Old-School Beacon Hill Pols Remember Weld's Libertarian Streak

June 23, 2016

Last night, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld stood on stage at a CNN town hall forum in his surprising new role as the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president. But some Beacon Hill veterans weren't that shocked by Weld's move away from the GOP.

Alongside presidential nominee former New Mexico Gov Gary Johnson, Weld introduced himself to a national audience perhaps hungry for an alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the two least-liked major candidates in history.

Beacon Hill veterans told WGBH News they weren't at all surprised by Weld's move to the fiscally conservative, socially liberal party, while newcomers to Weld's former stomping grounds wanted to see what the ticket has to offer.

Former Attorney General Frank Bellotti has known Weld longer than most anyone else in public life in Massachusetts.

"He was probably one of the few people against whom I ran that I didn't end up disliking." Bellotti told WGBH News in an interview. In Weld's first race for office in 1978, Bellotti crushed the eager young prosecutor to retain his position as AG. Bellotti beat Weld with nearly 79 percent of the vote to 21.6 percent, or well over 1 million votes.

"Well, if you would ask who would you guess would do something like that I'd say 'Bill Weld.' He goes to his own drummer," Bellotti said, adding that Weld was "always a libertarian at heart, even when he was Republican."

Former Senate President Thomas Birmingham disagrees a bit about Weld's political orientation.

"He was right-wing, but I wouldn't have called him libertarian,"said. "I mean, he was really pretty tough on crime, which I think most libertarians are against."

Belotti and Birmingham do agree that Weld's Libertarian run is heartfelt, and that's he's the kind of guy to pursue something like this.

"I think his heart is probably in the run. I'm not sure his heart is a Libertarian one. But I think the run would be something he would consider fun and I think he'll engage with it," Birmingham said.

Birmingham said his key memory of Weld's time as governor was his grasp of the detailed issue of education reform, which Birmingham was a leader on.

Though Gov. Charlie Baker counts Weld as a key mentor (Baker held several positions and Weld's administration) some younger elected officials in Massachusetts aren't as familiar with Weld's record.

When asked about Weld's legacy within the Massachusetts GOP, Republican Lakeville Rep. Keriko Orrall stuck to her talking points on Trump.

"I think the people are collapsing around our nominee, Donald Trump and even those folks who are not with the nominee yet I believe maybe will give a second look once he begins to fill out his team," Orrall said.

Orrall, the state Republican Party's National Committeewoman-elect, said she's met Weld, but hasn't worked with him extensively. She doesn't think Weld's entrance into the race, or the libertarian ticket for that matter, will do much to tip the outcome in November.

"He can do what he wants to do, but I don't think that it's going to make a difference one way or another," Orrall said. 

Voters, Orrall said, are "saying they do not want establishment, so I think Donald Trump will prevail."

Interviewed in the State House Thursday, Democratic Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) said he was living in California and overseas through much of Weld's term in office here.

"I really don't know much about Bill Weld or his record, or his legacy. I wish I could say more about it," Heroux said. He thinks it's a fine idea for libertarians to run their own credible ticket for the White House

"I don't think they're running to win. I think they're running just to run because a third party has yet to mount a serious platform and a serious campaign," 

Heroux thinks a split on the right that delivered votes to Johnson and Weld instead of Trump would result in Democrat Clinton being elected president.

In an interview with CommonWealth Magazine's Bruce Mohl shortly after announcing his run, Weld said he agreed with "almost everything" in the Libertarian platform, and agreed that much of the positions the party takes are vague.

In light of the Orlando shooting, here's a line from the Libertarian platform that might give Johnson and Weld trouble wooing moderate voters: "We oppose all laws at any level of government restricting, registering, or monitoring the ownership, manufacture, or transfer of firearms or ammunition."

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