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Congressional Race Brings Changes at State House

Recap and analysis of the week in state government by State House News Service.

Katherine Clark. Photo credit: Courtesy photo.
Katherine Clark. Photo credit: Courtesy photo.
By Matt Murphy/STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Hillary Rodham Clinton sat Tuesday in a Johannesburg soccer stadium for Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Coincidentally, 7,850 miles away in Winchester a native South African was watching election returns and plotting his next political move. He may end up having Hillary to thank.

A lot has transpired in Massachusetts politics since Clinton stepped aside in February as secretary of state. John Kerry filled Clinton's globe-trotting shoes at the State Department. Ed Markey became the state's junior senator. And now Katherine Clark is the newest member of the Congressional delegation, just the fifth woman to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. House. 

Clark, a Melrose Democrat, easily won her special Congressional election on Tuesday over Republican Frank Addivinola and two other candidates, concluding a race that flew under the radar for months, and wasn't helped much by election-day snow. Republicans didn't appear to put too much effort into trying to grab the open seat. Two days after the election, Clark was standing in the capitol with her family and House Speaker John Boehner taking the oath of office, replacing Markey in the House as the representative of the 5th Congressional district.

Which brings us to state Rep. Jason Lewis, a third-term lawmaker from Winchester, who was born in South Africa and lived there until he was 12. Lewis plans to run in yet another special election set this week for April Fools' Day to replace Clark in the Senate. So far, Reading Selectman Ben Tafoya is also getting into the race.

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Clark's first vote was for a compromise budget bill that Congressman Michael Capuano said avoids $967 in spending reductions and "addresses sequestration for the next two years" in part by replacing some sequester cuts with targeted spending reductions and revenue increases. Capuano reported the bill's passage does not eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown in January, but "significantly reduces its likelihood." He was also disappointed that an extension of expiring unemployment insurance was not included, which he said means than 1.3 million Americans will get their last check at the end of December. That's now an issue for January.

Icy temperatures gripped Boston for much of the week as denizens of Beacon Hill bounced between holiday parties and fundraisers, the end-of-year push for campaign cash in full effect. Attorney General Martha Coakley held her annual soiree at the Union Oyster House, while Gov. Patrick plans his next Thursday at the Fairmont Copley and Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker will host a bash as Smith & Wollensky's on Wednesday night.

While Boston Mayor-elect Marty Walsh juggled tutorials on how to handle snowstorms with his first date in D.C. with the president at the White House alongside other mayors, Boston's emperor - Still-Mayor Thomas Menino - said farewell to the business community with a final speech as mayor to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

With a real snowstorm on its way this weekend, Secretary of State William Galvin's skills could be tested, although Acting Transportation Secretary Frank DePaola appears poised to play a lead role. With Gov. Deval Patrick traveling in Asia with Transportation Secretary Rich Davey and with former Lt. Gov. Tim Murray out of office, Galvin's the man in charge. Just don't expect him to be donning the MEMA vest for the cameras in Framingham.

"Secretary Galvin will be in contact with officials of the Mass Highway Department an MEMA throughout the weekend as circumstances warrant, as he was last weekend. He has no plans at present to go to the MEMA bunker," said a spokesman.

Even though Patrick might be enjoying the 70 degree weather in Hong Kong, he told the Roundup via Asia that he's been tracking the weather reports back home, and is more concerned about the sleet and freezing rain to the south of Boston than the accumulations forecasted for the north and west. 

"It's good that it's happening on the weekend frankly because it will give us a chance to get cleaned up by commuting time Monday," he said. As for Galvin, Patrick said he's ready.

Between meetings with the Japanese prime minister and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, Patrick had also been brought fully up to speed on the evolving debacle that has become the state's new health insurance connector website.

Taken offline Wednesday for what health officials had hoped would be a 15-hour makeover of the glitch-riddled site, it proved to be a waste of time. None of the fixes or upgrades worked. And the site was put back online more than seven hours ahead of schedule in the largely same state it has been since October.

Health Connector staff is now scrambling to implement a work-around solution that will enable to the state to sign up consumers for new health plans ahead of the Jan. 1 start date of the Affordable Care Act. Threatening to hold vendor CGI accountable, officials also promised a response come January that could include withholding payment on the $58 million still owed CGI on a $69 million contract. 

"Everything's on the table," Patrick said, calling the issues with CGI "really frustrating." He continued, "I've emphasized to [Health Connector Executive Director] Jean Yang and [Administration and Finance Secretary Glen Shor] and everyone else that the first order of business is to make sure people can sign up, and if that requires getting a clip board and sitting on someone's stoop that's what we're going to do."

By "we," of course, Patrick meant his staff, because the governor has been traveling in Asia for a week, a point Republicans were all too eager to make. "The administration is on the brink, and he's not here to oversee it. The taxpayers deserve better," MassGOP Executive Director Rob Cunningham said.

When Patrick does return, he will find that his office has been fully moved from its historic third-floor location to the second floor office currently occupied by his chief legal counsel. The $9 million renovation is set to begin.

Suffolk Downs has also been given new life after the Gaming Commission decided this week that if Mohegan Sun was willing to let Revere voters weigh in again on a casino in their city, they would give the casino developers a waiver and allow them to submit their application by the Dec. 31 deadline without a certified local vote. Suffolk Downs and Mohegan Sun accepted the offer, and now it'll be up to them and Mayor Dan Rizzo to drag supporters to the polls in the middle of winter, likely February, for a second referendum vote. 

Thinking "it should've been us planning for the Revere vote," Caesars Entertainment sued Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, alleging that he influenced investigators to be tougher on them than other applicants, resulting in Suffolk Downs dropping Caesars as a partner. The Gaming Commission called the suit "without merit."

The Legislature is in recess, but more than two dozen lawmakers made an appearance this week for the annual consensus revenue hearing where economists presented a fairly rosy picture for fiscal 2015, with tax collections expected to grow by more than 4.5 percent and pumping at least $1 billion in new revenue into state coffers.

Though maybe not as robust as past economic recoveries, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer suggested it might be time to use growing revenues to build a budget without tapping into the state's reserves, and to speed the pace of fully funding the state pension system.

Ways and Means Chairmen Sen. Stephen Brewer and Rep. Brian Dempsey didn't say no to Widmer's suggestion, but they didn't exactly embrace the idea either.

Meanwhile, Senate President Therese Murray appears poised to close out the year still firmly ensconced as the Democratic leader of the Senate. Despite speculation that she might have left by year's end to hand the reins over to Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Plymouth Democrat seems to be relishing in proving wrong the prognosticators who were ready to write her retirement speech early.

To the amusement of herself and her staff, Murray has set her cellphone's ringtone to play the chorus of Icona Pop's hit song "I Love It," because she just doesn't care.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Tax collections are looking up, but those are just projections. Problems with the health insurance website are here and now. 

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