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State House Roundup: Keeping Up With The Warrens

That’s where the Democratic field of Scott Brown challengers named Warren stood after another lazy summer week when Gov. Deval Patrick returned from his Bermuda-Maine vacation, only to seek respite in the Berkshires for another week, and lawmakers at the State House were more likely to be seen playing tour guide for visiting constituents than working on policy.

For those keeping score at home: Newton Mayor Setti Warren is still in the race despite lackluster early fundraising; former state Sen. Warren Tolman made his decision not to run for the nomination; and Elizabeth Warren dipped her toes to see how the water felt.

Way back in November, Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said he might be in the minority of those who believe a competitive and positive – the key word being positive – Democratic primary in 2012 would be healthy for the party’s chances of unseating U.S. Sen. Brown.

Now with seven declared candidates in the race and an eighth looking like she’s just waiting to line up the ballroom for a formal announcement, Walsh has to be wondering whether keeping the Beat Brown Brigade from destroying each other before September will be more difficult than expected. The candidates have kept the gloves on, so far.

Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the liberal left for her consumer advocacy and Wall Street reformer persona, launched an official “exploratory committee” this week, allowing her to start fundraising as she creeps toward what is now seen as her inevitable entrance into the race after Labor Day.

At least for now, though, the Democrats appear to have received Walsh’s keep-it-positive message. Alan Khazei issued a statement welcoming Warren to the race, and Setti Warren’s press secretary Chuck Gilboy said only that his candidate still believes he’s “uniquely positioned” to be the best foil to Brown.

Gilboy also confirmed that Warren’s lawn signs include both his names, lest he have to take a page out of Tim Cahill’s playbook. Though “Setti for Senate” does have a nice ring.

“We welcome her to the race. Bob is a huge fan of the work she does. We think that Professor Warren has a lot of catching up to do,” said Dave Kartunen, a spokesman for Robert Massie. That’s about as point as it got from the Dems, on the record, though privately some rival campaigns speculated that the Cambridge Democrat might have trouble connecting with blue collar Democrats.

With Congressional approval levels at an all-time low of 14 percent and the blame Washington game in full effect, it’s a wonder anyone wants to join the most hated team in America.

Rollercoaster markets toying with your college savings and retirement accounts? Blame Congress. Can’t afford your mortgage? Blame Congress. Out of work? Blame Congress.

When the Patrick administration released the state’s July jobs report this week showing a 12,700 job gain but a stagnant unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray was there to roll the dice and take his turn.

Asked if national economic turmoil was hurting the state's ability to grow jobs, Murray said, "I think it affects everything and I think it's unfortunate,” adding that the inability of elected officials to compromise has hurt "certainty and predictability" for businesses.

There’s no denying that Congressional gridlock and deficit reduction negotiations have state officials feeling anxious about the future of transportation funding, health care reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid and research funding, among other things.

The expectation of millions in federal support for Massachusetts being slashed even tempered Sen. Stanley Rosenberg’s hopes of freeing up a mere $300,000 in surplus funding to keep the state drug testing lab in Amherst open after the Department of Public Health announced it would close the only western Mass lab in September.

The state’s going to need even more money to keep its prison population behind bars, according to parole advocates, who lashed out at Gov. Patrick’s Parole Board chief this week for the steep decline in parole rates over the past seven months since the murder of a Woburn cop by parolee Dominic Cinelli.

Joshua Wall appeared before the Governor’s Council on Wednesday to take questions about parole efforts since Patrick replaced five members of the board, and the former deputy Suffolk County district attorney faced some hostility from the council who questioned whether parole-eligible criminals were getting a “fair shake.”

“Once a prosecutor, always a prosecutor,” quipped Councilor Christopher Iannella. Inmates, apparently, can be rehabilitated, but prosecutors might be a lost cause.

Wall, who appeared frustrated at times by the lines of questioning and snark coming from some members of the council, defended the board’s approach as by-the-book, much to the delight of Republican Jennie Cassie who announced she is not a fan playing of “statistical Patty-cake” to appease critics.

Though not readily apparent, there was evidence this week that August had not completely brought lawmaking to a standstill. The Revenue Committee quietly advanced legislation designed to allow the state to begin collecting sales taxes on online purchases, and another bill establish a permanent commission to review tax breaks.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans continued their assault on habitual offenders, this time going after the dangerous-driver variety with a new bill allow for the possibility of habitual traffic offenders to lose their license for life, or at least five years.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Warren Peace.

WORKER BEE AWARD: Lawmakers have been scarce the past few weeks during the August recess, but one representative - New Bedford’s Antonio Cabral – has been showing up like clock-work once a week to preside over his House Bonding Committee’s series of oversight hearings. Cabral, who could be spending all his legislative down time back in the district where he is running for mayor of New Bedford, has plodded along with his hearing schedule. Sure, he spends a lot of time grilling policy makers about New Bedford-specific spending projects, but right now he’s the only game in town.

This program aired on August 19, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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