By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — Charlie Baker, Karyn Polito, Seth Moulton, Maura Healey, and Deb Goldberg rose to the head of the Massachusetts political class after Tuesday’s elections, which left in their wake both obvious and subtle shifts in Beacon Hill dynamics.
As Baker and Gov. Deval Patrick begin the transition that will culminate with Baker’s swearing-in in January, here’s a look at some of the election takeaways:
— Baker, the Swampscott Republican who is now Massachusetts governor-elect, studied the Republican playbook and executed it well enough to squeak out a win and take the governor’s office from the Democrats, albeit with an assist from Martha Coakley who appeared to lack the charisma and/or policy crispness needed to turn back Baker’s hard charge. Baker will be challenged now to move Massachusetts forward working with Democratic legislative leaders like House Speaker Robert DeLeo and incoming Senate President Stan Rosenberg. In that trio, DeLeo is more of a centrist in contrast to his current position to the right of Gov. Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray on some issues. Perhaps importantly, DeLeo and Rosenberg are former Ways and Means chairs and Baker was administration and finance secretary during his days in state government during the 1990s. That’s a lot of fiscal acumen in the new Big Three, which could be a help or a hindrance depending on whether they can work together. Former House Speaker Thomas Finneran and former Senate President Thomas Birmingham, who also both ran Ways and Means before their ascensions, were famously unable to agree on many topics.
— As the ranking elected GOP member in Massachusetts, Baker next year will represent the clearest path for Massachusetts to the hearts and minds of Republicans in Washington, who with their Senate wins Tuesday have seized control of both branches of Congress. Baker will need to learn how to operate in an environment where Democrats may be eager to link him to GOP Congressional decisions that don’t play well with Massachusetts voters and which are not in sync with his carefully crafted plans to present himself as a Massachusetts Republican. Conversely, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Edward Markey, who just got a full six-year term, as well as the nine Democrats in the Massachusetts House delegation will be challenged to get things done in Washington for Massachusetts while operating as minority party members of Congress.
— While Coakley will face inevitable criticism for not being able to hold the governor’s office for the Democrats, Gov. Deval Patrick’s legacy took a hit Tuesday when Coakley went down. The governor played a vocal role on her campaign and now has to turn the keys of the executive branch over to Baker, his 2010 challenger. Patrick, who has frequently pitched a message of bringing people together, was particularly harsh in his criticism of Baker and viewed Coakley as best suited to advance the practices of governing for the long term and generational responsibility that he so often touted. As he moves on from Beacon Hill to the private sector and potentially some day another run for public office, Patrick will bring the sting of this loss with him. In taking the reins of the executive, Baker is now in position as well to potentially uncover information unflattering to the governor’s team or to launch reviews of agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, which could lead to findings potentially damaging to Patrick. Several top former Patrick aides also were heavily involved in Coakley’s campaign and are now part of the team that lost the Corner Office for the Dems in a race that was winnable.
— While losing the governor’s office will leave a mark, as they say, Massachusetts Democrats are still in the driver’s seat overall. In 6th Congressional District winner Seth Moulton, attorney general-elect Maura Healey, treasurer-elect Deb Goldberg and now two-term Congressman Joseph Kennedy, the Democrats have a stable of potential rising stars in their mix to compliment veterans like Sen. Edward Markey, Auditor Suzanne Bump, and Secretary of State William Galvin, each of whom coasted to reelection Tuesday. Baker will likely see a honeymoon in the near future but over time an anti-Baker message will likely begin to emerge and Democrats will inevitably start thinking about who will be best to deliver that.
— Democrats still have firm control over the Massachusetts Legislature, but Republicans made gains in both branches Tuesday including a second straight election cycle of gains in the House. The GOP picked up six House seats and two in the Senate, including the seats currently held by Senate President Therese Murray of Plymouth and Senate President Pro Tempore Stan Rosenberg. The 35-member GOP House caucus will represent a formidable bloc in the 160-seat House; a six-person Senate GOP caucus, while still small, is growing.
— Special interest money was a big winner Tuesday. Beverage industry interests buried a ballot question designed to expand the bottle redemption law to more types of containers, and casino industry dollars fueled a TV ad campaign that helped defeat a question aimed at repealing the 2011 casino law. Outside money in the post-Citizens United era, sometimes called dark money, paid for an avalanche of ads critical of Coakley and helpful to Baker. While the big battles over campaign finance reform could occur in Washington – Sen. Edward Markey on election night named campaign finance reform as a must-tackle issue – Baker said Wednesday he hoped to work on a bipartisan bid at reform on Beacon Hill.
— As governor-elect, Baker repeated the stock line of all new governors, that they’re out to hire the best and brightest people available to join their team. If past is prologue, some of those people might be drawn from the Legislature as there will be many posts to fill and there are many members who may be interested and willing to trade their elected posts for jobs where they can both earn more money and put their institutional knowledge to work in the executive branch. The speculation about this person or that person joining the Baker administration will persist for months as Baker brings on personnel.
— The strength of unions is always a post-election conversation piece. The thinking among some on Beacon Hill this session was that the Legislature would not in the same session pass both a minimum wage hike and a bill designed to expand earned sick time benefits to all workers, since both ideas face pushback from businesses. So the $11-an-hour minimum wage hike was passed via the legislative route and the sick time question went to the ballot and groups supporting low-income workers prevailed on both questions. The minimum wage hike was viewed once as a potential turnout driver that could help Democrats, such as Coakley. As it turned out, Coakley hitched her hopes to the sick time question, which Baker must now implement after opposing it, but was unable to parlay a 60-40 vote in favor of Question 4 into enough votes for her own candidacy. Union members backed Question 3 and were among those who helped retain the casino law but their success on those two ballot questions didn’t translate into a Coakley win.
— Massachusetts voters were divided Tuesday on two of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s achievements, while also settling a third issue that he has played a large role in. Voters passed Question 1, removing another plank in DeLeo’s 2013 transportation financing law by repealing the law indexing the gas tax to inflation. In defeating Question 3, voters preserved DeLeo’s 2011 law authorizing three resort casinos and one slot machine facility. And in Question 2, voters sided with DeLeo, who over the years has opposed an expansion of the bottle redemption law and derided it as a new tax. Question 2 supporters had long maintained their proposal, which enjoyed Senate support, would have passed the House had DeLeo allowed a vote on it. They blamed the question’s defeat on heavy spending by beverage and supermarket industry interests that drowned out their own message.
— As lieutenant governor-elect, Karyn Polito, the Shrewsbury Republican and former state representative, will in January get to preside over weekly meetings of the Governor’s Council, which will vet and confirm Baker’s judicial nominees. The council proceedings, which over the years have often turned heated and unruly, have served as a test of the patience of lieutenant governors over the years. Baker and Polito should have at least one ally on the council in Jennie Caissie of Oxford, the panel’s only Republican.