State House Roundup: The People's Lion

If there isn’t already such a thing as a Kennedy Republican, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown this week may have tried to create an entirely new political classification for himself.

As former Gov. Mitt Romney fought to regain his footing in the GOP primary contest and come back in Michigan, one of his “home states,” against the latest Republican flavor of the month, Rick Santorum, Brown was engaged back in Massachusetts in one of the first substantive policy fights of his own re-election campaign.

While the Republican establishment has been quick to discount any lingering cachet associated with the Kennedy family name in an attempt to discredit congressional hopeful Joseph Kennedy III, Brown this week was more than willing to play the Camelot card.

Brown invoked the late Sen. Edward Kennedy to defend his position on health care coverage for contraception, dredging up a letter the ailing Democrat wrote to the Pope expressing his support for a moral and religious exemption for “Catholics in the health field.”

Brown’s position, through the prism of a tough reelection campaign, could be viewed as an attempt to court voters in a heavily Catholic state, but at least it seemed to make more sense than Romney’s blatant pandering to the conifer constituency in Michigan, where as opposed to other places, apparently the trees are “the right height.”

The Kennedy connection drawn in a radio ad aired by the Brown campaign capped a week in which the issue of health care coverage for contraception threw the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts into a tizzy. The debate spawned dueling radio ads, conference calls and mudslinging over Brown’s support for Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt’s amendment to allow employers and insurers to limit health care coverage for medications and procedures, including contraception, based on religious or moral objections.

While Democrat Elizabeth Warren and female lawmakers on Beacon Hill piled on Brown, the Brown campaign tried to steer the conversation away from contraception to focus more pointedly on religious freedom. They even thrust former state Rep. Karyn Polito back into the spotlight in the process.

“It’s wrong for government to compel people to violate their religious beliefs. I agree with Scott Brown that it’s possible to provide women with the health services they want while also protecting religious rights,” Polito said in a statement emailed by the Brown team after Reps. Cory Atkins and Ruth Balser portrayed Brown as out of step.

While campaign season heated up, the capitol, per usual, was lulled to sleep as the business of legislating crawled to the speed of school vacation week.

The House and Senate quietly resolved differences over a bill aimed at improving transparency and oversight of the much-maligned state network of education collaboratives, whisking the bill to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk on a day, perhaps not so coincidentally, that one of the lead actors in the collaborative scandal saw his state pension stripped.

The State Retirement Board on Thursday voted to revoke longtime lobbyist and convicted Sal DiMasi co-conspirator Richard McDonough’s pension, with Treasurer Steven Grossman vowing to “come down on them like a ton of bricks when we discover acts of fraud.”


As Beacon Hill paused, plans to rescue MBTA riders from a double-hit of fare hikes and service cuts lurched forward like a Green Line trolley. Senate President Therese Murray went on TV for an interview to be aired Sunday on WCVB backing up the suggestions made in recent weeks by House leaders that some combination of fare hikes and a new revenue stream will be looked at to close the T’s $161 million deficit and mitigate service cuts.

Gov. Deval Patrick also went on the radio and suggested that barring any late winter blizzards, surplus snow and ice removal funds could be the money source to save bus, ferry and commuter rail service until a long-term solution can be found.

As the Ways and Means committees continued their budget hearings this week with a dive into the realm of health and human services, the MBTA was never far from mind.

Noting Massachusetts’ poor standing among states for its rate of asthma, Back Bay Democrat Rep. Martha Walz told Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby that, “The asthma problems are only going to get worse” if the MBTA raises fares or cuts services in a way that forces more commuters into their cars.

Lawmakers also continued to resist the Patrick administration over what has quickly become one of the biggest pressure points in the early budget debate: plans to close Taunton State Hospital.

Southeastern Massachusetts lawmakers contend that closing the hospital will leave the region without access to inpatient mental health beds, but the administration said they intend to preserve the number of available beds, just in different locales.

"We feel that the consolidation of the beds to Worcester State Hospital and Tewksbury State Hospital constitute an enhancement of mental health services," Department of Mental Health Commissioner Marcia Fowler said.

Gov. Deval Patrick kept a low profile throughout much of the week, but that was all certain to change as he headed Friday for Washington D.C. with plans to promote his book – the first one – and hit the national Sunday talk circuit between National Governors Association meetings.

The governor, to no one’s surprise, was tapped as one of 35 national co-chairs of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign earlier in the week, reprising the role he played in 2008 and formally solidifying his cheerleader-in-chief status for the president.

With no immediate job creation votes on the legislative agenda, one of the few lures to the State House this week was a hearing on a home rule petition from Freetown that would exempt a parcel of Native American land from historical commission oversight in order to clear the way for Meditech to expand and create 800 new jobs on the South Coast.

Beacon Hill Republicans have been crushing the Democrats for a perceived indifference to job creation, but when it comes to Meditech the software company enjoys a healthy dose of bipartisan support from the likes of Sen. Michael Rodrigues, and Reps. Patricia Haddad, David Sullivan, Paul Schmid and Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk).

After the hearing, Haddad declined to weigh in on the frosty relationship between Secretary of State William Galvin and Meditech honchos, and even the usually unrestrained Galvin offered a no comment on the latest attempt to help the medical software company grow.

STORY OF THE WEEK: One person’s religious freedom is another’s persecution.

This program aired on February 24, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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