State House News Service

State House Roundup: Move That Bus!

THE STATE HOUSE — Hurricane or super storm or tropical cyclone, by any name, Sandy churned up a devastating mess along the East Coast, stranding New Yorkers, flooding the Jersey Shore and halting, at least, temporarily, political campaigns during the final sprint.

Not only did Sandy knock out power to nearly 400,000 residents of Massachusetts at its peak — just think of all the political ads that were not viewed — she also washed out the fourth and final debate between U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren.

President Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie became unlikely allies and Mitt Romney paused, however briefly, from his assault on the president’s record to defend his position on funding federal emergency management.

Sandy even seemed to win Obama the endorsement of New York Mayor and former Medfordite Mike Bloomberg, who cited the president’s position on global warming in light of Sandy’s size and power as a determinant. Apparently he doesn’t like coal as much as Romney.

Voters this week didn’t get to hear the issues debated by Brown and Warren, however, after the incumbent withdrew from the debate, planned for Tuesday night with CNN’s John King as moderator, during the height of the storm. Warren agreed soon after that politicking in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster – whose full impact was still unknown – might be poor form.

However, sometime between visiting the MEMA bunker in Framingham Monday to check on storm preparedness and touring the North Shore with Sen. Bruce Tarr Tuesday in the wake of Sandy, Brown and his campaign made the calculation that voters had seen enough of him and Warren sparring since they’d already held three debates.

Days earlier, Brown had offered to pick up Warren in his four-wheel-drive truck if need be. But campaigns of this size can be carefully scripted dramas, and Brown had a plush tour bus gassed and waiting for him. Warren’s offer to reschedule for Thursday was rejected.

“There’s only a few days left and we have a very, very busy schedule,” he said.

Maybe Brown was among 4.5 million YouTube viewers who had watched frustrated toddler Abigael (Look it up!) reduced to tears by the seemingly endless campaign cycle, and sympathized with her plight.

Sandy did keep Gov. Deval Patrick grounded – but only until Thursday, when he left to campaign for President Barack Obama in Colorado.

With the consensus of officials being that utilities acquitted themselves better than in more recent storms, Patrick could be thankful he wasn’t Gov. Chris Christie or Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Power had almost been fully restored by Friday.

The Patrick administration held off on announcing its plans to file a $30 million budget request with the Legislature until just before Trick-or-Treating, and hours after it announced that the state had closed its books for fiscal 2012 with a $116 million surplus. The spending is required by various agencies to pay for the fallout from evidence tampering at the Hinton Laboratory, and is expected to only cover the next “few months.”

Democratic legislators promised to review Patrick’s request in the coming weeks but several lawmakers also turned up the heat on the governor, subjecting Patrick to some of the harshest criticism yet from his own party for the drug lab fiasco and Massachusetts-born deadly meningitis outbreak.

“There has been a failure of government that has endangered both the public health and the public safety of not only the citizens of Massachusetts but citizens throughout the United States of America and it is this failure that brings us here today. What has happened is inexcusable,” Rep. David Linsky said, announcing a House-led investigation.

Despite both scandals, Patrick’s popularity has not yet taken a hit, the latest polling from Suffolk University showing the governor with a 59 percent approval rating. The same poll showed Warren leading Brown by 7 points.

As Linsky stood outside the House chamber promising to take the investigation into both public health crises “wherever the facts take us,” the administration was prepping a flood of announcements sent out one-by-one painting a desired picture of a governor in control.

In addition to the appointment of Dr. Stuart Altman and Aaron Boros to lead the two new agencies overseeing the implementation of health care cost containment, Patrick also rolled out Christian Hartman, founder and president of the American Society of Medication Safety Officers, as the leader of a special commission to investigate oversight of compounding pharmacies like New England Compounding Center.

NECC has been linked to the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak, which has caused 28 deaths so far, and the week also saw the recall of unexpired drugs by NECC’s sister pharmacy Ameridose. But Patrick rolled out emergency regulations as well, enabling the state for the first time to track the volume and distribution of drugs at compounding pharmacies and requiring notification of any contact with federal investigators.

While regulations related to some drugs are tightening, it will be up to voters on Tuesday to decide how easy access to marijuana and life-ending medication becomes after November.

Once looking likely for passage, public opinion on two ballot questions concerning access to life-ending medication for the terminally ill, and to a lesser extent the legalization of medical marijuana appeared to be tightening.

While voters still favored medical marijuana by 19 points in the last Suffolk University poll, support for Question 2 had eroded from a 37-point lead in September to just a six-point spread a week out from the election. The late rally coincided with the increased intensity of advertising on TV.

Medical marijuana opponents are also engaging in a late push to defeat the ballot initiative, reminiscent of the last-minute pot-on-every-corner admonitions from marijuana decriminalization detractors in 2010 that proved too little, too late. The question’s proponents reminded voters that it’s been endorsed by groups like the Massachusetts Nurses Association, SEIU 1199 and the New England Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Enough is enough. Voting time.

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