He'll be back?

Beacon Hill Democrats might be missing their last chance before a Republican gets the veto stamp. Plus, will ballot questions spell Deval’s doom?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 21, 2010


Democratic legislators are so used to commanding supermajorities on Beacon Hill, and to slapping around Governor Deval Patrick whenever the spirit moves them, that they don't seem to be thinking about what politics and policy-making might look like should Republican Charlie Baker defeat Patrick this November.

And if a Baker governorship is not on their radar screen, even further from their minds is the idea that Republicans might reverse their terrible record in local elections, and actually make significant State House gains.

To those Democratic lawmakers, next year doesn't figure to be any different than this one. Of course, Democrats here and in Washington had the same nonchalant attitude toward Ted Kennedy's US Senate seat — and found themselves without a contingency plan for when it was won by Republican Scott Brown.

That lack of urgency could come back to bite local Democrats again. The end of this month marks the end of the formal 2009–'10 Massachusetts legislative session. If Patrick loses his bid for re-election, this may be his last chance to pass his agenda items.

It's also, possibly, the last chance for House and Senate Democrats to pass legislation without the threat of a veto from Baker, should he win the corner office. And, given the strong anti-incumbent mood in the country — and anti–Beacon Hill mood in the commonwealth — the supermajority may not be nearly as secure as in years past.

Yet, as of this writing, several bills remain stuck as time ticks away. The highest-profile is expanded gaming, which is in conference committee after being passed, in very different forms, by both houses.

CORI and sentencing reform — a major priority for Patrick — is also in conference committee, as are economic-development and wind-energy bills. Health-care cost containment, gun control, transgender rights, and other bills have not even made it that far.

Deadlines usually prod people to take action, yet Beacon Hill leaders seem to be approaching the end of this month with a remarkable lack of concern.

That's in part because under the Golden Dome — and perhaps only there — most people seem convinced that they'll be able to pick right back up in January 2011, with a re-elected Governor Patrick and overwhelmingly Democratic majorities in both chambers.

It's hard to find any lawmakers or staff who aren't bullish on Patrick's chances these days — which marks a stark reversal from six months ago. Back then, it seemed that the only ones who weren't expecting Patrick's defeat were those who didn't believe he would even run for re-election.

Insiders and close observers chalk up the new optimism to two basic factors: Charlie Baker, and Patrick himself.

Patrick, they say, has been riding a long streak with no bad headlines (the last big fiasco, the aborted appointment of State Senator Marian Walsh to a plum position with the Massachusetts Health and Educational Facilities Authority, was 16 months ago), and employment numbers well ahead of most other states.

Many also point to Patrick's much-praised handling of the MWRA water-main break in early May. "You could almost feel his approval ratings going up" during the crisis, says one long-time Beacon Hill observer.

"There's no question that the governor has grown in the job," says Massachusetts Democratic Party chair John Walsh.

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