WESTPORT — The two wings of the state Republican Party came together this week to officially launch Tom Hodgson’s bid for re-election as Bristol County sheriff.
Gov. Charlie Baker was the guest of honor at White’s of Westport when Hodgson made his campaign official Wednesday night. The governor, a moderate with little demonstrated patience for the GOP’s Trump wing, praised Hodgson, who was the former president’s honorary campaign chair in 2020.
But their acquaintanceship existed long before either of them became involved in politics or public service, Baker said.
“Turns out we went to the same basketball camp in the eighth grade,” Baker said. “Tom is convinced he was better than me, which is not a surprise. That is just the way he rolls.”
Asked directly if his presence was an endorsement, Baker was unequivocal.
“Sure, I’m endorsing him,” he said. “I’ve known him for, gosh, 25 years anyway.
“Look, we don’t agree all the time on everything, but he is a guy who always does his best.”
Hodgson said both he and Baker are advocates for strong law enforcement and enforcement of immigration laws. Because of that, he and Baker have worked together frequently, despite other political differences, Hodgson said.
“People don’t really understand,” he said. “They try to categorize and bracket people.
“If people are willing to work with me to increase public safety, I’ll welcome their support.”
Both Baker and Hodgson spoke briefly to the crowd of 300 at Wednesday night’s event. The two men spent 90 minutes at the door to the function room, greeting arrivals and having their pictures taken with supporters.
And they endorsed each other in their brief remarks.
“He is always advocating for the people of the South Coast,” Baker said of Hodgson.
“We have the strongest governor for law enforcement and public safety and the rule of law,” Hodgson said. “In order for us to have a healthy and prosperous commonwealth, we have to have the rule of law.”
Hodgson began his political career with his election to the New Bedford City Council in 1988. He was appointed sheriff in 1997 and ran for election in 1998. He won re-election three times since. This campaign will be for a fifth six-year term.
His background is in accounting, sales and a six-year stint as a police detective in Ocean City, Maryland. During his time as sheriff, Hodgson has made national news by sending inmates outside the prison to work while chained together; by reducing inmate privileges; and by offering to send a work crew to the country’s southern border to help build then-President Trump’s proposed wall.
Immigration policy is one area of like-mindedness between Baker and Hodgson. Baker has criticized Democratic leaders for what he says is soft enforcement of national immigration laws. He also opposes plans to offer driving licenses to undocumented immigrants — a measure that was approved by the House in February with a veto-proof 120-36 margin and now awaits action in the state Senate.
Hodgson has been a vocal supporter of the stringent immigration measures imposed by Trump. The jail established a facility to house individuals being held in detention by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However, that contract was canceled after a brawl at the facility on May 1, 2020, and a report by the state’s Attorney General alleged that inmates’ civil rights were violated.
One of Hodgson’s possible opponents in November, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux, told the Attleboro Sun-Chronicle this week that he was “not surprised” by the governor’s endorsement, but he declined to elaborate.
Heroux and two other Democrats, lawyer Nick Bernier of Fall River and former Somerset Police Chief George McNeil, are set to square off in September’s preliminary vote for the chance to run against Hodgson in November’s general election.
Kevin P. O’Connor is a freelance correspondent and frequent contributor to The New Bedford Light.