STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 19, 2014….. Locked in a state of limbo, one eye on the present the other on the future, Beacon Hill’s elves found themselves this week straddling two administrations and a pending change in legislative leadership with major budgetary challenges hanging like poisonous mistletoe under the dome.
There were holiday parties and moist-eyed farewells. Bell ringing, Menorah lightings, and a dizzying string of media appearances by Gov. Deval Patrick as he slowly ties a bow on his eight years in office.
President Barack Obama’s move to “normalize relations” with Cuba thrust Worcester Congressman Jim McGovern into the spotlight as a driving voice behind renewed diplomatic ties between the White House and Havana, while U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren continued, perhaps intentionally, to toy with the press with present-tense denials of her interest in the presidency.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz flexed her prosecutorial muscle with a pre-dawn raid arresting 14 staffers and executives of the New England Compounding Center, charging the company’s owner and a top pharmacist with second degree murder in a bold response to the deadly 2012 fungal meningitis outbreak linked to tainted steroids from the center. And while departing House members gathered on Tuesday to say goodbye to their colleagues who have been re-upped by the voters for another two-year contract, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was in California pitching the United States Olympic Committee on the merits of a Boston bid for the 2024 summer games.
The USOC decided it would, in fact, bid for the summer Olympics, the choice now between Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and San Francisco to be the country’s flag bearer. If Boston is the pick – a decision is expected next month – it could drive the debate over transportation infrastructure, one of the three-legs of the Patrick legacy stool, for Boston and the region for the next decade.
“My biggest hope is that the thing that will last is a focus beyond the next election cycle to the next generation, because I think that’s the real difference we’ve made and I hope that’s the difference that lasts,” Patrick told the News Service during a final sit-down interview in his office.
Patrick’s true legacy may take years to fully unwrap, but count Barack, formerly of Somerville, as impressed by what the governor has been able to accomplish.
Calling in during Patrick’s last appearance on WGBH radio for his “Ask the Governor” segment, Obama posed this question to his pal in the Corner Office: “I want to find out how it is you got Mass-a-TU-setts so strong and moving in the right direction,” Obama said, with a trip of the tongue that convinced Patrick it actually was the president and not an “impersonator.”
“Mr. President, you know I love you, but you still have trouble saying Massachusetts. You know that don’t you?” Patrick teased.
Among the heady list of accomplishments Obama gave Patrick credit for, including two Red Sox World Series victories under his watch, the president noted that Patrick has balanced the state’s budget.
Ironically, it is the current imbalance in the state budget that is giving Patrick’s budget chief Glen Shor heartburn as he prepares to head to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his new gig as vice president for finance.
While one of Patrick’s first acts as governor way back in 2007 was to reverse a number of emergency budget cuts made by his predecessor Mitt Romney, Governor-elect Charlie Baker may be inheriting a reverse scenario.
Patrick has already used his pen to slash about $200 million from the fiscal 2015 budget, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo said this week he will not rush through legislation in the waning days of the session to close the remainder of the $329 million gap identified by Patrick’s budget team.
Though DeLeo didn’t say it outright, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer’s warning that the budget gap could be much larger, now he says up to $750 million more, has clearly started to give lawmakers and Baker’s transition team pause.
The good news for week on the economic front came in the form of a jobs report, with the state adding 13,500 jobs in November, plunging the unemployment rate down to 5.8 percent.
The carousel of personnel continued spinning with Baker fleshing out his senior staff and top Patrick administration officials lining up their exit strategies, including Education Secretary Matthew Malone eyeing his reinvention as a butcher.
As for Patrick, the governor said he’s being flirted with by venture capital firms and universities, but may try to piece together a living before taking one big next new job. He might, he said, even hit the paid speech circuit.
The biggest bombshell on the job front, however, came not from the State House, but 225 Franklin Street at the headquarters of the UMass president.
UMass President Robert Caret’s announcement of his impending move to lead the University of Maryland system led immediately and predictably to the doorstep of UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan.
The former Congressman withdrew from consideration for the job four years ago after Gov. Deval Patrick’s team trampled his hopes for the job by raising concerns about the appearance of a rigged search when his name leaked as a top contender to succeed Jack Wilson.
Now that Patrick is on his way out and Baker, who named Meehan to his transition team, is on his way in, could it be Meehan’s time?
“I think he has to be a natural candidate and a natural target of any search,” former UMass board chairman James Karam said before Karam’s plan to leave had officially been announced.
The Governor’s Council signed off on the first acts of clemency – one commutation and two pardons – since acting-Gov. Jane Swift granted seven pardons in 2002. The commutation for a woman serving time for drug crimes, and the two pardons, came as Patrick addressed sentencing reform, and more specifically the elimination of all mandatory minimum sentences, as one of the undone goals of his administration, along with property tax reductions.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Outgoing Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer not leaving quietly as he twists budget writers into knots with dire predictions, echoed by Lieutenant governor-elect Karyn Polito’s assertion that Beacon Hill has a “spending problem.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “No means no.” – Sen. Elizabeth Warren on her plans to run for president.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service