Sina-cism: An integrity commission that has none

I’m not nearly as much into baseball these days as I was in my youth, but I have to admit I am enjoying watching some hardball this summer — the kind going on between the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and several states.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The commission was created May 11 by the signature of President Donald Trump, who seems as incredulous about Hillary Clinton’s 2.85-million-vote margin in the popular vote as many Americans are incredulous about his 77-vote victory in the Electoral College.

The commission’s purported mission is to ensure the fairness and integrity of the electoral process by collecting detailed electoral and demographic data.

Now, from a mathematical perspective, it is surely true not every one of the more than 130 million ballots cast last November was legitimate. Americans move a lot. Municipal voting records are not always up to date. Clerical errors are made. Even machines err.

But mathematics also assures us that however many ballots were illegitimate, it wasn’t remotely close to 2.85 million. This Washington Post piece makes the case for why the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is an absurdity. Democrats did not “steal” the popular vote — a meaningless concept — any more than Republicans stole the Electoral College.

Niki Tsongas

On Beacon Hill: Something to talk about

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

House leader ‘certain’ Mass. sales tax holiday will get another year off

BOSTON — Consumers will get no break on the sales tax from the state of Massachusetts this summer, as lawmakers opt for the second year in a row to forego a tax holiday weekend.

Revenue Committee Chairman Jay Kaufman confirmed that August will pass without what has been in recent years a semi-annual tradition of suspending the sales tax for one weekend.

“I would say that’s certain,” Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, told State House News Service. “I don’t see how there could be one since there’s no possibility of us having a hearing and a session to vote for one, so there will be no sales tax holiday this year.”

Editorial: Out with the old, in with the new?

Last Wednesday, the Worcester Planning Board gave its approval to Roseland Residential Trust’s plan to build 84 units of housing on the site of Notre Dame des Canadiens Church. This brings Worcester one step closer to the demolition of the Salem Square landmark.

The previous day, Worcester Magazine reported that Mayor Joseph M. Petty will ask the City Council to “support in principle the relocation of the Red Sox Triple-A baseball team to Worcester including building a stadium to accommodate this team and further, request the City Manager do all that is reasonably in his power to facilitate this move.”

It would certainly be convenient to view these developments independently. In this way, we would not see the similarities and differences that tell a lot about the priorities of the city’s leaders and what they seem to believe residents want.

On Beacon Hill: Someone has to be the thimble

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

BOSTON — Do not pass go, but do collect $200 million.

That was the message from Democrats on Beacon Hill to Gov. Charlie Baker last week, marking what amounts to the most significant, if not the first, major policy dust-up between the Kumbaya Caucus of Three at the State House.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, threw a brushback pitch when — in a mere matter of days after Baker signed the fiscal 2018 budget — they went along with Baker’s request for a swift public hearing on his proposed MassHealth eligibility reforms.

Sam Doran (SHNS / file photo)

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

But the court officers barely had time to lock the doors and shut the lights out in Gardner Auditorium when word trickled out that the Legislature would vote the next day to rebuff the governor and his call for Medicaid reforms to be packaged with new fees and fines on employers to pay for health insurance for the low-income and disabled.

The Democratic leadership decided reform can wait, but the revenues cannot. And so both branches voted overwhelmingly, and for the second time, to send Baker new employer assessments, deemed taxes by many critics, to pay for MassHealth without the administration and business community’s desired cost-saving measures.

“I’ll take a look at it when it gets to my desk and then we’ll make a decision and I’ll be sure to let you know when we make that decision,” Baker said Thursday after the dust had settled, knowing he has three choices.

Baker can sign the assessments and risk alienating the business community; veto the bill and force lawmakers to override, for which they have the votes; or let the assessments become law in protest without his signature after 10 days.

Option two would force DeLeo and Rosenberg to decided whether they must call members back from the August recess, which began Friday, to override or wait until after Labor Day in contradiction of their assertions last week that the assessments need to be implemented immediately if the state is to collect the money it is counting on for the fiscal 2018 budget.

The polite game of chicken unfolded as U.S. Senate Republicans tried — and ultimately failed — to muster 50 votes to repeal and replace, repeal, or “skinny repeal” Obamacare. After overcoming the odds to proceed to a debate on health care, it seemed all week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t care what bill he could pass, as long as he could pass something.

In the end, he couldn’t. Sen. John McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, dramatically slammed the door on repeal-and-replace efforts when he joined two other Republicans in the wee hours Friday morning voting against a repeal measure intended to move the Senate into negotiations with the House.

McCain said it was time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and listen to the country’s governors about how best to fix the healthcare system, which should be music to the ears of governors like Baker.

The soap opera in Washington, D.C., was not lost on state policymakers. While some Democrats tried to link Baker’s MassHealth reforms to unpopular Republican healthcare positions in Congress, Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez worried about plunging into MassHealth reform at home, knowing the complete disruption of the marketplace “could be one Tweet away.”

“This is not the end of our healthcare debate,” Sanchez said as criticism was expressed over Baker’s plan to move 140,000 MassHealth enrollees on to subsidized commercial plans with higher out-of-pocket costs.

The Gentlelady from Ashland took her own turn in the spotlight at Tuesday’s hearing when she was anything but gentle. Senate Ways and Means Chairperson Karen Spilka came ready to tango with with the administration’s trio of secretaries sent to defend and advocate for Baker’s plans to reform MassHealth.

Spilka made clear she believed the administration did not have “a monopoly on the ideas that are out there on healthcare,” and asked panel after panel to submit their own recommendations for lawmakers to consider in the coming weeks and months.

Sam Doran / State House News Service

Sen. Karen Spilka had harsh words for the Baker administration’s healthcare reform stance.

“This is an ongoing issue and there are other ways to go about savings, rather than necessarily moving people off of MassHealth,” Spilka said.

Building consensus for healthcare changes in Massachusetts, as in Washington, may be a difficult task, but the governor and legislative leaders were on the same page last week when it came time to finalize marijuana oversight and protections for pregnant workers.

Baker signed both bills upon his return from a political trip to Colorado, and in doing so helped cement the two biggest legislative achievements of the year outside of pay raises for public officials, which Baker opposed, and an annual state budget.

— Matt Murphy

ALSO ON THE AGENDA

  • Holiday for legislators, but likely not for sales tax
  • Warren, Markey and Healey on Senate healthcare vote
  • Watch: Baker signs long-awaited marijuana law
  • Cape legislators urge restoration of LGBTQ budget priorities
  • Ice Bucket Challenge will soon be state holiday

Baker seeking federal waivers to address untenable healthcare costs

BOSTON — As it simultaneously pursues Medicaid reform proposals in the state Legislature, the Baker administration has taken the first steps toward seeking approval of healthcare policy changes from the Trump administration.

Gov. Charlie Baker has spent much of this year emphasizing his hope that the federal government, under Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, will stick to the terms of a so-called healthcare waiver his administration wrapped up with the Obama administration just before Trump’s election.

Now Baker, through the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Health Connector Authority, is asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for additional “relief” from some provisions of Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The Baker administration’s new “flexibility” requests would align MassHealth coverage for non-disabled adults with commercial plans, adopt tools intended to obtain lower prescription drug prices, and implement narrower networks in an attempt to influence enrollment decisions and control cost, among other things.

Editorial: On immigration, Republicans become party of big government

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday that police officers do not have the authority to detain immigrants solely at the request of federal immigration officials.

“In the case of Commonwealth v. Sreynuon Lunn, the court concluded that ‘nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances,’ ” State House News Service reported.

The facts are straightforward: “After the sole pending criminal charge against him was dismissed, the petitioner, Sreynuon Lunn, was held by Massachusetts court officers in a holding cell at the Boston Municipal Court at the request of a Federal immigration officer, pursuant to a Federal civil immigration detainer,” the SJC decision states.

“Immigration detainers like the one used in this case, for the purpose of that process, are therefore strictly civil in nature,” the opinion continues. “The removal process is not a criminal prosecution. The detainers are not criminal detainers or criminal arrest warrants. They do not charge anyone with a crime, indicate that anyone has been charged with a crime, or ask that anyone be detained in order that he or she can be prosecuted for a crime.”

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 183]: This is your brain on drugs, Massachusetts

Legal recreational marijuana is coming to a storefront near you!

Well, actually, the “where” might just be the final piece of this hazy puzzle to come into focus — the “who,” “what,” “when,” “why” and “how” have finally been dealt with now that state lawmakers pushed a compromise bill onto the governor’s desk.

Some of those details, though, have left many observers dazed and confused. Hitch, for one, is jonesing for better answers.

Sun Spots with Hitch [Vol. 182]: Pedestrian safety at a crossroads

Much attention was paid last week to the safety — or lack thereof — of the city’s bustling byways, boulevards and thoroughfares.

One city councilor, possibly driving for pole position in what could be a contentious election this fall, suggested a reduced speed limit, while an independent study showed Worcester to have the most dangerous intersections in the Bay State.

Hitch, of course, always draws his own conclusions.