State House Roundup: Passing The Buck

In a week that featured Republicans calling for a major spending package and Democrats pledging to honor voter-approved tax cuts, one Beacon Hill axiom held true: when lawmakers spend large amounts of money during election season, fewer than a Baker's dozen will actually weigh in.

If half of governing is showing up, state lawmakers proved that most of campaigning is running far, far away from the State House, leaving a plan to spend hundreds of millions of federal dollars in the hands of a tiny, powerful subset of legislative leaders. Thirteen members of the House's budget writing committee couldn't even be bothered to take a formal vote on the bill that passed through that panel.

While House Speaker Robert DeLeo and budget chief Charley Murphy wrangled with Republicans over the fine points of the $420 million bill that, in their telling, is intended to stave off apocalyptic budget cuts, the Twittersphere was abuzz: Rep. Canavan touting her Mass Motorcycle Association endorsement, Rep. Jeff Perry - railer against Beacon Hill spending - soliciting funds in exchange for coffee mugs.

Bolstered by members' indifference and deference to leadership, Murphy, with an assist from Gov. Deval Patrick, ramped up the pressure on the few Republicans who raised questions about the bill, warning that homeless people would be cast out on the streets, jails would be forced to close and low-income residents will lose health benefits without the new spending. It just was never clear when the funds would run out.

And Rep. Karyn Polito opted not to roll over - defying even her Republican colleagues - and her tweets told a different story.

"Sitting in the House Chamber, alone, keeping watch to protect taxpayers from more spending," the Republican candidate for treasurer wrote at 12:31 p.m. Friday, shortly before Rep. Vincent Pedone, a Democrat, handed her a piece of cold pizza so she could stay nourished and continue her standoff.

Polito, a rare visitor to the State House since July 31, when formal sessions ended, suddenly can't bring herself to leave. She's holed herself up in the House chamber every day this week and used her prerogative to shut down legislative business three times, arguing the spending bill should be debated and voted on by all of her colleagues. Her lonely opposition has earned her scorn among advocates for the disabled and Democratic leaders, who claim her lonely stand is intended to score her political points.

While Polito earned her headlines, Independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill couldn't keep them away. Another Friday, another betrayal from the upper ranks of his campaign, this time his running mate, Rep. Paul Loscocco, a Republican-in-unenrolled-clothing. Loscocco, following the lead of a pair of Cahill advisers last week, bolted the campaign and cradled his head in the bosom of an avuncular Charlie Baker.

Loscocco's gamble is that his jilt of Cahill will lift Baker and won't win the treasurer sympathy from those who feel he's been betrayed. Cahill, in heartfelt remarks, vowed to stay in the race, called the lieutenant governor's position "useless" and said Loscocco's defection was a backroom deal.

The week featured yet another addition to the political lexicon, a perhaps-unfortunate decision by Republican attorney general candidate Jim McKenna to take aim at the "Beacon Hill Boys and Girls Club," a Palinesque reference to the "old boys' club" that had some wondering what he has against nonprofit youth recreation centers. So far, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America haven't weighed in.

McKenna, a late entrant in the race to unseat Democrat Martha Coakley, is a political novice, having secured a spot on the November ballot through a write-in campaign just two weeks ago. During his first debate with Coakley on Thursday, he declined to take a position on gay marriage, calling it "settled law," while in the same breath calling for the state to rethink its ban on the death penalty, arguably the most settled and resettled law in the state. The punishment was officially banned in 1984 but hasn't been carried out since 1947, and lawmakers, year after year, have voted it down - when leadership permits a vote, that is.

McKenna linked his death penalty position directly to a gruesome quadruple murder in Mattapan this week that included the shooting death of a two-year-old boy. The murders, too, were quickly swooped up by the election-season maelstrom. Treasurer Cahill pointed to the crime as underscoring Gov. Deval Patrick's failed promise to put more police on the streets. Steve Grossman, candidate for treasurer, said the murders highlighted the folly in Polito's decision to block spending that, in part, supports law enforcement. Patrick and Polito quickly issued campaign press releases condemning attempts to "politicize" the killings.

The most unnoticed race of the week, for a change, was for the top job. The gubernatorial candidates met three times, and three times they failed to perceptibly change the dynamic of the race. Even new polls confirmed a relatively stagnant race, with Patrick leading and Baker a close second, Jill Stein firmly in the basement, and Cahill straddling the line between single and double digits.

But if anyone has debate fatigue, it isn't the Patrick press operation, which conveniently announced a $55 million infusion for higher education and more support for the South Coast rail corridor at the start of a debate between the candidates at UMass-Dartmouth, the latest in a string of good-news announcements the governor has carried with him to the start of a debate.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Lies, damned lies and Loscocco.

A FLACK'S FLACK: In an under-the-dome head-turner, Senate pressman-in-chief David Falcone took a temporary leave to aid his boss, Senate President Therese Murray - the GOP-labeled "incumbents' incumbent" - in her bid for a tenth term. The move struck some because the Plymouth Democrat has made a habit of chewing up and spitting out any Republican who has taken her on since she won her first term in 1993. But this year, as most political observers reflexively acknowledge, is different. Murray is facing off against Sandwich Republican Thomas Keyes, a businessman earning rave reviews from the Republican Party faithful in a district that U.S. Sen. Scott Brown carried handily. Murray has already dropped heavy sums on polling and consulting and seems to be hitting every district event possible. Falcone joins Murray's team just days after Republican pundits disseminated a video showing Murray scoffing at Tea Party "nutcases" and decrying "hate" in the rhetoric of the national immigration debate.

JUDGING POBLOCKI: Add another notch to Mary Ellen Manning's belt. The Democratic Governor's Councilor stopped her third Patrick administration judicial nominee in the last two months, raising questions that apparently escaped the oversight of the governor's Judicial Nominating Council, which is supposed to inoculate the governor from poor judge picks. In the recent tradition of judicial nominees with odd names dropping out under a cloud, Patrick's latest pick for the Middlesex Superior Court may have raised the bar. Patrick's legal counsel pulled the emergency brake on the nomination of Lisa Poblocki just hours before she was scheduled to be considered for lifetime confirmation to the bench, citing potential campaign finance violations by her "spouse." That spouse turned out to be Richard Pilla, a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, whose campaign has said he'll return any questionable donations. Only one has been identified, a $500 check from Linda Glennon, a part-time paralegal in Poblocki's law firm. Manning said an anonymous tipster raised questions about a connection between Pilla and Glennon, who listed herself as a self-employed attorney on Baker's campaign finance records. Patrick administration officials say they've referred the case to campaign finance authorities, and the vote on Poblocki's nomination has been put on an indefinite hold.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Virtually every state that is a losing [a Congressional seat] is a state that Obama carried. It has some implications for 2012." - Secretary of State William Galvin describing changes in Electoral College votes if 2010 Census projections hold true and districts are redrawn to reflect population flows over the past decade.

This program aired on October 3, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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