State House News Service

State House Roundup: People And Politics, Not Policy

BOSTON — Punditry this week required a Rubik’s Cube-like mastery of the election landscape, an ability to see three steps ahead with every development having an equal and corresponding impact somewhere else. Still, not all of the implications were immediately clear.

Confirmed and sworn-in this week as U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry made what his own staff described as a “return” to Massachusetts to thank those who have helped and supported him throughout his career from Middlesex County prosecutor and lieutenant governor to the senior senator from Massachusetts.

But perhaps more importantly, Kerry’s official exit from the U.S. Senate started the clock on the special election to take his place in Washington, a job Rep. Stephen Lynch finally admitting to wanting and one Scott Brown admitted to not having the stomach to try for again.

In the meantime, Gov. Deval Patrick found a job for his close friend and former chief of staff William “Mo” Cowan, who will hold down Kerry’s old gig on an interim basis, thrusting the North Carolina native out from behind the curtain to represent the state as Congress deliberates gun control, spending cuts and immigration reform.

By opting against a candidate with more political experience – like, say, Barney Frank – Patrick engendered a fair amount of criticism for rewarding a close associate. Patrick didn’t seem to care, telling skeptics that Cowan is up to the job, and suggesting to those unconvinced that it doesn’t matter because he is the governor and it’s his choice.

Besides, in addition to assurances from the administration that Cowan is smart, savvy and tough, the former Mintz Levin attorney will bring something sorely lacking to the sometimes stuffy United States Senate. “He’s cool. Tom Brady, George Clooney, James Bond and the president have nothing on Mo,” Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said.

Lynch took the opportunity of Kerry’s victory lap to launch his own tour from Springfield to Boston, announcing that he sees enough vulnerability in U.S. Rep. Edward Markey to challenge the dean of the delegation for the Democratic Senate nomination.

Neither, however, appeared vulnerable enough to lure Brown back to the campaign trail. Reports that National Republicans were putting on the “full-court press” to push Brown into the race apparently had no effect. His response: Bqhatevwr, bud. He ended it with a text message to Howie Carr.

“I was not at all certain that a third Senate campaign in less than four years, and the prospect of returning to a Congress even more partisan than the one I left, was really the best way for me to continue in public service at this time. And I know it’s not the only way for me to advance the ideals and causes that matter most to me,” Brown said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

So could Kerry’s departure for Foggy Bottom put Beverly Farms back on the political map?

Former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, last seen in a dark parking garage getting backed over by Gov. Deval Patrick, could be one of the GOP’s best options to quickly put a recognizable face on the ballot with the experience to run statewide in a short special election.

Former Gov. Bill Weld, who once upon time also wanted to be a United States senator, will also be forced to declare himself in or out in the coming days. And there are others.

For instance, Doug Bennett, a Dorchester resident and a self-described “leader within the Massachusetts Liberty Movement,” announced his intention to run as a Republican hours after Brown withdrew. His platform? End the wars, audit the Fed, protect civil liberties.

Norfolk Rep. Daniel Winslow said he was considering a run, as did Richard Tisei, the former Senate minority leader who narrowly lost his bid for Congress in November to Rep. John Tierney. Former George Bush chief of staff Andy Card said he was otherwise committed. And Jane Swift is moving to Vermont.

Time is of the essence. Candidates have until Feb. 27 to gather and submit 10,000 nomination signatures, a threshold that has derailed candidates in the recent past. Just look to Jim Ogonowski circa 2008.

The Senate race, however, is by far the only game in town these days. Jack Hart and Marty Walz made sure of that. South Boston’s Hart bolted from the Senate this week for an undoubtedly more lucrative gig at the law firm of Nelson Mullins, while Walz, of the Back Bay, announced plans to take the reins of Planned Parenthood.

Hart’s departure will force people like Rep. Marty Walsh and Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry to try to read the mayoral tea leaves, torn between a definitely open Senate seat, and possible openings at Boston City Hall and/or the U.S. House. Mayor Tom Menino’s annual State of the City gave little hint as to whether he will seek a sixth term or retire to Hyde Park.

Meanwhile, a source close to Rep. Carl Sciortino said he has already made up his mind. The Medford Democrat will announce next week that he is taking steps to run for Congress in the event that Markey wins the Senate special.

The question of succession in the Senate is about as wide open as the 2014 gubernatorial race, crystalizing a reality that in two short years the landscape of leadership on Beacon Hill could shift radically and in uncertain directions.

Hart’s decision to leave, by Senate President Therese Murray’s own admission, removed a top contender for her post when she will be required to step down by March 2014 – at the latest – due to term limits. Hart, however, shares the distinction of being a potential president-in-waiting joining a rarified class of “Steves” to leave Murray’s side before the sun sets on her tenure – Panagiotakos, Tolman, and Baddour among them.

“No one’s told me about succeeding me,” Murray said, when asked about succession, sensitive to the jockeying that can cloud the end of any leader’s reign. As for trying to hand-pick her successor, Murray said, “Not at all. That’s going to be left up to the body. We have mostly a new body, you know. There are very few repeaters here.”

There may be only three new Democratic senators this session, but the upper chamber has been populated with 19 new Democrats since Murray was first chosen to succeed Bob Travaglini in 2007, and Hart’s replacement will make 20. For now, it will be Amherst Democrat Stanley Rosenberg, the new majority leader, and Uxbridge Democrat Richard Moore, the new president pro tempore, at her side.

If Monday was about Hart, Tuesday about Walz, Wednesday about Cowan and Thursday about Lynch, Friday should have been about Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Daniel Curley, forced to resign after his agency received a letter from the federal government indicating it had overpaid food stamp recipients by nearly $28 million.

Curley was spared, at least in a publicity sense, by Brown. And all week was about Kerry.

Brown appeared to dodge a bullet – or maybe more like a tranquilizer dart – on Thursday when his hand-picked candidate for GOP party chair Kirsten Hughes narrowly eked a win to lead the party for the next two years over Pepperell conservative Rick Green.

The optics of Hughes losing would have been a blow to Brown’s uncertain political future, but that all became a moot storyline by Friday with Brown withdrawing. Instead, Hughes inherited on her first day a party without a candidate for the United States Senate, a not-so-welcoming gift from Brown.

“We shocked the world in 2010, and united, we can do it again,” Hughes said in her first public statement as chairwoman, an optimistic, if not wishful, sentiment given how she came into her post.

Hughes limped out of the state committee meeting in Natick on Thursday, the new chair of a clearly fractured party that could need time it does not have to be reunited.

Gov. Deval Patrick and lawmakers have set the table on Beacon Hill with long lists of policy preferences, but few were discussed this week, which centered almost exclusively on people and politics.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Perpetual politicking.

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