Worcester’s Chandler elected acting Senate president amid Hefner harassment probe

BOSTON — The Senate initiated an Ethics Committee investigation Monday night into its now former president Sen. Stanley Rosenberg in a dramatic day of upheaval that saw Worcester Democrat Harriette L. Chandler installed as the new acting Senate president pending the outcome of an investigation into sexual harassment and Senate interference by Rosenberg’s husband.

The election of Chandler, Rosenberg’s top lieutenant, and the adoption of an order green-lighting the Senate Ethics Committee investigation marked the culmination of a marathon day of closed-door talks between Democrats and Republicans.

Chandler emerged as the unanimous choice of Democrats to take over the Senate temporarily after Rosenberg announced in the morning that he wanted to take a “leave of absence” from his leadership duties to ensure a “fully independent and credible” investigation.

“Choices had to be made and today we’ve chosen to move on and to move forward,” Chandler said. “What’s most important right now is that we work towards a swift and resolute conclusion to this whole sad event.”

On Beacon Hill: Sins of the husband [+video]

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

BOSTON — The national sexual harassment scandal got a face in Massachusetts last week – the visage of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s husband.

All other dealings on Beacon Hill were blocked out like an eclipse by the bombshell report in The Boston Globe that Rosenberg’s husband of one year, Bryon Hefner, had allegedly sexually assaulted at least four men.

Three of the men, who all work in the political arena and shared their stories anonymously, claim that Hefner grabbed their genitals in social settings, sometimes with the Senate president mere feet away. Another alleged that Hefner forcibly kissed him as he bragged about the clout he wielded over a legislative body for which he didn’t work and never served.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has worked closely with Rosenberg for years, was the first to call for a full investigation hours after the story broke, but he was followed by others, including Rosenberg himself, who gave his blessing for Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, D-Worcester, and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, to spearhead a full probe that Rosenberg, who intends to retain his title for now, will recuse himself from.

An Amherst-based Democrat, Rosenberg seemed to be clinging to the edge of a cliff Friday as staff, Chandler and Tarr huddled in the office next to the president’s hashing out a plan to bring on a special investigator to look into the allegations against Hefner, including impacts on Senate operations.

Watch: Rosenberg addresses Hefner accusations

Visibly shaken by the allegations against his husband, Rosenberg faced the cameras roughly 24 hours after Hefner’s alleged transgression were put on public display in what Rosenberg called the “most difficult time” in his political and personal life.

Rosenberg announced in a prepared statement that Hefner would be seeking in-patient treatment for alcohol dependence, and he encouraged anyone with a story to tell to come forward without fear of retribution. The Globe reported the four men were still not ready to take that step, but the door has been opened.

Rosenberg also said he was confident the investigation would show that Hefner had no influence over Senate business. “If Bryon claimed to have influence over my decisions or over the Senate, he should not have said that. It is simply not true,” Rosenberg said.

The only two men to call outright for Rosenberg to resign or step aside as Senate president were Republican candidates for office. U.S. Senate candidate John Kingston and state Senate candidate Dean Tran spoke out on Thursday, while the Democrats running for governor remained silent.

MassGOP followed up Friday with blast emails to local media posing a series of questions that it said Democratic senators should answer, the first being, “Do you still have confidence in him and his leadership of the chamber?” The party also suggested that Rosenberg’s claims of being unaware of his husband’s alleged behavior were “dubious.”

“Democrat Senators have questions to answer about the Senate President’s leadership — given that they have the ability to determine his future. The MassGOP is committed to holding these Democrats accountable on behalf of voters, who deserve answers,” said MassGOP spokesman Terry MacCormack.

The State House may have been lousy with rumors of succession planning and senators angling to fill the void if and when Rosenberg were to step aside, but those senators were adamantly denying the water-cooler talk … for now. Succession talk is not a topic lawmakers usually like to go public with — loyalty playing the role that it does in politics — but there’s a time and a place for everything, and senators appeared to be struggling with that question.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • More on the Hefner harassment accusations
  • Markey on World AIDS Day, McGovern on Russia probe
  • Legislature OKs $2.7 million for pot panel operations
  • Watch: Tarr on Hefner, Rosenberg and what’s next
  • State DAs poised to reverse thousands of tainted convictions

Gov. Baker, Polito to seek second term in 2018, advisor says

BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito will run for re-election in 2018, according to a senior political advisor, marking an expected, but significant turning point as Baker’s political team begins to take steps to build the campaign apparatus that will be necessary to win another four years in office.

The formal announcement may not come as a surprise, but it does signify a milestone in the 2018 election cycle and officially makes the popular Republican and his lieutenant governor the first GOP ticket to seek a second term since Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in 1994.

“The governor and lieutenant governor intend to seek re-election and will begin to build a campaign organization over the coming months. With the election still a year away, their focus remains on the bipartisan work they were elected to do,” advisor Jim Conroy told State House News Service.

Nurse staffing levels likely to have major impact on 2018 health policy debate

BOSTON — The threat of ballot questions led the Legislature and Govs. Charlie Baker and Deval Patrick to pass healthcare laws in each of the past two legislative sessions, and the stars are aligning for a possible repeat scenario in 2018.

A spokeswoman for the coalition behind an initiative petition setting strict nurse staffing ratios in hospitals told State House News Service that organizers have collected more than the nearly 65,000 signatures needed to satisfy the largest signature requirement on the path to the 2018 ballot.

“We collected well over the required amount of required signatures, and ahead of the deadline, all were delivered to the cities and towns for certification,” said Kate Norton, spokeswoman for The Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care. “In fact, we have already received many certified signatures back from the municipalities.” The committee plans to turn its certified signatures in to Secretary of State William Galvin’s office on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

Mariano: Thanksgiving turkeys for all

“Unfortunately, in our nation’s capital and right here in Worcester, we have a number of turkeys, both large and small, that did not qualify for a presidential pardon. In fact, we have a rafter of them.”

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 218]: Choosing sides, with Charlie Baker

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., enjoy — well, maybe “enjoy” is a bit of an exaggeration in the era of Trump — a majority in the House and the Senate, the GOP, as per usual, finds itself surrounded on Beacon Hill.

Only 39 of the 200 lawmakers who sometimes actually clock in at the State House are Republicans.

The governor makes an even 40, but then, his party leaders often find it difficult to determine whose side he’s on. With a re-election bid looming, Hitch is seeing red.

On Beacon Hill: Birds of a feather?

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

BOSTON — An estimated 51 million Americans were projected to travel more than 50 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

A fair number of those hit the Massachusetts highways newly confident, if they didn’t know before, that if they could escape the traffic for just a few miles those reduced speed limits posted in work zones along the route were merely “suggestions” and nothing that could legally stop them from getting to their turkey faster.

Gov. Charlie Baker made that point clear while standing in front a giant bank of monitors showing pockets of traffic starting to form Tuesday afternoon as he announced a package of highway safety initiatives he hopes legislative leaders will move to their front burner.

The ability to legally enforce reduced speed limits in work zones was one. But it wasn’t the talker.

Just this past February, Baker was on the radio when he said he thought texting while driving was the real danger on the roads. “I’m not sure I believe that the talking thing is,” he explained.

The governor, however, is no longer willing to take the risk that he could have been right, citing the volume of fatal car crashes that can be attributed to distracted driving and advances in technology and pricing that have made hands-free devices more accessible than ever. Those free hands, advocates hope, can stay gripped to steering wheels.

Baker called on the Legislature to deliver to his desk a bill before next summer that would make Massachusetts the sixteenth state to ban the handheld use of cellphones while driving. (Every other state in New England, except Maine, and New York have already done so.) And just like that, a driving safety bill climbed up the ladder of issues to watch for in 2018.

The governor’s new point of view changes some of the Beacon Hill politics over the long-filed bill, ratcheting up pressure on the House.

“I’m very pleased to see his comments,” Sen. Mark Montigny told the News Service. “But the only thing that should change the political dynamic is 15 years of death and destruction on the highways.”

Montigny, of New Bedford, still remembers vividly having to settle in 2010 for a ban on texting while driving. The Legislature wasn’t ready then to go all the way, and Montigny almost voted against his own bill because, as police would later complain, he believed the texting ban to be virtually unenforceable if people would still be allowed to handle their devices to phone a friend.

In the Senate, a hands-free bill already won approval in June, and because of Baker, Montigny has been imbued with new hope. “I’m glad the governor’s on board,” he said.

The pressure now shifts to the House as the lone holdout on a topic that from an experiential standpoint resonates with most voters/drivers. House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he would be speaking with his Transportation Committee Chair Rep. William Straus in the “near future” about how to proceed.

In the meantime, Baker had bills sitting on his desk that merited his attention, and the signing spree started Monday with an elaborately staged ceremony to make the contraception “ACCESS” bill law.

“This is a great day in the commonwealth of Mass.,” the governor declared from a podium set up in the rarely used State House library, flanked by leaders of the House and Senate, Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg, the head of Planned Parenthood and more.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harriette L. Chandler, right, looked on as Gov. Charlie Baker signed the ACCESS bill into law last week.

Don’t be surprised if this image makes it into campaign literature next year, the governor standing front and center as the state’s almost exclusively Democratic power brokers, plus the governor, delivered a message to President Trump’s Washington that birth control would remain free and covered in Massachusetts no matter what happens to Obamacare.

This is shaping up as a fascinating election year — Baker trying hard to stay in good graces of State House Democrats, his opponents trying just as hard to Velcro him to Washington Republicans.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Economy, State Police scandal keep Worcester in spotlight
  • Warren on GOP tax plan, Healey raps Trump on Haiti/TPS
  • AG finds Baker opioid bill lacking
  • Governor signs overhaul of English language learning

Democrats implore Baker to cut ties with Fitchburg GOP Senate hopeful

Gov. Charlie Baker has tried, against the odds, to grow the Republican Party since his 2014 election, but oftentimes that means siding with candidates that don’t perfectly align with his brand of moderate, socially liberal Republicanism.

That conflict is rearing its head again two weeks before a special Senate election in north central Massachusetts as the state Democratic Party is calling on the governor to withdraw his support for Fitchburg City Councilor Dean Tran over comments the candidate made during a debate last weekend.

Tran, a Republican who lost a race for the House in 2016 despite Baker’s support, said he did not believe tax dollars should be spent to support Planned Parenthood, in contrast to Baker who pledged to tap the state budget if Congress followed through on threats to block Medicaid recipients from receiving care from the organization.

Sina-cism: Voter turnout more than a numbers game

The low turnout for Worcester’s Nov. 7 municipal election — only 15.24 percent of the city’s 106,939 eligible voters cast a ballot — has restarted the hand-wringing over electoral apathy, and rekindled the debate over how to broaden participation in democracy.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

It’s obviously not a very popular debate. Most Worcester residents couldn’t care less about turnout, since 84.76 percent of voters couldn’t find their way to a polling place at any time during the 13 hours such places were open on Election Day. The rest of the voting-age population isn’t even registered.

The good news for those who believe that voter turnout must be increased by any means possible is that three researchers from Worcester State University this fall produced “A Study of ‘Eligible’ Voters in Worcester, Massachusetts.