By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- For much of the country, turning the page on the 2012 election meant a sharpened focus on the "fiscal cliff," a deep, jagged chasm capable of swallowing up thousands of Bay State jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.
But in Massachusetts, the end of one election cycle also signaled the start of the next, and the next and the next, or as one Boston Globe columnist termed it Friday, "perpetual politics," as if that's not occurring already.
Fueled by a national report that U.S. Sen. John Kerry may soon be asked by President Obama to give up his senior senator title to become either secretary of state or defense, the prospects for another five months of Senate campaigning became very real -- speculation about who may run an easy hit for journos suffering from withdrawal.
Gov. Deval Patrick said this week that he won't be a candidate for Kerry's seat should it open up and that he hasn't given thought to who he might name as an interim replacement, or whether he would seek a commitment like he did from Paul Kirk after Kennedy's death that the interim appointee not be a candidate for the full-time job.
Patrick also said it would be his preference to avoid a special election, although one is required. He would rather appoint a senator until the next statewide election like other states do -- and like Massachusetts used to, until the Legislature saw fit to strip Mitt Romney of that power the last time it was thought Kerry was reporting for higher duties. But, alas, Patrick said there is no appetite to change the law again.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's poor health and lengthy hospitalization has also stoked talk of a free-for-all for control of City Hall, and then there's just the plain old regularly scheduled 2014 state election, and the reality that it's never too soon to begin positioning.
"Like many of you in the room, I would like to be governor. I think it's okay to say that out loud," Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray told business executives attending a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast speech in Boston.
Murray may have been trying to be cute, adding that he was not making any announcement of a campaign -- "yet" -- but his speech left little doubt for anyone in the room that the Worcester pol was testing the waters, trying to turn the page on several setbacks to his political ascent and make sure no one forgets about him when surveying the potential gubernatorial field.
That field, by the way, retained a Grossman, lost a Bump, and gained a possible Coakley, who hasn't ruled it out.
"Right now in Massachusetts, there are 30 or 40 politicians who are gathering their closest advisers around a table and playing whatever version of 'Deval Patrick dominoes' they think is going to fly here," Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said, referencing the trickle-down effect Patrick's decision to leave office after two terms will have on the political landscape.
The trial of former Treasurer Tim Cahill continued as lawyers sought to drag out answers about who authorized an ethically questionable Lottery ad campaign at the height of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, while some lawmakers sought to eke out answers of their own about how a state-overseen compounding pharmacy was allowed to ship tainted drugs around the country.
"We're not here to call anyone on the carpet but if that's where it leads, that's where it leads," Rep. Hank Naughton, co-chair of the Legislature's Public Safety Committee, said at the outset of an oversight hearing on the national meningitis outbreak traced to Framingham-based New England Compounding Center.
No one was called on the carpet, and in both cases more questions than answers were found.
Meanwhile, a Kerry-created Senate vacancy would be just the turn of events U.S. Sen. Scott Brown could be looking for to get back in the game, and would also suck up much of the attention that might otherwise be directed at the state's surprising fiscal troubles after just three months of the fiscal year, and the possibility that gridlock in Congress would make it even worse.
Patrick called the potential combination of mid-year budget cuts due to slowing economic growth and "fiscal cliff" fallout a "whopping big challenge" facing the state, and one Obama should haul Congress into session over Christmas, if need be, to avoid.
Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez said going over the "fiscal cliff," which would entail deep federal spending cuts and the expiration of certain tax breaks for many residents, would further slow the economy, costing Massachusetts $300 million in revenue this fiscal year and $1 billion over the next full fiscal year, not to mention the $1.5 billion in health research and defense spending that would be siphoned out of the economy.
The state's job report showed another uptick for the fourth straight month in unemployment to 6.6 percent. Employers are adding jobs but the labor force is growing as more people look for work.
One impact of federal spending cuts and a further economic slowdown in Massachusetts would be the limited ability of Bay State Democrats to dole out what Mitt Romney might call "gifts" to key constituencies as campaigns for all manner of public office play out over the next few years.
John Walsh was re-elected state Democratic Party chairman this week after orchestrating a clean federal office sweep over a week ago, and will be in place to lead the Democrats into battle when voters are called upon to head back to the polls.
On the GOP side, chairman Robert Maginn told the News Service he's leaning toward asking for another term in January when Republicans decide the future leadership of their party, embracing the positives of the seemingly disappointing election-day results for the Republican Party. Maginn said losses could have been worse given the performance of Obama and Warren at the top of the ticket, and vulnerable freshman lawmakers did well to hold on.
Former White House adviser and CNN political analyst David Gergen echoed what Walsh has also noted as a takeaway from this campaign season -- the increasing influence of minority voters on elections.
"The minority question -- it is the new elephant in the room of politics. Not many people understood this going in, but everybody understands it now," Gergen said during an appearance at a health care conference in Boston.
Maginn said the apparent Democratic hold on minority voters can be broken: "I'm married to a Chinese woman and so much of the work I've done has been focused on helping African American women in this state to get education, so that's the kind of heart the Republican Party has at its core."