BOSTON — Republicans hoping to loosen the Democratic party’s tight grip on state government quickly pounced on guilty verdicts against three former state probation officials, saying the case pointed to the consequences of one-party domination in Massachusetts.
A federal jury on Thursday convicted former probation commissioner John O’Brien and two deputies of scheming to rig the agency’s hiring process to favor job applicants referred by powerful state lawmakers over more qualified candidates. Attorneys for all three are promising appeals.
No legislators were charged in the case. But Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the state GOP, urged voters to react to the verdict by electing new leaders in November.
“What kind of rotten atmosphere exists on Beacon Hill that forced public employees to break federal law and commit conspiracy and wire fraud in order to appease a Legislature dominated by Democrats in exchange for budget increases?” Hughes asked in a statement.
Democrats currently control all statewide offices, the state’s entire congressional delegation and hold overwhelming majorities in both branches of the Legislature.
The verdict was “proof positive that the last eight years of one-party rule has bred corruption and waste in state government,” said Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray both issued statements repeating past assertions that they had done nothing wrong.
Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who is not seeking re-election, said Friday that he expected the verdicts to end the criminal aspect of the case and noted that he signed legislation in 2011 to overhaul probation hiring procedures after reports of abuse first surfaced.
“I think it’s enormously important, that for all people who are asked to take positions of public service and public trust, they be qualified to do those jobs, and that’s the way we conducted business in this administration,” Patrick said.
Timothy Vercellotti, a political science professor and pollster at Western New England University, said he doubted Thursday’s verdicts would come as much of a shock to Massachusetts voters, many of whom have long expressed cynical views about government. But he said the case could rekindle desire among some voters to divide power between the parties.
“They like the idea of checks on people and this resurrects that idea,” said Vercellotti. “So it does provide an argument, it does provide a means of attack for the state Republican party, at least when it comes to the governor’s race.”
Republicans held the governor’s office for 16 years until Patrick won it back in 2006.
The three Democratic gubernatorial candidates – Attorney General Martha Coakley, state Treasurer Steven Grossman and former federal health care official Don Berwick – all condemned the illegal hiring practices and promised reforms in government if elected.
Hughes faulted Coakley for not prosecuting others in the probation case. Coakley’s office did bring unrelated charges against O’Brien – for which he was acquitted last year – in connection with an alleged plan to land O’Brien’s wife a job with the state lottery.