State House Roundup: Won't You Please Vote

Whether you like to count down by weeks, days or hours, the window for a game-changing moment or an "October surprise" is rapidly closing for candidates across Massachusetts.

Elections continue to dominate, but Ebola concerns are creeping up on lawmakers who, despite being largely dormant since the beginning of August, emerged this week to guide a nearly $80 million spending bill through the Senate, while the House focused on a bill requiring coaches to be certified in CPR.

There may be two-plus weeks until the election, but lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Stephen Kerrigan prefers to count in higher numbers: "We have 450 hours or so until the polls open. That's it," he told the 800 or so people packed into an overheated auditorium in Worcester on Thursday to hear former President Bill Clinton make the case for Democrat Martha Coakley for governor.

Part encouragement, part threat, Kerrigan was making a point that several speakers before him, including Clinton, also drove home like a road tested GMC Canyon. Clinton compared the election to a job interview, and said if Democrats want to win, all they have to do is increase the number of employees making the hiring decision.

Perhaps he carried the metaphor a bit far, but point taken. The latest Boston Globe/Socialphere poll had the governor's race deadlocked at 41 percent, with 10 percent undecided. Whoever drives their voters to the polls wins. "We can't rest," Kerrigan said. Republicans feel the same way.

Clinton helped Coakley raise $200,000 at Clark University on Thursday, the same night former Gov. Mitt Romney hauled in $600,000 at the Lenox Hotel for Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker.

The race for governor is essentially a toss-up two weeks out. Barring any explosions, or implosions, on stage during the remaining debates, and the contest could come down to the Democrats' vaunted get-out-the-vote machine, albeit with Tom McGee steering, not John Walsh, versus the GOP's revamped "supercomputer" driven voter ID effort.

The Coakley campaign this week sought to gain an edge on Baker when it unearthed a photo from 2008 that told their side of the story better than any number of words could. There was a smiling Baker, clad in a starched tuxedo, holding his "Outsourcing Excellence Award." While Baker worked as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim, the health insurer outsourced 600-plus IT jobs to Perot Systems, who in turn, some years into the contract, sent about 200 of those jobs to India.

Baker lashed out at what he described as Coakley's backward looking, negative campaigning, and defended, generally, steps taken to resurrect Harvard Pilgrim from bankruptcy, which he said saved thousands of jobs in the end. Even former Attorney General Tom Reilly, who is backing Coakley, came to Baker's defense.

While the outsourcing story dominated the first half of the week, by Thursday the tables were turned and it was Coakley being forced to respond to a story in the Boston Globe about her failure to clearly disclose her personal and professional connection to the leader of a housing non-profit that stood to benefit from a lawsuit she filed in July.

Coakley sued Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which should come as no surprise given her work on foreclosures. But she did so over the federal lenders' failure to comply with a state anti-foreclosure law that requires the agencies to do business with non-profits like Boston Community Capital, which buys properties in foreclosure and sells them back to homeowners.

It just so happens that BCC is run by Coakley's friend and campaign finance co-chair Elyse Cherry, who earns $590,000 to run the non-profit. While Coakley said Cherry's donations to her political campaigns over the years were already a matter of public record, Baker questioned the attorney general's "judgment" for not filing additional disclosures, while deferring on the merits of the lawsuit itself.

While his or her identity is far from decided, the hypothetical next governor got a taste of some of the issues that might lie in store when they set foot in the Bulfinch green office on the third floor of the State House.

The potential for casino revenues to vanish from the state budget on Nov. 5 is well known, but in a letter doubling down on the state's revenue estimates for fiscal 2015, Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor detailed for lawmakers how current revenues, particularly tax and non-tax funds, are lagging.

The current $212 million exposure in the budget could be nothing but a momentary blip on the fiscal calendar. Then again, January could just as easily become budget cutting time for the next chief executive, with a possible income tax drop to 5.15 percent, if certain triggers are met, threatening to take another $70 million away from government.

On the positive side, the state added 9,400 jobs in September while the unemployment rate ticked up to 6 percent as 15,000 more people started looking for work.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants also put the next governor and Legislature on notice that he is keenly interested in revisiting the idea of abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, something Patrick broached with the House and Senate, but was never able to quite deliver, in full.

Baker, in his "urban agenda" detailed this week, expressed an openness to considering "alternatives to incarceration" for non-violent drug offenses, including treatment, and said rather than building new prisons the state should focus on family reunification and reducing recidivism.

In the meantime, the court got a new Superior Court judge this week after Parole Board Chairman Josh Wall survived confirmation on a 5-3 Governor's Council vote after enduring days of questions about not just his judicial philosophy and record at Parole, but his temperament and character. Judge Judith Fabricant's elevation to chief justice of the Superior Court was also announced on Friday.

As for Ebola, Massachusetts so far has seen nothing but false alarms. But when called before the Joint Committee on Public Health this week, nurses and medical professionals highlighted some concerns about lack of access to protective equipment and training should the next person with a fever and nausea to walk into the ER have something more exotic than the flu.

Gov. Deval Patrick tried to stress that Ebola is hard to catch, not like the common cold, and that an outbreak in Massachusetts is unlikely.

Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett, who incidentally announced this week she would be leaving her post in December for a new job on Cape Cod, tried to assuage those concerns, with varying degrees of success.

"We were hearing from very trained people that they're not feeling ready, and I'm hearing from you a certain confidence," Newton Rep. Ruth Balser said to Bartlett.

To which Bartlett replied, "What we don't know is what we don't know."

About so many things.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Preparedness, for election day, Ebola and economic uncertainty.


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