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State House Roundup: Electoral Curveballs

This article is more than 11 years old.

Accustomed to digesting the political somersaults of its resident pols, the Beacon Hill chatterati found themselves this week doing the math on two glaring flip-flops, and they weren't even talking about Mitt Romney.

Facing potentially significant electoral hurdles next year, both U.S. Rep. John Olver and City Year founder Alan Khazei entered the week determined to put their names before voters in 2012 - until they weren't.

The days also dropped off the calendar with little movement on major policy proposals, including pension and parole reform, casino gambling, and anti-human trafficking bills, though leaders expressed sustained optimism that pre-Thanksgiving deals could still be struck.

With just 19 days - 13 business days - until the Legislature goes into holiday hibernation, word of Gov. Deval Patrick eyeing an early December trip to sunny Brazil on his third international trade mission came to light - a fact that Sen. Marc Pacheco let slip and the governor's office reluctantly confirmed, though details are not yet finalized.

The governor also inked a $169 million spending bill that diverted $350 million in surplus revenue from fiscal 2011 to the state's recession-depleted savings account, and sent $65 million in local aid back to cities and towns.

Patrick, however, drew fire from AARP members for vetoing a policy change that would have held nursing home beds for up to 10 days if residents were hospitalized, calling it "unnecessary" after an unidentified audit listed 4,000 vacant beds across the state.

While the House and Senate struggled to clear their plates of agenda items stacking up, a new crop of bills that will likely demand action surfaced, including crackdowns on prescription drug abuse and education collaboratives, and a proposed deal to avoid a ballot question that would ban insurance companies from using credit scores, educational background and other socioeconomic factors when setting auto insurance premiums.

The headline of the week, however, was written in a matter of minutes on Wednesday when both Olver, a 20-year veteran of Congress, and Khazei, a Democratic U.S. Senate aspirant, pulled the plug on their immediate electoral careers nearly simultaneously. Both men had been insistent up until that moment they were staying in their respective races, redistricting and Elizabeth Warren be damned.

While Khazei's withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race may do little to alter the final outcome, Olver's cannonball into the retirement pool sent waves crashing over the bow of the U.S.S. Redistricting captained by Rep. Michael Moran and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg. Both men were either popping champagne, or contemplating the reality that one should be careful what they wish for. In an indication of the apparent level of importance the chairs assign to incumbency, they called Olver's plans as a "dramatic change" with impacts that would require days to assess.

Olver's decision to retire as his wife, Rose, battles ovarian cancer ostensibly made the job of redrawing the state's Congressional districts a simpler calculation. With nine seats, nine incumbents and a shoehorn, Moran and Rosenberg should be able to craft a map that would make Amerigo Vespucci proud, right?

The news spawned no shortage of pronouncements, albeit premature ones, that Olver's retirement solved the conundrum of pitting two incumbents against one another.

"There has been a gigantic sigh of relief here in the Statehouse that Congressman Olver has decided to retire because we don't have to have anybody run against each other," state Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover), a member of the Redistricting Committee, told The Sun, of Lowell.

Finegold might know something others don't, but the reality of Olver's retirement is probably only that it made western Massachusetts a simpler puzzle to solve. There are still the issues like U.S. Rep. Barney Frank's 4th Congressional district, which looks like a textbook lesson in gerrymandering.

Moran, who co-chairs the Redistricting Committee, has acknowledged that the retirement of one of the state's 10 Congressional representatives would make the process easier, but also said he wants to make the nine remaining districts more "compact" and eliminate "some of those past districts that look a little funny."

The pressure will now ratchet up on Moran and Rosenberg not to rock the boat too hard.

While it could be weeks before the Congressional mapping is complete, Khazei's exit from the U.S. Senate race came as a surprise, if only because he had been insistent that he would not withdraw even as his others primary competitors began dropping like flies.

Warren, the Harvard law professor and consumer advocate, has virtually cleared the field since joining the race, and also appears to have something in common with Wall Street - she's stockpiling political cash the way some corporations rack up profits.

The self-proclaimed voice of the so-called "99 percent" has created a virtual monopoly on Democratic donors, felling the campaigns of Newton Mayor Setti Warren, Robert Massie and, now, Khazei. That leaves just Rep. Thomas Conroy, immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco, engineer Herb Robinson, and Boston attorney Jim King.

Warren's skills on the stump, however, continue to be tested, and she turned heads this week when claiming to have laid the "intellectual foundation" for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Warren has embraced the liberal answer to the Tea Party, even while Mother Nature has not: snow in October, really?

It's true that Warren had been "throwing rocks" at Wall Street long before the Occupiers decided to turn the urban jungles of New York, Boston and other cities into their campsites, but even Patrick called it "patronizing" for any one person to claim the mantle of the diverse Occupy movement.

Asked if he could take intellectual credit for anything as broad, Patrick sent a slight jab Warren's way: "I don't have that level of self-confidence," he told WTKK's Jim Braude.

Warren recanted days later, and admitted to needing to choose her words more carefully, but not before Republicans dubbed her "The Matriarch of Mayhem."

Not lacking in confidence is Jill Stein, a perennial Green-Rainbow candidate, who apparently interpreted the 1.4 percent support she got in liberal Massachusetts during last year's gubernatorial campaign as a sign that she was ready for the national stage.

Stein this week launched her campaign for president - yes, president of the United States - answering at long last the question about whether Barack Obama would get challenged from the left.

This program aired on October 28, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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