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State House Roundup: Musical Chairs

The pitter-patter of feet migrating south and west echoed through the halls of the capitol this week as the 2010 Census tally arrived like the Grinch sledding down from Mt. Greylock to swipe one of the state's 10 Congressional seats out from under the Christmas tree.

The holiday surprise — well not much of surprise, really — showed up Tuesday looking more like a fish wrapped in newspaper than a gift tied with a bow as official population totals showed how Massachusetts grew by a modest 3.1 percent over the past decade — faster than Rhode Island and Vermont, but slower than Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire.

The Granite State, in fact, led the slowest growing New England region with a 6.5 percent growth rate, proving that perhaps there is something to that no-sales-or income-tax thing after all — just ask Dan Winslow. (But more on that later)

Secretary of State William Galvin and Senate Redistricting Chair Stan Rosenberg were holding out late hope for a Christmas "miracle," especially after Galvin had tried to downplay early projections by talking up the state's aggressive effort to out-count other states, but it was not to be.

So, as expected, one congressman must go. But who? It might be impossible to start making predictions until more detailed state population shifts arrive in February, but for now the permutations are endless. The only thing that could make this easier on members of the current delegation is if one the incumbents decides to step aside early rather than force an inter-party showdown.

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, at age 70, is the most frequently mentioned as a retirement candidate, which would put Frank in the company of former U.S. Rep. Brian Donnelly, who did not seek re-election after the 1990 Census trimmed a district, and went on to become an ambassador and candidate for governor.

U.S. Rep Edward Markey could run for Senate against Brown. So could U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano if he's willing to give up his seat for one more shot without Attorney General Martha Coakley standing in his way. Or maybe U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch can bring labor back to his side and pull the trigger on the campaign he wanted to run in 2009.

The switch to a Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives could also weigh heavily on decisions as the local incumbents get accustomed to their new lives under the thumb of soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner. The GOP takeover will cost Frank his chairmanship, Markey his entire committee and Capuano his close friendship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

For all the talk of the loss of "clout" that Massachusetts will have to overcome after reapportionment, U.S. Sen. John Kerry was in Washington this week quietly reminding folks that he's not going anywhere — at least as long as Hillary Clinton isn't going anywhere.

While Bay State pols were wringing their hands over what the 2012 landscape will look like, Kerry was helping to deliver for the Obama administration one of the most productive lame-duck sessions in recent memory — rescuing the New START arms treaty with Russia from near certain collapse just days after Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell."

While much of the news flowed north from D.C. this week, the season's first snowfall and impending holidays did not bring all to a halt on Beacon Hill.

Soon-to-be freshman Rep. Dan Winslow, the highly accessible, easily quotable former judge and Romney counsel, was so eager to begin work that he called a news conference the Wednesday before Christmas to announce his first legislative initiative — a $300 income tax credit on residents' first $4,800 in sales purchases.

"The resounding call from this press availability is this: Why go to New Hampshire to live free or die when you can stay in Massachusetts and live free and buy," Winslow said, delivering a line he'd no doubt been crafting for weeks.

Though the resistance to tacking on an additional $500 million to already looming $2 billion budget gap for fiscal 2012 would be great, the math could be surprisingly encouraging. Considering that 35 Democrats voted against hiking the sales tax to 6.25 percent in the first place, the new Republican minority — with 31 or 32 members — would only need to swing 14 or 15 votes, assuming everyone holds.

Stranger things have happened. This was the week, after, all, that the Massachusetts Teachers Association embraced the idea of using MCAS scores as one factor in a new teacher evaluation system.

And what of the budget gap? The week passed without movement on a possible supplemental budget to bottle unspecified "caseload pressures" or an agreement on a consensus revenue figure for fiscal 2012, meaning both could come next week, or be pushed to the waning hours of the session after the New Year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Deval Patrick kept a light public schedule, surfacing briefly to swear in Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland and to nominate his next pick to the court, Nan Duffly.

Perhaps Winslow put it best this week when he said Patrick had "won the judicial appointment lottery." In his four years, Patrick has nominated three new justices to the SJC and elevated the first African-American to the court's top post. He's picked two new women, and one new white male, and in Duffly he has tapped someone who could become the first Asian-American justice.

Before his second term is complete, Patrick will also get two more picks to the SJC when Justice Judith Cowin, 68, reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 and Ireland turns 70 in 2014. On Christmas Eve, the governor announced Choate, Hall & Stewart partner E. Macey Russell will become the new chair of the panel that reviews judicial applicants, succeeding Lisa Goodheart. At this rate, Patrick could leave behind the most diverse court in the country.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The public sector, like the private sector, must learn to do more with less.

This program aired on December 24, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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