State House Roundup: Sandy And The Swing States
BOSTON — Prognosticators spent the week fixated on predicting whether a powerful natural phenomenon would turn left or right, knowing full well that whatever way the wind blows preparations would need to be made and contingency plans put into effect.
And then there was the hurricane making its way up the eastern seaboard, potentially crashing ashore just in time to rain on the final full week of campaign season.
By week’s end, meteorologists seemed settled on Hurricane Sandy making a left turn as she churned up the coast, expected to make landfall early next week somewhere south of New England, potentially spoiling another Halloween and testing utilities and a new state law that requires them to provide customers with timely updates on power restoration efforts.
Predicting where the undecided swing-state voter would land in a little over a week was a different matter altogether. Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos insisted, in no uncertain terms, that the key to the Oval Office is hidden somewhere in Ohio for both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama — a Zelda-quest scenario all too familiar to Bay State Democrats — with Obama’s sub-50 percent polling in that state a sure sign of trouble for the incumbent.
“People say to me, ‘Who do you think is going to win?’ I have no idea. I don’t like close elections I can tell you that,” said former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who maybe for his own sake lost the 1988 presidential race in a landslide.
While the presidential debate series finale took place Monday in Florida – a polling consensus win for Obama on foreign policy but one unlikely to shift the dynamics of the race much in the final weeks – U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren were girding for their final showdown next Tuesday.
The two candidates spent many of their collective hours this week shepherding out-of-state visitors along the Massachusetts campaign trail. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a star attraction for Brown, while Warren trotted out Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Sweet Baby James Taylor. With messaging and solidified voter opinions unlikely to change much in the final days of any campaign across the state, energizing base voters took precedence.
U.S. Rep. John Tierney had an all-around bad week that started with losing the endorsement of the Boston Globe, and then tending to his wife Patrice, who sustained minor injuries in a car accident on the North Shore. While polls appeared to be trending Warren’s way at a critical juncture in the campaign – up 5 in WBUR and Rasmussen reports – the 6th Congressional district is increasingly being viewed as all but lost for the Democrats.
Meanwhile, a storm of a different variety was picking up strength on Beacon Hill, this one of the fiscal variety.
The bills are starting to come due at public agencies forced to deal with the fallout from chemist Annie Dookhan’s mishandling of drug evidence at a state lab. Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez said the administration planned to file a mid-year budget request with the Legislature for an unspecified amount to deal with court and other associated costs related to the drug lab.
Trial Court Chief Justice Robert Mulligan estimated the courts and the probation department will need $2.96 million this fiscal year and $5.8 million in fiscal 2014 to deal with the drug cases, not counting a $5 million deficiency for general operations.
Layer on top of that tens of millions that have likely been requested by public defenders, district attorneys and municipalities, and the House and Senate could be dealing with a significant budget decision in the coming months with little choice but to boost funding for the justice system weeks after election day.
The administration declined to release the amounts requested before first reviewing the submissions, but acknowledged it may not be the last funding request. Legal groups, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the American Civil Liberties Union, also called for Attorney General Martha Coakley to step down from her non-criminal probe of the lab, suggesting she could encounter conflicts of interest as the scope expands to fellow prosecutors. Coakley didn’t say “yes” or “no” to the request.
Offering one high note for budget stewards, Gov. Deval Patrick said this week he did not think additional personnel or money would be necessary to start new spot-checks of drug compounding labs in Massachusetts, one of several steps taken to improve oversight in the wake of the nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis.
The Department of Public Health released the preliminary results of its investigation into the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, detailing unsanitary conditions that could have contributed to the contamination of injectable steroids linked to a rising-by-the-day death and illness toll around the country.
Soiled shoe mats outside “clean rooms,” standing water around a leaky boiler and improper sterilization of equipment were all observed by DPH investigators, to say nothing of the no-man’s-land between state and federal regulations where NECC appeared to be operating.
The Senate, for the most part on campaign hiatus, announced planned investigatory hearings to be led by Sen. Mark Montigny, though by press time neither the Senate President’s office nor Montigny’s office could confirm those hearing would take place this year, and said a schedule had not been determined.
Patrick seemed eager to lay some of the blame for NECC’s failure at the feet of Gov. Mitt Romney without directly saying it, suggesting that “in this administration” he would take a “much more rigorous tact” toward oversight of drug compounders. The company had been investigated in 2002 and 2003 during Romney’s tenure leading to a soft reprimand and agreements to clean up their act in 2006.
Before all is said, officials hinted that a shake-up at the Board of Pharmacy could be forthcoming with the terms of three members expiring, one vacancy and another member serving past his expired appointment. Patrick is responsible for nine of the 10 sitting members.
Finally, as election season winds down another high-profile corruption case was ramping up as Treasurer Tim Cahill had his final day in court before jury selection begins next week. Cahill’s freedom, and the propriety of running television ads to defend your office in the midst of campaign mudslinging, hang in the balance.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Forecasting — budgets, elections, storm, et al.