State House Roundup: 'All Over The Place'
Relentlessly on message, Gov. Deval Patrick has been everywhere in recent weeks, from the set of ABC’s "This Week" to the pages of the Wall Street Journal, talking about the Massachusetts model for economic recovery.
So when the record skipped this week on Patrick’s Daft Punk-esque theme song — think “harder, better, faster, stronger” — the governor’s rollercoaster response to reports of slower-than-advertised job growth seemed uncharacteristic of the normally on-point executive.
“These numbers have been all over the place. The unemployment rate has been all over the place and is going down,” Patrick told reporters.
The narrative-reversing jobs picture punctuated an up-and-down week not just for the governor, but for the state’s former governor as well.
While Patrick tried to keep hold of the message, engaged in a tit-for-tat with Republicans, and claimed to be not paying attention to the GOP presidential primary, the Legislature dawdled through its agenda and Mitt Romney scored a 6-3 Super Tuesday victory that his opponents still spun into a negative.
The Patrick administration claimed that their report on Thursday, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics showing employers added nearly 30,000 fewer jobs in 2011 than previously reported, was just wrong.
The on-the-ground anecdotal evidence, they said, told a different story: unemployment at 6.9 percent; jobs in January up 6,600, small businesses hiring.
“We think when you look at the sum of the narrative, we think it is where we want it to be. For individuals who are unemployed, we understand that the narrative doesn’t pay the bills,” Labor Secretary Joanne Goldstein said.
And while some economists like Northeastern’s Alan Clayton Matthews agreed that the government’s job counting methodology didn’t tell the full Massachusetts story, the potential for the numbers to undercut the governor’s message at home and on the presidential campaign trail was undeniable.
“With reports surfacing that Massachusetts had in fact added 30,000 fewer jobs than were touted by the Patrick Administration, we discover that once again the Governor is trying to pull the wool over our eyes,” House Minority Brad Jones blasted.
Maybe Patrick will find a more receptive audience next week when he vacations in the U.S. Virgin Islands where unemployment hovers around 9 percent.
Of course, Jones’s response to the jobs news came less than 24 hours after Patrick’s “minions” – as Jones called them - took a shot at the leader’s fiscal discipline in retaliation for the North Reading Republican accusing Patrick of playing old-school Chicago-style politics with funding for sheriffs.
Jones might also have been a little cranky after Patrick beat him to the punch filing a bill to close a loophole in the unemployment system that would block retired public employees from collecting unemployment benefits if they go back to work and bump up against caps on compensation.
And to the think the week started so well for the two men. Jones had little but positive things to say on Monday about the governor’s efforts, announced through the Wall Street Journal, to remove unnecessary regulations from small businesses.
The House and Senate this week completed overrides of $3 million in funding for the sheriffs of Worcester, Bristol, Plymouth and Barnstable counties – coincidentally all Republicans, and all outspoken critics of Patrick’s reservations about the Secure Communities program.
Patrick claimed the vetoes were about keeping government spending in check. The money for the sheriffs, he said, was unaffordable and it exceeded his own recommendations, though he never quite explained why he allowed another $4.8 million to be added by the Legislature for other sheriffs.
So when Republicans in the Legislature interpreted the vetoes as revenge, Patrick’s normally above-the-fray press team couldn’t resist getting down in the mud with them, whacking Jones and former Gov. Mitt Romney for failing to achieve the same strong bond rating the state now enjoys under Patrick.
The hit on Romney was too little, too late. Bay State Republican voters had already delivered their verdict on Romney, gifting the former governor a resounding home state victory, one of the six states Romney took en route to a solid, but not doubt-erasing win tally on Super Tuesday.
While it remains unclear whether the size of the trees will be to Romney’s liking when the presidential race heads to perhaps unfriendly territory for him in the south with primaries upcoming in Mississippi and Alabama, a convincing case was laid out by Team Romney and many journalists attempting math this week that the delegate race is stacked in Mitt’s favor.
By taking 72 percent of the vote in Massachusetts, Romney held his opponents to less than 15 percent assuring that all 38 delegates from the state – and presumably the three uncommitted delegates, as well – could be tacked on to his ledger. He can’t say that about Michigan and New Hampshire.
Reps. Jones, Steven Howitt, Keiko Orrall, Kevin Kuros, Nick Boldyga, Donald Wong and Todd Smola, along with other elected officials like Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and former Congressional candidate Jim Ogonowski, all attended Romney’s rally at the Westin Copley.
And like their party chairman Bob Maginn, some GOP candidates admitted to a more self-serving interest in rooting for Romney than just the satisfaction of a hometown boy inching closer to the White House: his coattails, they said, could be long.
“Everyone wants to go with the hometown guy and I think Gov. Romney will put anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent on the tickets for the Republican candidates and I think we have Scott Brown running as well,” said Jon Golnik, a Republican candidate for Congress in the new 3rd Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas.
Back on the Hill, the House focused on overrides while the Senate updated the state’s adoption laws, all the while more days fell off the calendar without tangible movement on health care cost containment, jobs, or energy legislation.
One bill with potential major ramifications for Massachusetts schools that would fulfill a State of the Union demand by President Barack Obama to raise the high school dropout age from 16 to 18 won the support of a legislative committee, but still faces an uncertain fate.
And in one of the few signs that progress is being made on health care, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Boston Chamber of Commerce that the eventual House proposal to refashion the state's health care delivery system will attempt to limit the annual growth in Massachusetts's health care costs to about 3.7 percent.
At least there’s a goal.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Romney’s Super Tuesday, Deval’s not so super Thursday.
This program aired on March 9, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.