The Merry-Go-Round Week That Was on Beacon Hill — ‘Clink Clink’ in the Air

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Recap and analysis of the week in state government

By Matt Murphy

The hits just keep coming.

Every time it seems the Massachusetts Senate might be ready to finally turn the page and bear down on the task at hand – legislating – another shoe seems to drop. And unfortunately this week, there were more copies of arrest reports and indictment sheets floating around the east wing of the capital than bill summaries.

State Senator Michael Brady of Brockton got the bad news train rolling in the early morning hours of Saturday when he was pulled over in Weymouth after allegedly nearly swerving into a liquor store parking lot and then back across two lanes of traffic.

On his way to being arrested for drunk driving, Brady, a Democrat, told police he had been drinking at a “work event” in Boston that night and handed over his state ID, telling cops (maybe as a courtesy?) he was a senator. He then failed several field sobriety tests, including getting only as far as J in the alphabet, and found himself Monday in Quincy District Court facing arraignment.

By mid-week, Brady had apologized to his colleagues and said he was entering short-term rehab. And for now, it appears his apology has been accepted. Senate President Harriette Chandler said that while she was disappointed in Brady, punishment for now would be left for the courts to decide.

On most weeks, a sitting state senator spending part of his weekend in handcuffs would be enough to digest. But Brady may have been relegated to yesterday’s news by the indictments handed down Thursday against Bryon Hefner, the estranged civil-law husband of state Senator Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst).

Hefner essentially cost Rosenberg the Senate presidency back in December when allegations first surfaced that he allegedly sexually assaulted four men who do business on Beacon Hill. He’s now dealing with more than just being a political liability to his once powerful civil-law husband.

A statewide grand jury indicted Hefner, 30, on five counts of indecent assault and battery, one count of open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, and four counts of dissemination of a visual image of a nude or partially nude person without consent.

The indictments were the result of criminal investigation launched by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley after several men went public with their allegations in the Boston Globe.

So how do you describe what it’s been like to work in the Massachusetts Senate over the past several months? Well, one senator called it “one of the toughest periods in the history of the state Senate.” And she’s in line to lead this group of bad news bears in nine months, if not sooner.

Those of course, were the words of Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), who last week stepped to the microphone to claim the mantle of Senate president in-waiting. Spilka said her ability to rather quickly corral the support of her colleagues had at least something to do with a collective desire to move forward from the turmoil of the past four months.

It’s now clear that might not be possible, at least not until after the general election November 4.

Brockton state Senator Michael Brady was arraigned Monday on charges of operating under the influence, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, and marked lanes violations. [Photo: Sam Doran/File/SHNS]

Even if senators can put these most recent distractions behind them, there’s still more to come. The Ethics Committee investigation being led by the law firm Hogan Lovells into Rosenberg himself could drop its findings at any time.

So maybe it’s no wonder that the churn continues.

Last week, Senator Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) took his seat in the chamber for the first time, and next week Representative Nick Collins (D-South Boston) will move one step closer to the Senate when voters in the First Suffolk District head to the polls in an uncontested primary that will put the South Boston Democrat on a likely glide path to the upper chamber.

Special elections for 2018 are nearing the finish line in South Boston and Dorchester, but not the departures.

The foregone conclusion of Lowell state Senator Eileen Donoghue’s move to Lowell City Hall was solidified Tuesday night when the city council unanimously picked Donoghue (a Democrat) as the next city manager. While she hasn’t yet finalized the timing of her resignation, Donoghue does plan to leave the Senate soon to assume her new duties, and because she’s not stepping down by April 1, there won’t be a special election to fill her seat.

Donoghue’s seat, therefore, will be up for grabs in November — and empty until then — along with that of Newburyport state Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, a Democrat, who is not seeking re-election, and state Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) who is running instead for Congress.

And then there’s state Senator Joseph Boncore (D-Winthrop), who this week floated his name as a potential candidate for Suffolk County district attorney, to replace the retiring Conley. Boncore hopes to make his decision by next week, but if he does get into the race he would join five other Democrats, including one other elected official, state Representative Evandro Carvalho (D-Dorchester).

While jumping at new opportunities seems to be en vogue these days, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s chief lawyer at City Hall Eugene O’Flaherty has opted against entering the DA race himself, according to someone close to the Charlestown Democrat.

And Boston At-Large City Councilor Michael Flaherty, who at one point seemed eager (if not overeager) to succeed Conley as the county’s top prosecutor, may also be leaning against it now, insiders say.

Here at Roundup headquarters, we would never suggest that Governor Charlie Baker (R-Swampscott) was exhaling over the string of atrocious headlines targeting legislative Democrats. But it has taken some of the immediate sting out of his own struggles with the Massachusetts State Police.

Baker is arguably going through one of the most trying times of his governorship since the 2015 meltdown of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and at a most inopportune time.

On the heels of a controversy over an edited arrest report of a judge’s daughter, an overtime scandal at the State Police involving allegations of troopers taking pay for traffic enforcement shifts they never worked has put another grenade on the desk of new Colonel Kerry Gilpin – an by extension, Baker’s.

“It’s clear that the State Police is going to have to work back some of that public credibility that’s been sacrificed by some of these really bad actors,” Baker said.

The governor has put his faith in Gilpin, in the top job for just four months, to restore that public trust, but it seems the more questions that are asked, the more gets exposed. This week questions of trooper pay led to the Boston Globe‘s discovery that salary data for Troop F, which polices the Seaport and Logan Airport and is paid by Massport, has been missing from public records kept online since 2010.

The amassing evidence of mismanagement has given fodder to Baker’s political opponents at a time when the men seeking to steal his job away are desperate for traction with voters. Former state budget chief Jay Gonzalez, (D-Needham), said Baker needs to “take some accountability” rather than just empathize with the public’s shock, and former Newton Mayor Setti Warren wants the Legislature to appoint a special commission to investigate the State Police.

Even Attorney General Maura Healey, who passed this cycle on the governor’s race, said Thursday, “I think it’s time that the Baker administration take a leadership role on this issue.”

Baker’s administration this week also completed its retreat from the Northern Pass transmission project, which was the state’s first choice to bring Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts, and opted instead to pursue a contract with New England Clean Energy Connect in Maine.

The reversal became almost necessary after New Hampshire regulators denied Northern Pass a critical permit days after the project was selected by Massachusetts. The deadline set by the administration for the project’s partners to successfully appeal that denial passed this week, and Massachusetts moved on.

But some environmental groups say the New England Clean Energy Connect project is no sure bet, either, and the state can ill afford to have another contract upended by another state’s permitting process if Baker hopes to deliver on time on the promise of clean energy needed to meet the state’s pollution reduction goals.

Also this week:

— Massachusetts Treasurer Deb Goldberg (D-Brookline) signed off on a move of state Lottery headquarters from Braintree to Dorchester, drawing criticism from her general election opponent Representative Keiko Orral (R-Lakeville), who questioned the cost and transparency of the process.

— The House and Senate teamed up with Baker to pass a law that will spare almost 1,000 retirees, mostly retired teachers, from steep health insurance premium spikes in July. The Senate also passed a $1.8 billion housing bond bill.

— The Senate introduced state-level net neutrality legislation that would bar Internet service providers from charging customers more to access certain web content at higher speeds, but met resistance from the industry that says it’s an issue best left to the federal government.

— The Senate Ways and Means Committee has rewritten the House-approved short-term rental bill to include a simpler tax structure and less state-based regulation, setting up likely negotiations over the coming months that will look a lot like the fight over how to regulate Uber and Lyft.

STORY OF THE WEEK:  It’s in the hands of the courts now.

SONG OF THE WEEK:  The secret Senate Ethics Committee’s Rosenberg-Hefner investigation passed its 100-day mark, continuing to linger in the Beacon Hill background.