State House News Service

State House Roundup: Let Them Watch Pandas

BOSTON — Lucky for Katherine Clark, congressional Republicans and Democrats came together this week to end the partial government shutdown after 16 days of brinksmanship. The National Zoo turned its panda-cam back on. Federal employees rejoiced, but warily.

Clark, a state senator from Melrose, may be getting ready to join one of the most unpopular clubs in the country, but at least she’ll have an operating government to help run.

Dysfunctional, but operating.

While the two finalists for Boston mayor squared off in their first debate as the Red Sox simultaneously eked out a narrow playoff victory, Clark easily claimed victory in the competitive Democratic primary for U.S. Sen. Edward Markey’s seat on Tuesday, topping her closest challenger, Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, by 10 points and claiming 32 percent of the vote in a race against four other strong Democrats.

In five short years, Clark has gone from being a freshman Democrat in the House to the brink of a congressional seat. If history is any indicator, it could be hers until she’s ready to give it up.

Though Clark must still get by Republican Frank Addivinola Jr. in the December general, the GOP nominee does not even reside in the heavily Democratic district. Let’s just say she’s the favorite. And Senate President Therese Murray might want to start thinking about who will be the next Senate Judiciary chair.

Special elections have been good to Clark. After several false starts to her political career, Clark finally captured a seat in the Legislature when Michael Festa resigned his post in 2007. It wasn’t long before Clark was running for the state Senate seat long held by Republican Richard Tisei, which he gave up to run for lieutenant governor in 2010.

Behind Koutoujian, Rep. Carl Sciortino finished third propelled by a nationally acclaimed TV ad featuring his Tea Party father. Sen. Karen Spilka, of Ashland, and Sen. William Brownsberger, of Belmont, rounded out the top five finishers.

Columbus Day shortened the work week on Beacon Hill, but seemed to expedite the political calculations being scratched out by potential 2014 contenders, many of whom were scared off by the rigors of a year on the road.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone begged off a campaign for governor, and Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter ruled out a run for attorney general. No way he’s giving up his Aaron Hernandez murder prosecution to shake hands outside of Gillette Stadium.

Not everyone, however, was saying no.

Sen. Thomas McGee accepted his party’s nomination to become the next chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, pulling double duty as he steps in for John Walsh, who retired from the job after six years to take over Gov. Deval Patrick’s political operations.

After inviting Brookline Democrats to her home for a “garden party,” Stop & Shop heiress Deborah Goldberg also revealed her plans Monday to run for an open state treasurer seat, and Rep. Harold Naughton headed into the weekend rehearsing lines for the attorney general campaign kickoff video he plans to record for release next week.

Meanwhile, Charlie Baker continued his charm offensive with a Web video featuring wife Lauren talking him up as an adored, sideline pacing father, while the MassGOP sought to paint Democratic frontrunner Attorney General Martha Coakley as out of touch.

Coakley was caught on camera by a Republican tracker (yes, they’re out already) talking with a small business owner who told Coakley her business had been able to hire three new people and provide health benefits without jeopardizing her family’s livelihood. Coakley responded by calling it a “myth that’s out there” that the Affordable Care Act will harm small business.

Well, you can imagine how the Massachusetts Republican Party reacted to that doubt thrown on party gospel.

Coakley’s camp responded to the GOP’s criticism by pointing out that she supported the state’s unsuccessful efforts to secure a waiver from certain rating regulations that could drive up premiums for a percentage of small business.

“She knows there are impacts on small businesses and that is why she supports the waiver. What she was disagreeing with was the Tea Party’s demonization of the ACA across the country – and it looks like Charlie Baker’s Republican party is joining that effort,” spokesman Kyle Sullivan said.

It wasn’t all about politics, pandas and the government shutdown this week… or the Red Sox, though ALCS Game 3 ratings drubbed Rep. Marty Walsh and Councilor John Connolly’s first televised debate.

The House and Senate each met once this week in formal session, unanimously approving a $94.6 million budget bill, closing the books on fiscal 2013, which ended with a surplus, and carving out $20 million for low-income home heating assistance and $13 million for emergency shelters for homeless families.

The spike in homelessness over the summer as the Patrick administration’s HomeBASE program winds down catapulted onto the radar screen this week, with House Speaker Robert DeLeo calling the $13 million appropriation a “stop gap” that will have to be addressed in a more significant way soon.

A stone’s throw from the gates of the State House on Thursday, Cardinal Sean O’Malley also hosted several dozen lawmakers at the private Union Club for a get-to-know-the-church (again) pow-wow meant to start rebuilding the once powerful relationship between the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the powerbrokers on the Hill.

Many members went into the meeting – the first of its kind during O’Malley’s tenure – worried they might be in store for a sermon on the ills of gambling, or other touchy issues that have driven a wedge between the church and lawmakers in recent years. Instead, church leaders presented a guide to the elected leaders on programs for youth and poor in their communities, a sort of reintroduction to the church they may have forgotten.

“I’m hopeful that we can get off the divisive issues and get back to what the church does best, which is care for poor people. That’s the church I grew up in,” said Boston Rep. Michael Moran, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but not because he didn’t want to hear what they had to say.

Moran said he feels the Archdiocese could be helpful to lawmakers, particularly on issues such as EBT reform with older parishioners, and he’s been encouraged by the tone set by Pope Francis. “Their involvement has slowed down simply because the major issues we were dealing with at the time were not in line with the Catholic teachings…,” Moran said. “A lot of us kind of got separated for that reason, whether it was physically or mentally, we just kind of checked out.”

Coakley and DeLeo got together to file flood insurance legislation that would cap the required amount of insurance a homeowner or business must purchase to the value of the mortgage on the property, instead of the value of the property.

The bill is an attempt, with the few tools at the state’s disposal, to blunt the impact of new federal flood insurance regulations that include broadly drawn maps forcing large numbers of property owners, even those never touched by floodwater, to purchase comprehensive and costly flood insurance.

DeLeo said Congress must still act to delay and review the new program, which could, in his eyes, spark another foreclosure crisis.

STORY OF THE WEEK: You can settle a budget impasse, but the conflict between politics and baseball endures.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on wbur.org.
Most Popular