August 13, 2017

On Beacon Hill: Something to talk about

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National Conference of State Legislatures

Sam Doran/State House News Service

The House Chamber was packed on Monday with legislative clerks from around the world who visited Boston for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Participating in a mock parliamentary session, from left, were Nigerian legislative officer Ramatu Ahmad, Ladi Hamalai of Nigeria’s Institute for Legislative Studies, and Aisha Mohammed of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.


Recap and analysis of the week in local, state and federal government
from State House News Service and Sun research.

The summer of 2007 in the Merrimack Valley was a time for backyard “PicNikis” and evening gatherings to get the latest “Tscoop On Tsongas” over a cone of your favorite flavor.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas was mounting her first campaign for public office to succeed Marty Meehan — now the president of the University of Massachusetts system — in Congress, and the heat was on. Anything to get a crowd.

Fast-forward 10 years, and Tsongas found a different way to break the August monotony, announcing Wednesday that she would not be seeking a seventh full term to the U.S. House of Representatives. Just like that, Tsongas plugged the void of late summer on Beacon Hill, giving its denizens something to wag their tongues about.

Many state legislators spent the week shuttling between the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the city’s varied landmarks, playing policy wonks by day and hosts with the most by night.

Legislative leaders wined and dined 6,000 of their colleagues from around the country at places like Fenway Park, the New England Aquarium and more as the National Conference of State Legislatures swept in and out of the city, leaving solid policy ideas, first impressions of Boston, and bar tabs in its wake.

But it was Tsongas — and more intriguingly, who might succeed her — that was the talk of the town.

Niki Tsongas

Niki Tsongas

Tsongas, in some ways, rode her famous last name to the halls of Capitol Hill. Her late husband, Paul Tsongas, held the same seat before being elected to the Senate and making a failed run for president in 1992.

But over the past decade, she made a name for herself. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Tsongas became a champion for veterans and, based on the accolades that poured in, a devotee to constituent services.

Given the rarity of open Congressional seats in Massachusetts, it would be political malfeasance for anyone who has ever harbored any ambition to go to Washington, D.C., to not at least think about what it would take to win the Tsongas seat next year. That’s probably why one needs more than two hands to count the number of elected, non-elected and former elected officials said to be weighing their options.

The list starts with the cast of characters who finished behind Tsongas in the 2007 special election Democratic primary. Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who finished second in that primary, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge and former Sen. Barry Finegold all said they are considering another run at the seat.

Massachusetts Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, also came in hot, quickly announcing that she was “eagerly exploring” the possibility of a campaign, and has been joined by 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Stephen Kerrigan; Meehan’s ex-wife and community hospital consultant Ellen Murphy Meehan; and City Hall “Boy Wonder” Dan Koh, chief of staff to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, whose well-known family hails from Andover.

The Third Congressional District, thanks in part to redistricting, will surely not be a solely Democratic affair, however. Republicans weighing a run, or looked to as possible candidates, include Mass Fiscal Alliance founder Rick Green, Sal’s Pizza founder Sal Lupoli and Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke.

Central Mass. cities and towns in the Third Congressional District include  Ashburnham, Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Harvard, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Westminster and parts of Winchendon. Also, Ashby, Ayer, Dunstable, Groton, Hudson, Littleton, Marlborough, Shirley, Stow and Townsend.

It’s hard to say how quickly the field might come together, given the ample time Tsongas has afforded her would-be successors, but many of the elected politicians and someone like Koh will have to weigh a shot at a Congressional seat against giving up the office or job they now hold.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Senate hosts panel to discuss health-care cost containment
  • McGovern on North Korea; Chandler honored
  • Boston-area inflation hits 2.2 percent in the past year
  • Safety, profiling concerns swirl over immigrant detainer bill


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