State House News Service

State House Roundup: ‘God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise’

Gov. Deval Patrick has not yet settled on an interim replacement for outgoing Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach, let alone a permanent fill-in. But one is beginning to get the sense that the new job should come with hazard pay.

As if the beleaguered health department did not have enough on its plate coping with the fallout from the drug lab fiasco, a nationwide outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis has landed squarely at the feet of the DPH, which shared an oversight role for the Framingham-based drug compounding company from where the outbreak emanated.

One gets the feeling that Patrick, who has so far managed to largely evade any political fallout from the crisis gripping the criminal justice and public health systems, could be in for a long cold winter.

The Interior Department piled on Friday, rejecting the gaming compact Patrick had negotiated with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which is pursuing a casino in Taunton and has had an inside track on the southeastern Massachusetts casino license. On grounds that basically the state did not give up enough concessions to justify its 21.5 percent take from tribal casino profits, the feds sent Patrick and tribal leaders back to the drawing board, dealing another delay in an already drawn out process before promised casino jobs and revenue can be realized.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley and Police Commission Ed Davis rolled out plans this week for a targeted prevent defense aimed at stopping hundreds of drug felons likely to be released from prison as a result of evidence tampering at a state drug lab from reoffending. Teams are being assigned to meet with inmates before the gates swing open and to keep close tabs on the drug offenders who Conley suggested are receiving get-out-of-jail free cards.

To hear them describe it, the impending jail break sounds almost like the script of a seasonal Halloween movie, only no one can be sure whether the good guys win in the end and how much mayhem may be in store before the credits roll.

Conley went out of his way to point out that the lab where chemist Annie Dookhan purportedly perpetrated her misdeeds was run by the DPH, not the Boston or State Police, and Menino did not shy away from stating that questions of proper oversight were not out-of-bounds and should continue to be asked.

Not counting the price tag for the investigations and police street-teams that Menino and Davis are preparing to dispatch to Boston neighborhoods to deal with drug traffickers and inmates Conley described as “people with violent histories almost across the board,” other bills are coming due.

Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez joined Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby and others at a briefing this week to talk about the process of implementing the state’s landmark new health care cost containment law, much of which goes into effect early next month.

Gonzalez said new legislation would likely need to be passed to tweak the complex law and get the new Health Policy Commission up and running. Also, the cost control bill has start-up costs of its own that need attention.

Asked if he was going to meet the deadlines for appointing people to the various new boards and commissions, Patrick said, “God willing and the creek don’t rise, yes.” Translation: I’m crossing my fingers, and hoping for the best. The same might be said for much of what’s going on in state government these days.

While Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan may have had top billing this week, the Round Three undercard between Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren went down this week in Springfield, the only western Massachusetts debate and one that predictably featured plenty of namedropping to assure voters that the candidates don’t need a GPS to find the Big E, Westover Air Base, or Brown’s lunch destination at Milano’s.

While the contest covered little new ground and both candidates showed signs of increasing comfort with life on the main stage, the debate was perhaps most notable for its focus on actual policy, and the lack of lengthy exchanges over Warren’s heritage or their respective legal clients.

That’s not to say the race has gotten any less chippy. Brown pulled out a new zinger in Springfield, and while it’s usually not advisable to go after campaign staff that the general public couldn’t pick out of a lineup, the senator effectively dragged top Patrick strategist and Warren and Joe Kennedy consultant Doug Rubin into the ring.

Calling Rubin a “premiere lobbyist” on Beacon Hill, Brown pushed back against Warren’s stump line that Washington is rigged for those with the money to hire an army of lobbyists and lawyers. And as for the lawyers, “You’re one of them,” Brown quipped.

The polling in the Senate race just kept coming, crystallizing what most people have probably already accepted as fact started to tune out. After Brown appeared to get a bounce and surge ahead in some surveys, Public Policy Polling and Rasmussen put out new polls showing Warren up six and two points respectively.

The real takeaway is probably little more than that – the race continues to be a neck-and-neck and will be through election day when factors like Obama vs. Romney and GOTV will make or break the day for the candidates.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Boston braces for release of drug criminals, Patrick dealt setback on Native American gaming.

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