Reporter’s Notebook: Legislators’ regular July game – Getting to Midnight on the 31st

At this time two years ago, Gov. Deval Patrick stood in front of several schoolchildren and gave them a little civics lesson about Beacon Hill: “In this building, we make laws, and the laws are made by the Senate and the House. It’s insane down there right now.”

Lawmakers would adjourn hours later, at roughly 1:30 a.m. Friday, having dispensed with hundreds of bills but leaving on the table legislation that would expand gambling and give Massachusetts presidential electors to the winner of national popular vote legislation, as well as a crime package.

Two years later, state senators and state representatives are taking a second pass: the national popular vote bill is on the governor’s desk and the crime package is the closest it’s been to Patrick’s corner office.

Six-member committees of House and Senate lawmakers are attempting to hash out compromise legislation bringing casinos to the Bay State and a crime bill that includes a reform of the state’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system.

July 31 at midnight remains the deadline, with lawmakers expected to head back to their districts for re-election afterwards.

“I’m here until 12 o’clock on Saturday,” said an upbeat state Sen. Cynthia Creem, the lead Senate negotiator on the crime bill. That’s a.m., folks. And probably past that, if 2008 is any indication of what to expect this year. Her comments came hours after several hundred CORI reform advocates rallied in front of the State House and spilled out into the street.

Lawmakers were optimistic this week that some sort of reform of the CORI system would get approved. Critics of the system say it’s hard to understand and leads to a “life sentence” for those with a CORI record. “There’s a lot of conversations with players on both sides,” said state Rep. Liz Malia, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who is a member of the Dorchester delegation.

Added state Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester) Tuesday evening: “It’s a fluid situation right now.”
House lawmakers are balking at the Senate’s proposals to require mandatory supervision for released inmates and to permit certain non-violent drug offenders to apply for parole after serving two-thirds of their mandatory minimum sentences. House members say they did not vote to include any sentencing reform in their version and are unprepared to support a final bill with those aspects.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) said the sentencing piece is “good policy and we should fight for it.” But she added whether to keep it in at the expense of CORI reform was up to House and Senate negotiators.

“We’re so close to the finish line,” she said. “It’s a real sort of crossroads moment for the Legislature.”
“Somebody’s got to compromise, or we lose everything,” said Lew Finfer, a local activist.

Endorsement Corner: Healthcare union takes pass on endorsement in Fifth Suffolk
There will be no endorsement from the state’s largest healthcare union in the Fifth Suffolk District’s state representative race, a spokesman said this week. Spokesman Jeff Hall told the Reporter that SEIU 1199 decided to not make an endorsement in the four-way race. Candidates running to replace former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur include high school teacher Barry Lawton, former City Council aide Carlos Henriquez, former state Rep. Althea Garrison and frequent candidate Roy Owens. They are all running under the Democratic Party banner.

An endorsement from the union is considered key, because of extra manpower endorsed candidates expect to be sent their way, giving them a slight leg up. Separately, the union announced this week that it is backing an aide to City Councillor Chuck Turner who is running for retiring state Rep. Willie Mae Allen’s seat. Darrin Howell is taking a hiatus from City Hall to run for office.

The other candidates – all Democrats – include Russell Holmes, Karen Payne, Kathy Gabriel and Divo Monteiro. No Republicans were nominated for the seat.

The Democratic primary is Sept. 14, effectively determining the winner of the November election.
Allen announced earlier this year she isn’t running for re-election. The Sixth Suffolk seat includes parts of Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, Roslindale and Jamaica Plain.

The union has also endorsed in Dorchester’s third open House seat: the Fourth Suffolk District. They picked earlier this month South Boston youth worker Mark McGonagle, who is one of five candidates running to replace retiring state Rep. Brian Wallace (D-South Boston).

Clinton flying in for Lynch
Former President Bill Clinton heads to Boston this week for a rally for Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston). The event is today at the Iron Workers Local #7 Union Hall at 12:30 p.m.

A Gallup poll last week showed Clinton is more popular than both President Obama and former President George W. Bush. Sixty-one percent of Americans have a favorable view of Clinton, while 52 percent view Obama favorable. Bush garnered a 45 percent favorable rating.

Lynch is facing challenges from the left – Milton Democrat Mac D’Alessandro and independent Phil Dunkelbarger – and the right – Republicans Keith Lepor and Vernon Harrison.

D’Alessandro spokesman Mat Helman said D’Alessandro had the “deepest respect” for Clinton. He added: “It’s expected that the Democratic establishment would support the incumbent,” such as in recent Senate races in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

The social media primary in the Fourth Suffolk District
South Boston may be a place where old fashioned politicking is still a candidate’s best strategy, but that doesn’t mean that new-fangled campaigning -- via social networking for instance -- doesn’t play a role.

National media outlets like to refer to the “Twitter primary,” but it looks like Facebook is the social media king when it comes to the Fourth Suffolk race. Democrats Jacob Bombard, Nick Collins, Michael McGee and Mark McGonagle, along with Republican challenger Patrick Brennan, all have active Facebook pages, but that does not necessarily mean that they have as many people following their every tweet.

Among the active social media users, at press time: McGonagle (twitter.com/Markforrep), who has over 1,500 “likes” on Facebook, has a measly 15 followers on Twitter, while Collins (twitter.com/votenickcollins) isn’t doing much better on Twitter, with almost 2,200 Facebook friends but only 41 Twitter followers. McGee (twitter.com/MikeMcGee2010) has 159 followers on Twitter and 665 Facebook “likes.” Brennan (twitter.com/Brennanforrep) has about 180 followers on Twitter and 964 “likes” on Facebook.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Material from State House News Service was used in this report. Check out updates to Boston’s political scene at The Lit Drop, located at dotnews.com/litdrop.