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Sometimes campaigns hinge on questions that are predictable, like whether voters will embrace legislation seductively messaged before them as "not a permanent increase" in property taxes, and sometimes they are altered by matters less easily forecast, like who gets to use which bathroom.
If Jennifer Nassour, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, had been able to take a break from last Friday night's carousal and a seat in the back of The Citizen Wine Bar in Worcester then charted a week that might pivot the public discourse more advantageously to her team — or, for that matter, unenrolled Treasurer Timothy Cahill's — it probably would have looked much like the one just passed. Democrats standing to defend what they call a civil rights issue — the degree to which the law recognized gender identity — while simultaneously defending as "tools" a byzantine fiddling with state law that would permit cities and towns to raise property taxes more briskly than the voter-imposed 2.5 percent limit.
Transgender and taxes. Not the rallying cry of the Scott Brown Democrats.
Of course, how decentralized and disorganized the voices of those Scott Brown Democrats are hung in sharp relief Thursday, when Revenue Committee House chair Jay Kaufman — who memorably said the fiscal 2010 budget would be measured "in terms of lives lost" — rented spacious Gardner Auditorium to discuss two tax rollback plans aimed at the November ballot. There were paid advocates, some reporters, a few staffers and, as Kaufman noted, "stunning silence." The most significant proposal on the agenda, slashing the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3, elicited not a bleat of testimony.
While this inaction was taking place, House leaders were busy defending their unannounced plan to grant municipal governments authority to skirt, essentially, the 1980 voter law restricting property tax hikes.
In a purportedly reassuring memo addressed to the Citizens for Limited Taxation, the group that publicized the issue, House budget chief Charles Murphy wrote, "There is no incentive to raise more than what is needed as the money can only be used for a tightly defined purpose. Moreover, any proposed increase must be approved as 'reasonable' by the Commissioner of the Department of Revenue to meet the specific exposures covered by an overlay account … This proposal is not a permanent increase."
These aren't the broad-based tax hikes you're looking for. Move along.
The gubernatorial candidates dived on it like kids scooping up piñata emissions, blasting the permission slip for tax hikes as tone-deaf, back-door, and bad news.
More tenderly, presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee Charles Baker — icing things last Saturday with a trouncing of convenience store magnate Christy Mihos, who was gracious in defeat during a press avail in the bowels of Worcester's DCU Center — tried to soft-shoe around trashing the transgender rights bill, deriding it before the party faithful as "the bathroom bill." Baker clapped his hand on running mate and Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei's shoulder and noted he'd signed up a "a gay fellow" for his ticket. It was pretty awkward. The gay rights group MassEquality tagged Baker as undergoing an unflattering "Romney-fication."
Cahill, like Baker, said he'd veto it. Gov. Deval Patrick supports it, along with 104 co-sponsors in the 200-member Legislature, including Tisei. Few of those fellows want to vote for it, though. The State Democratic Committee, meanwhile, is moving toward putting forth as the only issue vote at June's convention whether to add four transgender and bisexual seats to the panel, which also has some Dems squirming about appearing focused on progressive social issues while unemployment sits above 9 percent.
The type of gritty, cuttin'-costs-for-the-folks issue the incumbents are eager to embrace was on display in court Thursday, when the Suffolk Superior Court turned down the effort by Fallon Community Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to flout Patrick administration orders to cease and desist with the premium hikes they wanted to implement last month. "Valid and enforceable," decreed Judge Stephen Neel in his ruling on the state's rejection of the rates.
The matter of enforcement, specifically who will oversee the state's come next January, is a tricky one for Nassour, whose largely smooth convention sported one tremendous omission: a candidate for attorney general. After rendering Martha Coakley perhaps the most politically wounded officeholder in the country in the Senate race, the GOP has so far given her a cakewalk to reelection. And then Nassour talked up prospective candidates for the state's top cop, none of whom could be identified during the week by smart GOP operatives who usually have a handle on whether the state party might be disgorging a decent candidate to oppose a hemorrhaging incumbent.
Chats with astute Republican strategists hinted that Nassour was not as close as she had hinted to recruiting a GOP candidate for attorney general. Romney hand Peter Flaherty, the favored recruit by party insiders, has declined. Rep. Karyn Polito opted to run for state treasurer. Dan Winslow, former top aide to GOP chief executives, opted to run for state rep. They actually had no idea whom she was discussing.
Parties are organized to win elections. To be won, elections usually need to have organized parties. Unless you ask Tim Cahill, who saw a nice little uptick on this week's latest public opinion survey.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Quiet permission sought quietly for a polite property tax increase.
BIG BEN, PARLIAMENT, GUYS: State government news shards broomed up while wondering which pols are nervous about what Dianne Wilkerson or Sal DiMasi might say on the stand:
-- Scott Brown, who's now a U.S. senator, Shermanesquely foreclosing on a 2012 presidential bid on Friday's "Today Show," answering a question that was not widely being asked six months ago. "Absolutely, 2012, I'm ruling it out," Brown said. Pressed on "some day," the senator replied, "I'm not even going to jump at that, nice try." Asked about his aisle-crossing tendencies, Brown said, "Whether I'm out of step with the Republican Party — whatever. You know, I don't really care. I'm going to be the independent person and voter I've always been." Look closely, there's state Sen. Bruce Tarr on B-roll.
-- Transportation bureaucracy consigliere Joe Landolfi's ash-extended stay across the pond lamented during the clandestine Wednesday huddle of Gov. Deval Patrick's message masseurs.
-- Baker press secretary Rick Gorka trumping Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray on "Tim's Trivia Tuesdays" regarding the 1775 siege of Boston. Gorka stood no chance if the siege had been in Worcester.
This program aired on April 23, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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