Recap and analysis of the week in state government

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 4, 2009…..One good reason to pick up nomination papers at Bill Galvin’s office this week was that, over baking lobsters and grilling burgers and powdered eggs, Labor Day cookouts and breakfasts provide handsome opportunities to get cracking on those 10,000 signatures due to local election officials by Oct. 20.

Another good reason, if you were a potential successor to Sen. Edward Kennedy whose name wasn’t Martha Coakley, was that Martha Coakley was off and running. The attorney general may or may not have waited until the last organ note of the late senator’s royal funeral sounded on Mission Hill Saturday afternoon before fanning the troops out to cement support, with etiquette-aware respect voiced for Kennedy and the aggressive brand of campaigning that’s just of the order she’ll need to catch up in the dollar race.

So Steve Lynch did just that Friday, the South Boston congressman and union ally joining the Medford prosecutor and women’s groups’ darling as the only two candidates to take the first step as of Friday, at press time, 4:30 p.m.

Popping his head up was World Series hero Curt Schilling, who labeled the seat intriguing, but then a day later handicapped the chances he would run at “slim to none.” Schilling would start with near-universal name recognition and has the spare $4 million or so lying around to bankroll a campaign. He might also benefit from stump appearances from 2004 teammates Kevin Millar and the immortal Abe Alvarez. The Mittster could break out the blowtorch again.

Crouching in plain sight were the quartet of other congressmen who might get involved – Michael Capuano, Edward Markey, Martin Meehan, and, suddenly, John Tierney – the state senator most likely to get in, Scott Brown, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, recent past U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, and President George W. Bush’s long-serving chief of staff Andrew Card.

And Joe Kennedy.

Whether the younger Kennedy decides to run or not is a planet-shifting matter that would offer the race its scope, shape, and any needed additional hype. Is he in? People who usually know don’t.

General consensus formed amid the drool of political junkies that the next 14 months – studded by primaries and specials and primaries and fiscal crisis – are going to be absolute salad days for anyone whose ears perk at poll numbers or white papers.

Ebbing slightly as the field shapes up was the issue of whether or not a Senate stand-in, Kennedy’s deathbed request to Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature, would serve until the tallying of the Jan. 19 results. Senate President Therese Murray was in Russia all week, Patrick put his shoulder into the proposal Monday before heading to the sidelines for hip surgery, and Speaker Robert DeLeo was … listening to members on the issue. What he’s hearing is strong trepidation from the rank and file, who see little upside for their own selves, and a vote in favor as a potential ballot-box malady come November 2010. And he’s hearing that it’s vital that Massachusetts have two votes in the Senate, so as not to be at a disadvantage to the flyovers. Plus New York.

On the extremely-far-off-the-radar policy front, the administration produced its plan Monday to deliver scaled-back health insurance subsidies to legal immigrants, a population of 31,000 whose Commonwealth Care enrollment lapsed Sept. 1, victim of budget cuts. Gone are dental, hospice, and skilled nursing benefits, but the preservation of a measure of coverage using less than a third the original funding – $40 million down from $130 million – was nonetheless a win for the 31,000.

Signs of a softening revenue nightmare – meaning, perhaps, an end to Steve Panagiotakos’s cold sweats or an abatement in the cold war between Charley Murphy and Tom Stanley – surfaced Thursday, when tax collection data showed that intake had slowed less than 1 percent last month from a year earlier, and topped projections by $58 million. The political egg that was the 25-percent sales tax hike vote earlier this summer added $11 million to the cost of August motor vehicles sales, but it has brought short-term good to the state’s ledgers.

Giving them another slight boost will be the 6.25 percent tax on three bottles of hard liquor and two of wine that Rep. Michael Rodrigues purchased last weekend in New Hampshire, where the credo is “live free or die.” Rodrigues – “M-Rod,” in certain Beacon Hill circles – agreed to pay whatever the difference was to the Commonwealth, after a media onslaught illustrated by House of Representative plates on his Crown Vic outside a prominent sign reading, “STATE LIQUOR STORE.” While Rodrigues pointed out that the packy run came during a bathroom break on the trip back to Westport, this represented what political experts refer to as “a bad visual,” and was easy picking for TV news and others struck by the image of a state rep who a few months ago voted to revoke the sales tax exemption for booze.

Bringing us back to those cookouts, and an admonition from the top. That October 20 deadline, according to state Democratic Party chairman John Walsh, is “potentially frightening.” Walsh said Friday, “Every campaign has people who underestimate the difficulty of collecting signatures, and the normal window is four months. Many prominent campaigns and smarty-pants people have, the weekend before, the campaign manager and press secretary at the Whole Foods collecting signatures … From an organizer’s perspective, Labor Day provides a nice framework.”

Patrick gave candidates license Monday to commence the campaign, setting the date of the special election. Now the Democrats’ top party official is advising against waiting too long before jumping into the machinery of electioneering. All we need now is the rest of the field.


THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF STRAIGHT TALK: While members of both parties contort themselves in painful-looking, Twister-style elucidations of why they voted five years ago in diametrically opposite fashion to how they plan to vote in 2009, in the matter of whether a governor should appoint a stand-in U.S. senator in the event of a vacancy, there emerged from Cambridge a bit of candor. “In 2004 it was my opinion that, given the opportunity, Governor Romney would have appointed somebody who would have voted against the policy initiatives of a Democratic president, and would have failed to represent the needs of Massachusetts residents,” said Rep. Timothy Toomey, a Democrat who was a player under Speaker Finneran, and back-benched under Speaker DiMasi, where he remains under Speaker DeLeo. Other members have come forward to acknowledge that party stripes determine votes then and now, others have refused to be swayed, but few have put forth so succinctly their reasoning. Then-Gov. Mitt Romney, Toomey pointed out in a release Tuesday, likely would have appointed someone “who would have voted against the policy initiatives of a Democratic president,” who at that moment in history looked like it might have been Sen. John Kerry.

HEALING: Gov. Deval Patrick, after hip replacement surgery Tuesday morning, which he acknowledged Monday had him a little nervous. Patrick suffers from arthritis, aggravated by a lingering injury suffered in a Darfur truck accident in 1978 during a United Nations youth training program. By Friday afternoon, the guv was nearly fully mended, though the reign of acting Gov. Timothy Murray had lasted longer than expected. Patrick’s aides had said the Era of Murray would last under two days, but the Worcester Ascendancy proved more durable than anticipated. For City Square on Friday, the Glorious Revolution came to an end.