Recap and analysis of the week in state government
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- In time for Christmas, President Barack Obama gave John Kerry exactly what he's wanted. The president may have inadvertently given Scott Brown what he wanted as well.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz delivered a lump of coal to state Rep. Stephen "Stat" Smith. And all of the political seat shuffling scenarios played out over far more somber gun violence debate in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut.
Tragedies seldom provide the most constructive atmosphere for sober policy considerations, and yet they often serve as a catalyst to generate the political will required to tackle the serious conundrums plaguing society.
It was the case with a habitual criminal offender law passed last year, and will likely be the case again in the coming legislative session for stricter pharmacy oversight, sex offender and gun control laws.
"I think it will move," Gov. Deval Patrick said on the radio this week, referring to several proposals he has made to stiffen Massachusetts gun laws over the past two years. Patrick has called for a one-gun-per-month restriction on purchases, participation in the National Mental Health Registry, background checks for purchases at gun shows and a potential ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.
"There's a military need for high capacity clips. The question is having them in civilian use. I feel it was wrong to have the kind of weapon that [Adam] Lanza used in Newtown available to Lanza, but not to a Marine on the battlefield," Patrick said, walking a line that might be necessary to bring the gun lobby on board with reforms and protecting relationships with large employers like Smith & Wesson in Springfield.
While lawmakers will control the timeframe for action on gun laws and the other issues starting to crowd the 2013 agenda, President Obama made it official on Friday, nominating Kerry for secretary of state and officially unleashing a free-for-all of speculation, some of it informed, about how the dominoes will fall in Kerry's wake.
In the words of Secretary of State William Galvin: "Here we go again." Galvin on Friday laid out the scenario prescribed under law for a special U.S. Senate election that will likely have election weary residents, not to mention political donors, across the state back at the polls sometime in June.
Given past history, the questions swirling about the possibility of changing the law again to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to simply appoint Kerry's replacement seem warranted, but Galvin endorsed the current process, even if it led to Republican senator that last time around.
"I think the election worked out well, maybe not well for my party, the last time. We had over 2 million people participate," he said.
The easier side of the equation to calculate is on the GOP ticket where if Sen. Scott Brown decides he wants to take another crack at returning to Washington, the nomination should be his for the taking.
At some point over the past week, between attending to his father's funeral and shuttling back and forth between Washington, Brown surely turned to Gail, Koda and Snuggles and his daughters and asked, "Are you ready to do this again?"
For Brown, this would be his third campaign in four years. Winning would likely mean a fourth in five years. The answer could go a long way toward determining the Democrats' chances of retaining control of both Senate seats.
The shine may be off Brown among conservatives in Massachusetts after his loss to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren in November, but he remains popular and early polling suggests he would at least start with a lead over any generic Democrat.
His reversal this week on a federal assault weapons ban from opposition to support suggests the Wrentham Republican might be positioning for another run, knowing he is unlikely to draw a strong primary challenge.
Bill Weld being back in Massachusetts means the former governor and two-time successful statewide candidate could be waiting in the wings as a possible candidate should Brown decide another campaign is not in the cards right now. And for that matter, Andy Card might be waiting in the wings after he stepped aside for Brown in 2009.
The Democratic field is harder to sort through, and could depend on a lot of moving pieces. Union sources confirmed a report this week in the National Journal that U.S. Rep. Steven Lynch, the most conservative of the Bay State's 10 Congressmen, has been telling people he's ready to run, and will be in the race if and when Kerry is confirmed.
But Lynch is one of at least four delegation members considering the race, including the dean of the delegation Rep. Edward Markey, Somerville Rep. Michael Capuano and Lowell Rep. Niki Tsongas. State Sen. Benjamin Downing is dead serious about running, but will likely only do so if the field is crowded, featuring at least two or more members of Congress, dividing the vote and giving him an opening to emerge as a fresh young face.
And then there are the reports of Edward Kennedy Jr. considering a campaign to follow in his late father's footsteps, perhaps one of only several names that could clear the field as Warren did during the last cycle against Brown.
With the political class focused on the holidays - and its ample opportunities for raking in end-of-year donations - U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz showcased her latest pelt. And, no, it had nothing to do with the Probation Department. Attorney General Martha Coakley also came back from her high-profile loss in the trial against former Treasurer Tim Cahill what appears like more of a slam dunk.
Coakley announced a fresh round of 27 indictments against disgraced state chemist Annie Dookhan, who quietly pled not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court, asking only that her curfew be extended until 10 p.m. Accused of tampering with evidence, Dookhan has jeopardized the convictions of thousands of Bay State drug felons, costing the state untold millions.
In an email, Ortiz also announced that state Rep. Stephen "Stat" Smith would plead guilty to voter fraud and civil rights infractions and resign his seat effective Jan. 1. Smith admitted to obtaining and submitting absentee ballots for ineligible voters in 2009 and 2010.
"Good riddance. He's disgraced the institution," House Minority Leader Brad Jones told the News Service. "It's an exceedingly sad way to be starting off the new session," he added.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Kerry helped make Obama president. Obama returned the favor. With Kerry headed to the State Department, candidates prepared for next election, and Gov. Patrick focused on gun control and his "mental list" of interim Senate appointees.