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This week in state government and public affairs: a hotel full of Democrats — a non-union hotel full of Democrats — who had busted their humps to elect a Democratic governor three years ago decided Wednesday to picket said governor the next afternoon, politically wounding him and, in all likelihood, their own most fervently held causes.
Put another way: with the national Democratic Party already looking cross-eyed at Massachusetts because of their brethren’s inability to retain Ted Kennedy’s seat — Ted Kennedy’s seat — the state cousins on Thursday opted to zap a sitting governor who has in three years overseen a 21.5 percent increase in union membership, by Patrick aides’ reckoning.
In addition, there has been continued implementation of first-in-the-nation legislation easing unionization, and, oh yes, the asymptotic approach toward universal health care.
Any guesses about whether the national party has some concerns about what’s going on up here? If Sen. Scott Brown’s storming of the castle hadn’t been enough, and it was, the specter of the president’s buddy — who shares the hackneyed list of demographic similarities — getting shot down by one of the Democrats’ most loyal constituencies, probably reaches the threshold of disturbances that would irk the nationals.
So when Gov. Deval Patrick decided at the last minute Thursday to bail on the AFL-CIO’s annual conference in Plymouth, after the group’s executive committee had agreed the night before to stand up and walk out and join more than a hundred cops on a picket line outside on Water Street, the selfsame protesters had a bit of whiplash, a sort of “now what?” moment, a dark night of the soul. The anger among the laborists toting anti-Patrick signs morphed into anger-tinged confusion.
AFL-CIO legislative director Tim Sullivan went Zen discussing the House of Labor’s discontent with its chosen governor.
“They’re in office until they’re not,” he said of elected officials. “And they’re in charge of the list of things they’re charge of until they’re not.”
“Because of the economic conditions, I think the natural alliance between unions and Democrats has been strained somewhat,” Speaker Robert DeLeo said, adding that he likely would have appeared where Patrick did not.
More germane to the driving public, which narrowly averted a double-digit gas tax increase last year, the House of Representatives voted, also Thursday, to outlaw handheld cell phone use for drivers. This was probably not quite the tight job-creation focus that some lawmakers had promised in the wake of Scott Brown’s election, but nonetheless a reminder that … they’re with the government, and they’re here to help.
Speaking of the Human Highlight Reel, he officially became a U.S. senator, also Thursday, after a bit of a stutter-step about when he wanted to do that. Initially planning a Feb. 11 swearing-in, Scott Brown bumped it up, ostensibly to take important votes in the Senate, but perhaps even more likely to time it a little more closely to the three-year pre-anniversary of his inauguration as president, which people now discuss with earnestness and which Scott Brown himself would not rule out during an interview with Barbara Walters, during which Scott Brown was interviewed by Barbara Walters, newsworthy unto itself.
And thus ended the Paul Kirk Era.
The aftershocks from the Scott Brown Revolution amplified themselves (heads-up: ongoing storyline this year). Treasurer Timothy Cahill, venturing into the House of Labor himself, said he wanted the governor to stop putting the screws to the middle class, stop putting the smackdown on public employees, and stop drilling into the public pension system –- which Cahill says is fine but which Patrick and Republican gubernatorial contestant Charles Baker say is broken.
Even Baker got into the act, venturing into Palinworld a little bit himself by demurring on a “global warming” question. This is what Baker said when asked whether he thought climate change was brought on by human beings or nature: "I don't think whether I believe that or not matters; in this conversation, what I do believe is that our over-reliance on foreign oil is a big problem from a national security and an economic point of view.”
It’s a post-Scott Brown world, ladies and gentlemen, and a political establishment that was a few week ago enjoying its repose is now in break-and-run mode.
“I envision,” said Rep. Vincent Pedone, an ally of Speaker Robert DeLeo's, “with retirements, new jobs, and losses, that there’ll be 30 to 40 House seats that turn over.”
Forty, Mr. Chairman? That’s a quarter of the House. Big churn. Other reps confirmed that a 25 percent turnover in the People’s Chamber is visible, and acknowledged that such a sweeping roster move would engender a tremendous and unpredictable level of legislative volatility. Forty new reps could swing a vote on just about any issue.
Such is the state of the political landscape. Down is up, and up is Brown.
The lieutenant governor tried to get in Baker’s face, assuming his role as the administration’s guy to go to when it comes to booting teeth. The L.G.: “Listening to Charlie Baker talk about fiscal responsibility is like getting lectured on abstinence from Paris Hilton.”
Baker’s camp, assigning campaign manager Lenny Alcivar to essay forth rather than allowing the candidate to engage on the undercard: “By all accounts, Gov. Patrick’s reelection campaign is off to one of the worst starts in modern political history,” Alcivar said. “The Patrick campaign, unable to run on its record, has decided to do what losing political campaigns usually wait to the end to resort to, which is: changing the subject and making reckless attacks.”
The governor was joined this week in the Democratic primary by policy-hectoring candidate Grace Ross, who amassed less than 2 percent of the vote in 2006 but who, with her erstwhile Green Rainbow comrade Jill Stein could inject Patrick with headaches as he tries to steady himself for the fall. A Democratic primary is not what Patrick had sought, but an unknowable electorate invigorated by its newly elected senator –- Scott Brown –- rendered the field even less navigable.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Scott Brown is now a U.S. senator.
Weekly news roundups from State House News Service are published with permission on wbur.org as part of a partnership with the agency.
This program aired on February 5, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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