On Beacon Hill: Heavy is the head that wears the crown

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

Massachusetts residents got a reminder last week of something that can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day political skirmishes: the state isn’t a half-bad place to live.

U.S. News & World Report, in its first-ever state rankings, declared Massachusetts the best of the united 50.

With his state catapulted over the heap by its top-rated education system and superior access to health care, Gov. Charlie Baker got to leave a conference of his peers in Washington to appear on “CBS This Morning” and crow about all that Massachusetts has to offer — an enviable spot for a Republican governor trying to navigate through his blue state’s politics.

The picture painted by U.S. News stands, in a some respects, as a counterargument to the daily debates on Beacon Hill.

To hear some tell it, Massachusetts is drowning in debt, income inequality and a lack of affordable housing. Tens of thousands of students are being left behind by the public school system, and healthcare and energy costs are crushing families and small businesses.

But in Massachusetts, being ranked number one is unlikely to be enough, just like five Super Bowl rings on Tom Brady’s right hand couldn’t stop the parade-goers last month from chanting: “We want six.”

State House News Service / courtesy CBS

Gov. Charlie Baker appears on “CBS This Morning” Feb. 28 with Brian Kelly of U.S. News and World Report to talk about the ranking of Massachusetts as the best state in the country.

Now it’s on Baker, the Legislature, mayors and everyone else to keep the top spot.

While it may not be in everyone’s nature to accentuate the positive, no one in Massachusetts is quite on President Trump’s level of “American carnage.” But Trump gave his first not-technically-a-State-of-the-Union address to Congress Feb. 28 and adopted what the pundits deemed a more “presidential” and uplifting tone and demeanor, even if the policy had not changed all that much.

However, the positive reviews for Trump in what seemed like a reset for his presidency quickly gave way to more troubling headlines about contacts his campaign may have had with Russian officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions recused himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign that might be underway, but so far has not caved to pressure from Democrats — including the state’s entire Congressional delegation — to resign over what, at the very least, was incomplete testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearing about a meeting he had with the Russian ambassador during the campaign season when he was a U.S. senator.

The state Senate is hoping its bridge-building with the business community is going more smoothly than Trump’s. After first inviting the Massachusetts Business Roundtable in for a bipartisan caucus, this week’s caucus guest was Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“I’m hoping that today represents sort of a reset of the relationship between AIM and the Senate,” said AIM’s John Regan during the public portion of the caucus.

As the more liberal of the two branches, Senate leaders have their work cut out for them if they hope to get back in the good graces of the business community and champion causes like paid family and medical leave.

— Matt Murphy

OFF THE TOP

Healey and Trump, together at last

Attorney General Maura Healey was one of the voices calling for Sessions to resign the same week she confronted Texas Rep. Lamar Smith over perceived interference with her investigation into ExxonMobil’s climate research.

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Attorney General Maura Healey

Healey called on Smith’s committee to drop its subpoena of documents pertaining to her investigation, while at the same time requesting documents for herself pertaining to any mention of the committee’s investigation into her actions.

All of this the same week Healey saw Trump not in court, but face to face at the White House where she joined fellow attorneys general in a meeting with the president that was disclosed not by her office, but the White House itself. Healey was among more than a dozen AGs who skipped a photo op with Trump after the meeting.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Murray, chamber get in on the business of education
  • Local public hearings set ahead of budget season
  • McGovern’s been tremendously busy on Twitter
  • Video: Gov. Baker on Ware fallen soldier, week’s top stories
  • Public higher education feels strain of state budget crunch

Editorial: The president vs. the press

It could be that he’ll never be able to abide criticism, or that he doesn’t understand the American political system. Or both. It could be, too, that he has something to hide. He seems to have a personality that exudes dominance and demands acquiescence from others. On all of this, the press is an invaluable check.

President Trump is uncomfortable with open discussion of his administration.

This is a serious problem. Not just for the media, but for America.

Though the president has picked fights with numerous groups and causes in his five weeks in office — Muslims, Mexico, federal judges, the FBI, undocumented immigrants, transgender people, trade partners, the environment, election integrity, Australia — the nation’s free press seems to occupy a special place on his list.

“Enemy of the American people,” alarmingly, is how he views some members of the mainstream press.

What these “enemies” have in common is that they have criticized the Trump administration or election campaign, or probed into sensitive topics.

On Beacon Hill: Got a light? Burning issues and simmering feuds

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

If March college basketball is one of the biggest drains on workplace productivity of the year, then Beacon Hill bracketology has the opposite effect.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg finally filled in their seeding charts this week, allowing for the legislating process to truly begin. And no two chairmen will be more under the gun than Braintree’s Rep. Mark Cusack and Somerville’s Sen. Patricia Jehlen.

Cusack and Jehlen were tapped to co-chair the new Committee on Marijuana Policy, starting a four-month countdown-clock for the two Democrats and their committee to craft a comprehensive re-write of the recreational marijuana ballot law.

Jehlen, a legal marijuana supporter, was picked over Sen. Jason Lewis for the chairmanship after Lewis spent much of the past two years becoming the Senate’s expert on marijuana policy.

The problem for Lewis, however, was that he came out of that process an ardent opponent of legal pot and essentially tipped his hand by filing numerous bills already this year to change the law.

State House News Service

Cusack and Jehlen

Instead, Lewis will serve as Jehlen’s vice-chair, and Rosenberg is confident that Jehlen will be able to engage with the marijuana advocate community in ways that Lewis could not have.

On the House side, Cusack is something of a wildcard. He would not say Thursday how he voted on the ballot question, and DeLeo touted Cusack’s open-mindedness on the issue as a chief selling point for his selection to lead the pot effort.

Gov. Charlie Baker has suggested he would like to see a bill even earlier than June. But the Republican has his plate full as well dealing with a new White House administration that challenges, on a near daily basis, his desire to remain above the fray, and getting a new Supreme Judicial Court nominee confirmed by a Governor’s Council that increasingly makes Congressional infighting look like child’s play.

— Matt Murphy

OFF THE TOP

With friends like these …

For the second straight week, the Governor’s Council, the elected body that vets Baker’s judicial nominees, dissolved into a puddle of name-calling, accusations and fist-pounding.

Though the animosity ostensibly stemmed from a disagreement over how the vote was handled for a Superior Court nominee, the eight-member council can barely be in the same room together anymore. And the anger runs deeper than one nominee.

  • Councilor Mary Hurley, a Democrat, accused Councilor Marilyn Devaney of raining “terror” upon the panel.
  • Jennie Caissie, a Republican from Oxford, said the council’s reputation “as a laughingstock” can be put squarely at Devaney’s feet for bringing incivility to the process.
  • Devaney yelled back that she was being bullied for standing up for the rules, if they even exist, and accused Caissie of spending too much time in a local watering hole.
  • Meanwhile, Councilor Robert Jubinville accused Councilor Joe Ferreira of being a “bootlicker” and a “rubber stamp” for the governor as he pounded his fist on the table two times to drive home his point.

And all of this transpired within the governor’s suite with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito hopelessly trying to maintain order, and staffers poking their heads out of offices wondering what could be going on.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Moore among senators pushing criminal justice reforms
  • McGovern tweet scrutinizes U.S.-Russia ties
  • Chandler: Stepping away from State House transit role
  • From Baker with love: Time to investigate Russia dealings
  • Video: Auburn’s Jacobson on legal marijuana next steps
  • Fentanyl spike continues, fuels opioid death surge

THE BIG DEAL

Courtesy Sen. Micheal O. Moore's office

State Sen. Mike Moore

Moore among senate leaders urging action on criminal justice reform

Sina-cism: Hating Trump no substitute for a real policy

Before you head out to your next anti-Trump parade or party, ask yourself whether you agree with this:

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

“The United States cannot, and should not, admit those who do not support the Constitution, or those who would place violent ideologies over American law. In addition, the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own), or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender or sexual orientation.”

If you agree, how would you fashion policy to achieve these goals? If you disagree, what standard (if any) would you use to decide who enters the United States?

The passage above is from Section 1 of President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order on immigration. This is no trick. You can agree with that section while disagreeing with the balance of the order.

Related Sina-cism: The real danger in sanctuary city debate

Sina-cism: Sanctuary city debate a dangerous distraction

America cannot afford an impasse on immigration. President Obama failed for eight years to produce comprehensive immigration reform.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Among the least enlightening debates in recent Worcester history is that over the idea of a sanctuary city, a term with no legal force and little practical application.

The most recent standard-bearers in this debate are City Councilor-at-Large Michael Gaffney and Mayor Joseph Petty.

Gaffney pushed a resolution, defeated 9-2 by the City Council last Tuesday night, that would have made clear Worcester is not a sanctuary city. If it were seen as one, he argued, Worcester might lose federal funding.

Petty argued that Gaffney was stirring fear unnecessarily. As the mayor told the Telegram & Gazette: “I’m going to have everyone’s back. If we aren’t going to protect our immigrants, then you may as well take the Statue of Liberty, pack it up and send it back to France.”

Well, the city’s money is safe and France can cancel that incoming shipment, because neither man’s fears are likely to be realized.

On Beacon Hill: Trump and DeLeo, political soulmates — who knew?

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

BOSTON — President Donald Trump’s fledgling administration and legislative Democrats on Beacon Hill may have one thing in common: a willingness to test the boundaries of what the electorate might be willing to stomach before there are political consequences.

One difference, however, is that Trump told voters essentially what he planned to do before the November election. State lawmakers? Not exactly.

Trump crossed the line for many Massachusetts residents and elected leaders late last week when he signed an executive order halting refugee resettlement in the United States and restricting travel for immigrants and visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries.

While the White House insisted this was not the Muslim ban that Trump talked about during the campaign, many immigration advocates viewed it as just that, and those in the state’s higher education and technology worlds warned that it would cut off access to talent that helps drive the state economy.

The action sparked virulent protests throughout the weekend and led to Attorney General Maura Healey filing suit in federal court this week on behalf of the state and the University of Massachusetts seeking to overturn the order on constitutional grounds.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

Back under the Dome, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg used the cover of the Trump chaos and the New England Patriots run-up to Super Bowl LI as an opportune time to finalize an $18 million package of pay raises for themselves and others by overriding the governor’s veto.

For pay raise proponents, the override went about as smoothly as could be expected given the volume of phone calls and public opposition to the idea. Not one Democrat besides the 12 already on record in opposition defected in the week between the bill’s passage and the vote.

The 116-43 vote in the House and 31-9 vote in the Senate comfortably eclipsed the two-thirds margin needed in each branch to reverse the governor’s veto.

In other words, no one who voted for the raise was swayed by either the governor’s case against the bill or the public outcry.

Knowing they had the votes, leaders largely dispensed with the idea of speaking out to defend the move, but when they did they pointed again to the decades that have elapsed since salaries were seriously adjusted.

Calls from upset voters have reportedly poured in to some elected officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker. But as MassINC pollster Steve Koczela noted on Twitter: “Unless MA voting patterns change, the House could vote to ban apple pie and baseball without worrying too much.”

— Matt Murphy

OFF THE TOP

DeLeo convenes Dems to talk Trump

House Speaker Robert DeLeo last Thursday evening called a caucus for Wednesday, Feb. 8, to discuss with Democratic members how, if at all, the House should respond to recent actions taken by President Donald Trump.

  • In the email to House members, the speaker’s office said it hoped to “elicit feedback from members and to discuss the Massachusetts House of Representatives’ response to recent actions of the Trump administration.”
  • The Senate on Thursday passed a nonbinding resolution opposing Trump’s order on immigration and refugee policy and calling on the president to rescind the order that “presents serious constitutional and other legal issues.”

— Matt Murphy

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Donald Trump

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Governor reiterates support of refugees, immigrants
  • Video: Baker and DeLeo on the big payday
  • ‘Down payment’ planned to address school spending gap
  • Not-quite-silent minority raps salary spike
  • Polito speaks out against Trump immigration stance

THE BIG DEAL

‘Troubled’ by Trump, Baker doubles down on support of refugees, immigrants

Healey adds Mass. to federal fight against Trump immigration order

Calling President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban “unconstitutional,” Attorney General Maura Healey has moved to add Massachusetts and the University of Massachusetts to a federal lawsuit seeking to strike down the executive order on the grounds that it violates residents’ rights to religious freedom and due process.

The expanded complaint on behalf of the state and the University of Massachusetts will argue that Trump’s temporary halt to accepting refugees or immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries unlawfully interferes with “our economic lifeblood” and violates the constitution by giving preference to Christians from Muslim countries.

The legal action follows a weekend in which at least a handful of legal residents, including two UMass-Dartmouth engineering professors of Iranian descent, were detained at Logan International Airport as they tried to return to their homes in Massachusetts.

Bonus video: Rosenberg on Trump travel ban