Jeff Flake Took the Cake in Boston — Weekly Recap of Beacon Hill

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By Matt Murphy

With the eyes of a nation upon him, he might have flaked. But Arizona’s retiring U.S. senator kept his word and brought the Kavanaugh confirmation circus to Boston this week, a traveling production that may have inspired a future president.

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake’s appearance on Boston’s City Hall Plaza at the Forbes Under 30 Summit came just three days after he forced Republicans to reopen an FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh and two days after U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared, “Time’s up.”

At a town hall in Holyoke last weekend, Warren did what she’s long resisted doing, and what her Republican opponent Geoff Diehl has been warning about for months. She acknowledged that she’s thinking about running for president.

“So here’s what I promise, after November 6, I will take a hard look at running for president,” she said,

So what pushed Warren to make that declaration? Trump being Trump, for one thing.

But also, she said, the process of watching powerful men (the Senate Judiciary Committee) coalesce around another powerful man (Kavanaugh) to ensure that he can attain an even more powerful (and lifetime) appointment.

So it was in this environment in Boston that Flake touched down on his way to New Hampshire, of all places, to speak to a conference of future leaders about his hesitance to embrace Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice.

He was greeted by protests organized by Democrats urging him to vote no. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showed up. So did Adam Rippon. Flake insisted he wanted a “real investigation” into the allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. “It does no good to have an investigation that just gives us more cover,” Flake said.

But by the end of the week Flake would become a Kava-yes, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation seemed all but assured.

The only thing in Massachusetts rivaling the bitterness of the Kavanaugh confirmation process right was Question 1.

Voters trying to decide where to stand on the hotly contested nurse staffing ballot question got a third set of numbers this week to wrap their heads around as the Health Policy Commission put out its cost estimates, tallying $676 million to $949 million in annual expenses to meet the proposed nurse-to-patient ratios.

The other two price tags assigned to Question 1 come from supporters — who predict a much smaller lift of up to $47 million — and opponents, who are looking upwards of $1 billion.

While these newest figures come from a state agency whose leaders stress they weren’t looking to tell people how to vote, the campaigns (and their millions in fundraising) stood ready to do just that.

Depending on which side you fall, the release marked either an “absolutely terrifying day” for a health care system that can’t afford the added costs, or a “missed opportunity” to address a “growing patient safety crisis.”

In a fight that pits the Coalition to Protect Patient Safety against the Committee to Ensure Safe Patient Care, where yard signs declare both that nurses say yes on 1 and nurses say no on 1, confused voters could welcome independent numbers — or they could just add to the clutter.

The governor’s race is about to get a jolt. Next week, Baker and Gonzalez will meet in the first of three head-to-head debates.

But in the run-up to that showdown, the gubernatorial campaign trail was quiet. Baker went off to D.C. to speak to the Log Cabin Republicans while Gonzalez held several events to promote his revenue plan to tax large university endowments.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey and Republican attorney Jay McMahon took part in a rapid-fire, half-hour appetizer, squaring off on WGBH’s Greater Boston in their first face-to-face meeting.

In case anyone needed a reminder, Healey and McMahon could not be any more different. McMahon supports Trump, and a travel ban, will vote no on Question 3, thinks Healey overstepped in her copycat assault weapons ban enforcement, and believes there is not a trace of racism in the criminal justice system.

Healey, meanwhile, has built her reputation on suing the White House, is “Yes on 3,” despises the NRA and might not totally agree with Elizabeth Warren’s assessment of the criminal justice system, but sees racial and socio-economic disparities that must be addressed.

One of Healey’s more interesting responses came from a question on whether Massachusetts should be a “sanctuary state.” “That’s not my call. I’m the attorney general. My job is to enforce the law,” Healey said, which sounded a bit like a duck.

Deferring to a higher authority is exactly what Baker did this week as well.

Asked by the Springfield Republican editorial board about the accusations of mid-flight groping against his youngest son A.J., Baker deferred to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which has made clear that it won’t comment unless it decides to bring charges.

Technically, there’s nothing stopping Baker from letting everyone else in on what he surely knows to be the status of the investigation, but for now the governor’s position is that it’s a family matter and should stay that way.

Also this week, fresh criticism Monday of the Cannabis Control Commission gave way to the issuance of the first two final retail licenses for recreational marijuana sales in Massachusetts.

It could still be weeks before those pot shops open their doors to casual customers, but the CCC vote to issues licenses to retail shops in Leicester and Northampton should alleviate some of the pressure starting to build over the state’s slow rollout of legal pot.

“The Cannabis Control Commission needs to pick up the pace,” said Will Luzier on Monday.

Luzier managed the 2016 ballot campaign in Massachusetts, and noted that California and Nevada both legalized marijuana at the same time as Massachusetts and have had shops up and running for months.

The continued delay, advocates said, has cost the state $16 million out of the $63 million leaders were counting on for this year’s state budget.

Baker shrugged off the forfeited revenue as just a drop in the state’s big revenue bucket, which might have been expected given the governor’s opposition to legal pot in the first place.

Of more interest to the governor has been housing, and though the Legislature failed to pass his housing production bill this session, metro-Boston area mayors announced that they had the governor’s back and would do him a few better.

Where Baker pushed for 135,000 new units by 2025, and legislation he said is needed to help accomplish that, the Metro Mayors Coalition announced their own commitment to build 185,000 new units by 2030. The governor’s zoning reforms? Unnecessary to hit the target, they said. So problem solved?

[Katie Lannan contributed analysis of the Question 1 campaign]

STORY OF THE WEEK: Taking a “hard look” at the cost of Question 1…

SONG OF THE WEEK: …because some people want attendance from their nurse around the clock.