlight on a range of issues including conservation, climate change and renewable energy. It has also attracted attention in recent weeks amid media reports highlighting that several of its employees are prominent Republicans, including state committee members and past candidates.

Baker said Beaton, a Shrewsbury Republican who left the House to join the governor's cabinet, has his "full and unequivocal support."

During a Herald Radio appearance Monday, Baker said "no" when asked if he thought it looked like patronage to have his former campaign driver, Col. James McGinn, lead the state's environmental police.

"The answer's no," Baker said. "I've known Jim a long time and he has 20 years as a state police officer. He left the force as a sergeant, he worked for FEMA as a disaster recovery specialist."

Baker highlighted an initiative his office announced in August, an online listing of information on recently hired state workers, including their education, experience, salary and whether an elected official submitted a written reference on their behalf.

"I don't know how much more transparent than that we can get," he said.

Lewis is a former aide to Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Parker-O'Grady previously worked for former Sen. Michael Knapik, who represented the district now represented by Humason. Knapik, who works for Gov. Baker as western Massachusetts office director, and former Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees were on Beacon Hill Thursday, chatting up Tarr as he left a Senate session just after 1 p.m.

"The latest allegations of retaliation, threats, and coercion by Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs are the 3rd strike for Secretary Beaton," Gus Bickford, a candidate for the Democratic Party's open chairmanship, said in a statement. "First we have the Boston Pops event where DCR used taxpayer resources to fundraise politically, next we have the $134,000 a year job for the Governor's former campaign driver, and now retribution against an employee whose husband challenged a GOP incumbent. This is beyond egregious and the Governor should ask for Secretary Beaton's prompt resignation."

Bickford added: "This is a repeated pattern, arguably a culture, within the administration. Could it be that Governor Baker is taking his cues from his good friend, Governor Chris Christie? Is this our bridgegate? If Governor Baker truly believes in transparency and accountability, now is his time to show us."

Calling an internal investigation "woefully inadequate," Bickford said that as party chair he would immediately submit a freedom of information request and file an ethics complaint.

Michael Norton contributed reporting.

This article was originally published on September 22, 2016.


More from WBUR

Listen Live