Article Source: State House News Service
Author: Matt Murphy
Many senators were back on Beacon Hill this week to debate an annual state budget, and Gov. Charlie Baker snuck away to Tennessee to reacquaint himself with his fellow Republican governors and national donors.
Masks for vaccinated Bay Staters came down on Saturday, gathering limits are going away and Baker declared the pandemic “pretty much over.” And on Cape Cod, businesses are preparing for an onslaught of pent up tourism activity – just be sure to bring your CDC vaccination card if you want to party, officials cautioned.
“Thanks to the people in Massachusetts who’ve made enormous sacrifices over the course of the past year to get us to this point, brighter days are very much upon us,” Baker said Friday at the State House.
Just not this Memorial Day weekend, when it’s supposed to rain and rain and rain some more.
But the shockwaves rippling through Massachusetts politics this week actually emanated from Easton, a small town, seldom in the headlines, about 30 miles south of Boston where the goings on – or more precisely the goings of two prominent Democratic women – had the palace intrigued.
We’ll start with Auditor Suzanne Bump, who has called everywhere from Braintree to Great Barrington and Boston home. But when she ran statewide and won her third term as state auditor in 2018, she did so from Easton.
Turns out that was the last time, at least for now, that her name will be on a ballot.
Bump announced that she would not seek reelection to a fourth term next year, potentially ending an electoral career that started in the 1980s when she was elected to the House of Representatives. And while she’s the first of the six statewide office holders to make clear their 2022 intentions, she might be the only one heading for the door.
“I want to create the opportunity for another leader who shares my commitment to making government work better and building the public trust to pursue this mission. The public deserves to choose from a wide field, and this announcement will help make that possible,” Bump said.
The Democrat, who also served in former Gov. Deval Patrick’s Cabinet as labor secretary, said she wasn’t leaving to run for higher office, like, say, governor, and had no future plans she was ready to announce. She was just moving on to something new.
Openings like this one are rare, and Bump’s decision wasn’t public for even 12 hours before Governor’s Councilor Eileen Duff announced that she was in the race, with a roster of supporters lining up behind her candidacy. Clearly, she wasn’t blindsided by the news.
Transportation advocate and former Boston 2024 olympic bid opponent Chris Dempsey strongly hinted that he had interest in running, and state Sen. Diana DiZoglio didn’t say no when asked. Others, including maybe a couple of mayors, are also taking a look, Democrats and Republicans said.
Bump still has another 19 months on the job, but her fellow Easton Democrat, the newly minted House Majority Leader Claire Cronin, could be gone long before then. Cronin remained quiet this week as House colleagues buzzed about the possibility that President Joe Biden could be getting ready to name one their own ambassador to Ireland.
The talk was fueled by an unconfirmed report on the website IrishCentral that Cronin was the White House’s pick, and one Beacon Hill player told the News Service it was true that the White House was calling around to vet the senior Democrat.
Cronin was the Biden campaign’s top surrogate in Massachusetts, where the president scored an important and symbolic win in the primaries in March, and if she is picked for the overseas posting her departure will trigger a special election and an opening in the number two post in House leadership.
Insiders say Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan or Assistant Majority Leader Michael Moran would both make sense for the promotion.
While Bump decided three terms is enough, everyone continues to wonder whether Baker wants a third term and people close to the Republican said his short trip to the Republican Governors Association meetings in Nashville midweek suggest to them he’s ready to run.
Baker said he and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito would discuss their futures with their families, and if he does run, it seems like Democrats won’t have the video clips or soundbites of him getting grilled over his management of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to use in the campaign.
Several lawmakers and gubernatorial candidate Ben Downing said Baker should be called to testify before the Legislature after last week’s damning report in the Boston Globe and the release this week of a legislative investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak that killed at least 76 veterans at the home.
The reports both found fault with Baker and Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders’s oversight of former Superintendent Bennett Walsh, who faces criminal charges and whose shortcomings as a leader were known to the administration prior to COVID-19. The Globe painted Walsh as a politically protected appointee.
Baker said Friday he forgot that he had spoken to Walsh prior to his swearing in, but that the interview was brief and represented his only familiarity with the candidate, who came recommended by the Soldiers’ Home board. The meeting was in contradiction to the governor’s previous statements about never having met Walsh prior to his appointment.
Still, House Speaker Ron Mariano said he thought it would be redundant to reopen the investigation that just concluded by calling Baker to testify, and Senate President Karen Spilka said she expected the administration to be “forthcoming” with answers to questions lawmakers and investigators might have, but stopped there.
Baker said he looks forward to working with the Legislature to implement management and oversight reforms for the veterans’ home, which are being drafted by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell and Sen. Michael Rush.
And in the meantime, he signed the $600 million financing plan to build a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and possible satellite facilities, but vetoed a provision that would have required a project labor agreement to use union workers.
Mariano’s comments on the status of the Holyoke investigation came the same day he put his foot in his mouth while trying to help a member of his caucus by endorsing Rep. Jon Santiago for mayor of Boston. Mariano joked during the press conference in the South End that he was “afraid my car’s gonna get stolen.”
The quip wound up overshadowing whatever boost Santiago hoped to get from the endorsement, and Mariano apologized for what he described as a “poorly delivered attempt [at] humor.”
Apparently, the Quincy Democrat was calling back to a story he had shared with Santiago and others privately about how much the neighborhood had changed since his car did get stolen in the 1960s while he was a student at nearby Northeastern University.
All of this played out over the course of the week as the Senate operated methodically in the background to comb through over 900 amendments and to pass a $47.7 billion budget for fiscal 2022 on Thursday afternoon.
Over three days, the Senate added $63.7 million in spending through amendments and 83 new policy sections, including a prohibition on government entities using non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts or settlements.
The Senate, like the House, put off for now decisions on how to spend the estimated $5.3 billion in federal relief funds coming to Massachusetts and the two branches are now set up for what could be tough negotiations over the film tax credit and whether to increase fees on Uber and Lyft rides.
Senate leaders also held off on making a call in the budget on which pandemic-era policies, like the allowance for restaurants to sell to-go cocktails, should stay or go when the public health emergency lifts on June 15.
Like the question of how to spend federal relief dollars, those decisions are also TBD.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Bump’s out, Baker’s schmoozing in Nashville and Democrats are at odds over how to hold the governor accountable for the tragedy in Holykoke. Yup, the pandemic is ending.
SONG OF THE WEEK: Because if you thought to yourself at any point this week, “I can’t believe the news today,” you weren’t alone.