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Changes Ahead for the MA Political Scene

Saturday, December 15, 2012


A week full of Mass politics spells big changes on the horizon for some of the Bay State's key players. National experts and local commentators are ready to talk about what this means for Attorney General Martha Coakley, Governor Deval Patrick, and Senator John Kerry.

A Clear Path for Kerry

Following UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s bowing out of the race for US Secretary of State, Senator Kerry is at the top of the list of contenders, and experts say his track record makes him right for the job.

“Senator Kerry has a great shot at being named Secretary of State. He has clear qualifications and commands outstanding respect around the world,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institute.

Kerry had his own comments to make after Rice’s announcement this week, saying “I've known and worked closely with Susan Rice not just at the UN, but in my own campaign for President. I've defended her publicly and wouldn't hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment.”

“Today’s announcement doesn't change any of that. We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level,” he said.

Clark professor of Political Communications, Srini Sitaraman has less positive remarks about Rice’s legacy.

“From the very beginning her [UN Ambassador Susan Rice] nomination seemed doomed. In many ways, the Republicans wanted to stick the Benghazi issue onto the President's record and, failing to do so, they wanted someone to pay,” he said. “At the very minimum, key Republican Senators felt they had been deliberately misled by the administration and Ambassador Rice became the face of this Benghazi issue.”

Sitaraman added that “the steady drip of news about her financial holdings in energy firms that posed a potential conflict of interest and her previous roles in the Clinton Administration.”

Jennifer Duffy, national politics expert and Senior Editor at the Cook Political Report, said that while Kerry is poised for the position, the ripple effect is causing some concern from some Democratic strategists.

Kerry’s Seat

“It would seem that some Democratic strategists are concerned about such an appointment because of the special election that would take place to replace him,” Duffy said. “They are worried that Scott Brown would run – and win. The President usually has ignored such political concerns and may do so again, especially since Democrats have 55 seats so the majority is not in danger.”

West echoed these concerns, adding “In terms of the Senate, his [Kerry's] appointment would create a real opening for a Scott Brown comeback. Brown has the name identification and fundraising network that would make him a very strong contender for the position. I see this as a competitive race.”

Clark professor of Political Science Mark Miller said that Kerry’s potential Secretary of State position could mean a difficult decision for Governor Patrick as well.

“There appears to be little opposition to a potential Kerry nomination, but it is complicated by the fact that a Kerry nomination would open the door to a potential run for the vacated Senate seat by Republican Senator Scott Brown,” he said. “If Senator Kerry is nominated and confirmed, then Governor Patrick will have to consider a variety of political calculations before he names a temporary replacement to the Senate seat.”

Eyes on the Prize

Another competitive race to keep an eye on is for the Governor’s position.

Former Worcester mayor, Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray has spoken up about his desire to seek the seat, although he stopped short of formally announcing his candidacy. Murray had $232,447 on the books at the end of November.

“At this point, the list of Democratic hopefuls is quite long, and there is no true frontrunner,” Duffy said. “This will take months to sort out.”

Jeff Raymond, member of the local Republican Town Committee in Millbury, said that while the options are open, a lot of the decision falls on the actions of Senator Scott Brown.

“I think, at least in terms of the Kerry, Deval, governor situation, it's too soon to say. Right now, the Republicans have one person who can credibly win a statewide seat, and that's Scott Brown,” he said. “If Kerry goes to Secretary of State, the question will be whether Scott Brown tries to win a special election again, or whether he points his machine toward the governor's office. I know Charlie Baker has expressed interest in running for governor again, but it's ultimately all going to come down to what Brown chooses to do.”

Raymond posited a Brown versus Murray race for the governor’s seat, something he says a lot of people would welcome.

“Brown's a Bill Weld/Mitt Romney type, and Murray hasn't done himself many favors over his time on Beacon Hill. Given that Deval Patrick basically needed Tim Cahill in the race to keep Baker back, I can't imagine Murray, who's less savvy and has more baggage, getting as much default support,” Raymond said.

Coakley vs Cahill

News about Attorney General Martha Coakley also circulated this week with the closing of the trial of GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™ and former State Treasurer, Tim Cahill. After days of deliberation, the trial ended in a mistrial, which left some scratching their heads about Coakley’s decisions and statutes in question.

“If anything, her decision to take Cahill to trial looks overly political in the face of the mistrial. She has very few good options here,” said Duffy. “There is not a big upside for her in either dropping the case or retrying it. As long as she doesn’t retry the case, Cahill can claim vindication and start to rehabilitate himself politically, but he may find it a long road.”

While Cahill’s road to potential political recovery is an uphill one, Miller says that the same doesn’t apply for Coakley.

“I think the mistrial reflects more about the extreme difficulties of proving political corruption than it does about the skills of the Attorney General,” he said. “The mistrial may require that the legislature revise the new political corruption state statute that was in question in this case.”

Miller added that further questions may arise about the language and stipulations of the statute: “The statute may be too vague and make it too difficult to prove criminal behavior so that no prosecutor will be able to get a conviction under the language of this statute,” he said. 


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