Weekly Roundup — Fluff and Stuff

THINKSTOCK
THINKSTOCK

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 25, 2014….Imagine a Massachusetts where pot is legal, the sticky combination of peanut butter and Fluff is carried proudly in every pre-schooler’s lunch box and Hillary Rodham Clinton is president of the United States, leaving shards of broken ceiling glass lining the Freedom Trail to the new Primark department store downtown.

It’s not today. But believers can dream, and this was the week for it, before the realities of House budget week set in a few short days from now.

The kiddies home from school this week brought a lull to the halls of the capitol, but it wasn’t all fluff and fancy as Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steven Grossman quarreled over outside spending in the race for governor, and Gov. Deval Patrick had his head in the clouds talking about a new direct air service to Mexico City.

“We didn’t expect anyone to attend today,” said Sen. Brian Joyce as he sat down Thursday to chair a hearing of the Senate Bonding Committee, taking testimony on the governor’s $1.2 billion general government bond bill.

About a dozen interested parties had gathered in a Senate hearing room to listen and testify on the bill Joyce described as “boring, but important,” allocating money for libraries, new police cruisers, and handicap-accessible improvements to public buildings.

The Governor’s Council decided to give themselves a month to vet the governor’s nomination of Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants for chief justice, setting a May 21 hearing date for Gants. Councilors Marilyn Devaney and Christopher Iannella can be already be counted as solid yes votes for confirmation, while a few others put themselves in the toss-up category.

Things were livelier on the campaign circuit where Coakley turned in more than 13,000 signatures to Secretary of State William Galvin to become the first gubernatorial hopeful to hand in her homework to qualify for the ballot.

From there, Coakley turned her attention to Grossman and the new super PAC set up to support the treasurer’s candidacy by his friend and former ambassador to Norway Barry White. The leading Democratic rivals for governor engaged in a back-and-forth over who was to blame for the breakdown in negotiations for a “People’s Pledge” to limit outside spending in the race. By Friday there were new calls for pledge talks to resume from Coakley and other Dems in the race, but Grossman said he was walking away over what he described a loophole that Coakley was insisting on that would allow for outside money in the event a Democrat found themselves under attack from Republican outside money.

While the Democrats in the race for governor beat up on each other, Republican Charlie Baker was facing his own dilemma, who goes by the name of Mark Fisher.

Fisher’s ballot access lawsuit against the MassGOP over alleged voting irregularities at the GOP convention in March proved convincing enough for a Superior Court judge to set a June 18 trial date. With the Tea Party’s Fisher challenging his denial of ballot access by the party, the lawsuit ensures that Baker at best has to adjust his strategy to deal with a potential primary foe and at worst gets dragged into the mud of a contentious political legal drama.

Hillary Clinton led the 2016 presidential circus into town when she delivered the keynote at a Simmons College leadership conference on the Boston waterfront, betraying little about her thinking on the White House in two years in a speech challenging women to compete.

From Hillary, attention pivoted to Sen. Elizabeth Warren – the darling of the populist left who continues to deny any presidential aspirations as she plugs her new memoir “A Fighting Chance” on the TV and book store circuit.

Not be left out, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul arrived on Friday for an engagement at Harvard’s Kennedy School and an opthamology conference in Boston, carving out time before hand for an intimate breakfast with at the Westin Waterfront hotel with Sen. Robert Hedlund, a fan of both father and son, Rep. Ryan Fattman and other non-electeds as he seeks to build his national network.

Hedlund said the group sat for over an hour “just kicking ideas around,” including a discussion of how Paul’s positions on foreign policy could hurt him in GOP primary, how to reach younger voters by focusing on privacy issues, and how to expand the Republican base and reach out to minorities.

“I definitely have been enthused about him for a while and after having the opportunity to spend over an hour with him in an intimate setting I would say definitely more so now,” Hedlund said.

Unable to make his ban on Zohydro stick in the courts, Patrick downsized his ambitions and moved to impose restrictions on the painkiller instead. The administration announced it would require doctors to complete a risk assessment and pain management treatment agreement with patients before prescribing any drug like Zohydro, a hydrocodone-only medication state public health officials say is not yet manufactured in an abuse-deterrent form.

Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett also used her authority to require prescribing physicians to use the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program if they intend to prescribe Zohydro. The steps are similar to what other states like Vermont have done in response to Zohydro hitting the market.

Speaking of out on a limb, the idea that lawmakers would consider legalizing marijuana this session may seem outlandish, but pro-pot activists were on Beacon Hill anyway, urging the Judiciary Committee to consider it or else deal with the consequences of the 2016 ballot measure in the works over which they will have little control.

The push to legalize pot had no relation – that the Roundup is aware of – to the House’s action this week to give its initial blessing to the idea of making the Fluffernutter the official state sandwich. The cheers from Revere could be heard all the way to Beacon Hill where former Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein is still leaving sticky fingerprints, even if Fluff was a Somervillian creation.

But marijuana activists cannot be so easily dismissed given the success during the past two presidential cycles when voter turnout is high and efforts to criminalize small amounts of pot and legalize its medical use were embraced by the populace.

Finally, as those in need of health care await Sarah Iselin’s final plan to fix the Connector’s website the Obama administration decided to give small employers a fourth year to transition to new rating factors used to determine premium rates under the Affordable Care Act.

The one-year extension for Massachusetts was cheered by state officials who said it would smooth the impact on small businesses, but in Charlie Baker’s eyes nothing short of a full waiver will suffice.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The quiet build-up to budget week affords campaigns room to stretch their legs.

BRRRRRR: In a response to Coakley about her call for renewed negotiations for a “People’s Pledge,” Juliette Kayyem had this to say about future communications between the two candidates: “You can send form letters released simultaneously to the press to my campaign manager or communications director, but in the future I would greatly appreciate if you refrain from using my personal email account.”

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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