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State House Roundup: Getting The Votes

Shoulder to shoulder, the Big Three and their sidekicks stood Wednesday, declaring with near-orgiastic zeal that they had just completed a routine function of state government: a quarterly borrowing of about $500 million.

Their euphoria was an outgrowth of a five-day-old announcement that Standard & Poor’s – the agency maligned by national Democrats as unreliable and duplicitous after it downgraded the country’s credit rating in August – had upgraded Massachusetts’ rating to a coveted AA+, which officials said could mean millions of dollars in reduced borrowing costs and confirmed their fiscal management credentials.

The all-Democratic show of force – attended by Gov. Deval Patrick, Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Therese Murray, Treasurer Steven Grossman, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray and the chairmen of the Legislature’s budget committees – scarcely concealed a palm-sweat-inducing storyline unfolding 40 miles away in the quaint township of Lakeville.

It was there that Keiko Orrall, a Japanese-American mother of two and former finance committee member, took a weed-whacker to the Democratic Party’s grassroots, delivering the 12th Bristol seat in the Massachusetts House to Republicans for the first time since Richard Nixon was in the White House and the Vietnam War was in full swing.

Rep.-elect Orrall’s win, a decisive special election victory to fill the seat last held by New Bedford Democrat Stephen Canessa, came against a labor-backed Democrat. Her victory was the second time in four months that the GOP prevailed in a special House election, and less than a year after Republicans doubled their ranks in the lower chamber, riding a national wave of discontent to sweep out several entrenched Democrats. To some, the latest victory is a sign that the wave is still cresting.

“It certainly sends a cautionary note that some of that anxiety and some of that energy is still alive and active out there,” House Minority Leader Bradley Jones said Wednesday.

Democrats chalked up the defeat to a complacent lapse in an otherwise sterling get-out-the-vote network.

“While we had a good message, we did not get out our vote at the grassroots level and during a special election that is even more important,” party chairman John Walsh said in a statement. “We will continue to work on making improvements to the historic success at the grassroots level of last fall's election as we get closer to 2012.”

Anxiety was alive inside the State House as well, with word of fresh indictments. Although the targets – former probation commissioner John O’Brien and former Treasury chief of staff Scott Campbell – are no longer actively in public office, Attorney General Martha Coakley made clear that her investigation into a widespread patronage scandal is ongoing.

For the fretful, it was almost a relief that gambling continued to dominate the Legislature’s September agenda, overshadowing fresh looks by legislative committees at bills dealing with campus crime reporting, mandatory physical education, ticket reselling, mandatory minimum sentences, sex education and voter identification.

Senate President Therese Murray told reporters Thursday that she already has the votes to approve an expanded gambling bill and send it back to the House for compromise negotiations, but that she’s willing to let her members debate it until they’re hoarse, hinting that it could be mid-October before those talks are officially underway.

Senators answered her pledge to go light on the gavel with 182 proposals to amend the bill, increasing the chances that even when opponents’ delay options run out, floor debate could be a multi-day affair.

Meanwhile, in case anyone was wondering – and inside the capitol, people were – Murray declared her intent to stick around in the Senate until she reaches an eight-year term limit in 2015.

“Put that out there because these rumors are crazy,” Murray told the News Service. “It's ridiculous, and I think it comes right out of down the street … Scollay and Mooo, where all the lobbyists hang out and gossip and make things up,” Murray declared, as a spokesman ushered reporters out of her inner office.

STORY OF THE WEEK: More indictments come down. A New Bedford-based seat turns red.

RED MASS HOUSE? | Eleven months ago, Massachusetts Democrats joked openly about a Republican-free Legislature, with the GOP sporting a miniscule 15-member minority that could barely muster roll call votes, let alone impact policy decisions. But a string of gains since then – with Keiko Orrall’s exclamation point in the 12th Bristol this week – one right-wing blogger dared to posit that, under the right circumstances, Republicans could pick up 48 more seats and capture the House of Representatives within the next decade. Rob Eno, who runs Red Mass Group, the go-to blog for Massachusetts Republicans, said a continuing trickle off corruption scandals in Democratic circles and a leftward lurch within the Democratic Party has left the party vulnerable to further losses in the coming year. “We are in the midst of a renaissance in our party, and our conservative movement,” he wrote in an unrepentantly buoyant release. “Yes, we lost every constitutional office last year. That wasn't however over ideas in all cases, as much as it was our anemic ground game.” But his argument would require Republicans to defy history: when the GOP shocked Democrats in 1990 by winning 16 seats in the state Senate and the ability to sustain gubernatorial vetoes, they followed their performance with a stunning reversion to the mean, losing many of the gains in 1992 and plummeting for the next two decades to a low of four members this session. In addition, Democrats on the left have argued that they’ve been forsaken by a leadership racing wildly for the center. This session, Democratic leaders have crossed swords with labor, pushed aside left-leaning anti-gambling groups and issued ironclad rejections of new taxes, despite sanctioning deep cuts in social services programs.

This program aired on September 23, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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