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Murray Elected Senate President

There were no surprises yesterday during the hand off of one of the most powerful positions in state government. Therese Murray is the new Senate President and the first woman to hold that post.

WBUR's Martha Bebinger has more from the State House.

TEXT OF STORY

MARTHA BEBINGER: Outside the senate chamber yesterday, Senator Steven Panagiotakos marveled about making history with the election of a woman as president.

STEVEN PANAGIOTAKOS: I mean the general court goes back to the 1600s, it's the oldest continual deliberative body in the world and to never have a woman is amazing that that's never happened.

BEBINGER: Panagiotakos will take charge, at least temporarily, of Senate Ways and Means, the Committee Therese Murray chaired before the senate president's job became available.

Former President Robert Travaglini is leaving to work in the private sector, although he says the details of what he'll do are still in negotiations.

In his departing speech, Travaglini praised the senate's work on health care reform, an economic stimulus bill, stem cell research, and addressing budget deficits.

ROBERT TRAVAGLINI: We've done some remarkable things together, and I couldn't be any prouder of each and every one of you for the energy, the commitment and the passion you've brought to this body.BEBINGER: The vote for Murray was unanimous on the 2nd round. The senate's five Republicans initially voted for their majority leader, Richard Tisei.

Senate Republicans overlooked a call from the state party to delay Murray's election while the Inspector General reviews a questionable tourism account Murray allegedly helped through the budget process.

In nominating Murray, Senator Susan Tucker pointed out that Murray is only the 16th female senator in state history.

Tucker says at speaking engagements, there is usually a young girl who asks if Tucker's childhood dream was to become a politician.

SUSAN TUCKER: It's very difficult for me to explain to this generation that when I was her age, there were no women in politics. So today yet another new door opens on the ambitions and dreams of our daughters, our sisters and our grandchildren.

BEBINGER: When it was Murray's turn to address the chamber, she mentioned Martha Coakley, the state's first Attorney General and Boston City Council President Maureen Feeney.

THERESE MURRAY: The election of the three of us, demonstrates that gender is no longer an issue when choosing government leaders.

BEBINGER: Murray pledges to pursue many of the same priorities established by departing Senate President Robert Travaglini.

One of Murray's first challenges will be the senate's version of next year's budget, which will have to deal with a $1.3 billion budget shortfall. On another challenging issue: Murray will have to deal soon with a proposed ballot question that would ban gay marriage. She says she doesn't know how she'll handle the next constitutional convention which is scheduled for May 9th.

MURRAY: I haven't even discussed that with myself. So when that comes up I will give it every consideration.

BEBINGER: Murray's on record against the gay marriage ban. Arline Isaacson with the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Caucus says the prospects for avoiding a statewide vote on gay marriage look better with Murray in charge, than they did under Travaglini.

ARLINE ISAACSON: Her commitment to fairness and to opposing discrimination makes us feel like we're going to have a shot this year, of winning this Con Con.BEBINGER: Murray's position on gay marriage is one reason that there is a perception she is more liberal than Travaglini. But Governor Deval Patrick says the public must not rush to judgment.DEVAL PATRICK: Don't put us in a box, we align in different places on different issues and to the extent humanly possible we will do that on the merits.

BEBINGER: Beacon Hill leaders are not aligned on Governor Patricks' plan to raise an additional 500 million dollars in corporate taxes. House Speaker Sal DiMasi says that proposal won't be in the house budget. Senate President Murray says the bill will get a hearing in the Senate.

For WBUR, I'm Martha Bebinger.

This program aired on March 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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