State House Roundup: Partly Cloudy

Bill Galvin in 2012, anyone?

The four-term secretary of state, the state's chief elections officer, has barely sniffed in the direction of his two opponents in a year of anti-incumbent rage. His reward? A 30-point lead in the polls.

It's a case study in the Audacity of Nope. Galvin cranked out a TV ad this week in which he appeared to be directing floor operations at NASA, but told his rivals he was too busy running the election to attend a planned 90-minute debate at Suffolk University. Sixty minutes would've been acceptable, he said.

Throughout this campaign season, like much of the last, Galvin has snubbed debates and public dialogue. He only got around to updating his year-old website this week. Reporters seeking to contact his campaign are directed to a generic email address, to which he does respond.

Meanwhile, his opponents - William Campbell, the soft-spoken Republican clerk of Woburn, and James Henderson, a young, tech-savvy independent - have been apoplectic, their frustration seeming only to goad Galvin further into seclusion.

Senate President Therese Murray had her own brush with audacity this week when she slipped in a last-minute jab at her Republican opponent Tom Keyes during a debate in her Cape district. Keyes, she announced, voted to go into "secret" session 100 times as a member of the Sandwich Board of Selectmen.

Never mind that the Senate has hashed out most policy pushes of the last four years in closed-door caucuses. On bills ranging from the budget to a much-touted economic development package, senators have cloistered themselves in the Senate president's office to predetermine the fate of hundreds of proposals, with Murray or a surrogate reading the decisions off a list, often without roll call votes.

To be fair, vigorous, public Senate debates have ensued on issues like casino gambling and illegal immigration, but when the passions have gotten too inflamed, the Senate has often receded into closed-door caucus to regroup and determine how to proceed when back in public view.

Speaking of inflamed, Republican Charles Baker came into the week like a wrecking ball. Still smarting from a leaked 1998 memo in which he acknowledged that "amazing" costs of the Big Dig appeared to be crowding out funding for other projects, Baker appeared dead-set on damaging Patrick through some serious innuendo.

Patrick, Baker warned during a Wednesday event at the foot of Fenway Park, will raise the income tax to 7 percent. The blunt suggestion flummoxed reporters, who hadn't yet heard about Patrick's secret pre-election plan to raise the most politically controversial tax on the books.

Baker admitted there was no actual plan from Patrick, but said he believed the governor would have to raise the income tax, without offering reforms to deal with a looming budget deficit. And Baker added, for what seemed like the zillionth time this week, that Patrick had raised taxes eight times.

Besides an obvious play to voters' fiscal fears, Baker's suggestion may have inadvertently revealed his own lack of creativity. There are all kinds of taxes Patrick could raise before turning to the income tax.

Still, Patrick has insisted he has no plans to raise taxes in a second term but hasn't ruled them out - same position as when he ran in 2006. Baker said Friday he'd stop talking about it if Patrick would pledge not to raise taxes. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the gatekeeper on taxes, has also indicated no current desire for new levies, with the caveat that he needs to get a sense from the newly constituted House in January.

And just when things may have been looking down for Baker - Suffolk University, Rasmussen and State House News Service polls show him trailing, slightly, with just four days to make up ground - the state's senior senator reliably swooped in with an unintended assist on the Big Dig, Baker's biggest liability.

"Do I think it was over cost? Yes. Do I think it was well managed? No," U.S. Sen. John Kerry said during a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday. "But in the end, 20 years from now, people are going to look back at it and they'll still say it was cheap for what we got, and they'll try to figure out how they can replicate it. We have engineers who come over here from all over the world to look at it and find out … how we didn't lose a day of business in doing what we did."

Kerry began his remarks with a chord of disbelief, noting that while China is soaring past America's transportation technology, "we've still got people complaining about the Big Dig."

Way down the ballot, the legislative races have intensified, as party- and candidate-funded mailers on both sides stacked up with junk mail in swing districts. Democrats responded this week to Republican charges that their mailers made illegal use of candidates' funds and violated U.S. Postal Service code. The GOP has called on the Postal Service inspector general to investigate.

"This is unbolting the kitchen sink and throwing it," said Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh. "There is no substance behind it." Walsh also suggested the gambit was an indication that Republicans had abandoned hope of winning down-ticket races, a charge the GOP denies.

The flying shrapnel and escalating ferocity aimed at Nov. 2, when Democrats could, conceivably, lose one or both Houses of Congress, has provided ideal cover for those eyeing another date: Nov. 6 - 2012, that is, the next U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts.

Enter Setti Warren, mayor of Newton, sprung from John Kerry's rib. Some party officials believe he has the makeup to be the Democratic answer to Scott Brown. He's engaged in a string of profile-raising events, and earned a personal first-name-only shout-out from the leader of the free world. Warren, with his military background and Clinton administration bona fides, could present an attractive Yin to Brown's Yang. Whether the Senate or some other office, insiders say they see him moving up the ladder. Asked by the News Service to rule out a 2012 Senate run, Warren said only that he was focused on Newton.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The storm before the calm.

SILENT SCOTT: Scott Brown picked a strange time to get all squishy and senatorial. Blazing into Congress on a wave of voter anger and a platform of tax cuts, Brown refused to tell reporters Friday exactly how he feels about the only major tax cut on the ballot, Question 3, which would slash the state sales tax to 3 percent from 6.25 percent. Brown rebuffed a News Service reporter three times when asked about his position on the cut, even though he had already cast an absentee ballot. Making matters worse, Rep. Karyn Polito, Republican candidate for treasurer, immediately cut in and laid out in specific detail why she supported Question 3 as a means to lower the sales tax to 5 percent in the long-run.

BAKER SHILLING FOR VOTES: Curt Schilling, savior of the Red Sox and king of the bloviators, seemed an odd choice for Baker to go vote-trolling with in the final two days of the campaign. Schilling most recently made Massachusetts news when he moved his video game company, and the promise of 450 new jobs, to Rhode Island, rejecting as insufficient overtures by the Patrick administration. "The state's focus has been on gambling and casinos, and they didn't have the bandwidth and the interest to step in and play and anybody that says otherwise is not telling the truth," Schilling said on WEEI shortly after making his decision in late July. Schilling has publicly backed Baker against Patrick. Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki told the News Service in July that Schilling had hoped to start a bidding war over his company. "I think in the end he was, I think, hoping we would get in a bit of a bidding war with Rhode Island, and we weren't prepared to do that," Bialecki said.

This program aired on October 29, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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