State House News Service Weekly Roundup: Exit 10A

The Massachusetts State House.

The rush from Beacon Hill to the westbound turnpike this week had as much to do with two of Worcester’s political sons beating feet from the capitol as with the impending Memorial Day weekend.

As Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray attempted as graceful an exit as possible from politics, fellow Worcester Democrat Rep. John Fresolo made his hasty escape under an ethics cloud feeling “marginalized” by his peers and pressured to resign, which he did.

If not for those two storylines, the focus may have been on the Senate’s breakneck budget debate concluding Thursday night as senators wiped their hands clean of 725 amendments and passed a $ 34 billion fiscal 2014 budget without the need for Senate President Therese Murray to threaten a Friday or Saturday workday.

But on this week in late May, Tim Murray one of his wishes, for better or worse, as the gaze of the Boston political media was affixed firmly for once on central Massachusetts.

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Murray leaves the administration after next week to take over as president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, a job closer to home and his family that will pay at least $ 75,000 more than he was earning as a sidekick to Patrick. He’ll finish his service with one last sniff of power as acting governor when Patrick travels to Chicago on Friday to headline the Organizing for Action Illinois State Founders Summit. 

Murray said he was not actively looking to leave before his term expires. But his decision was not a total shocker since Murray already pulled the plug on his political career in January when he decided not to run for governor, the job many that he would pursue after running in lockstep with Patrick for so many years.

For the most part, the arranged marriage between Murray and Gov. Deval Patrick turned out to be a happy and prosperous one. Since 2006, Murray has rarely, if ever, contradicted Patrick on policy or politics, and he was a foot soldier in the 2010 reelection campaign while maintaining good ties with municipal leaders who mostly like and trust the former mayor.

However, the Worcester Democrat’s star started to dim in the winter of 2011 after a poorly explained pre-dawn car crash on a Sterling highway and subsequent questions about his ties to corrupt former Chelsea Housing Authority Director Michael McLaughlin. 

All Murray wanted to do on Wednesday was take a bow, talk about his work on municipal partnerships and STEM education, and sail off into the Worcester sunset. Instead, what he got was more questions about McLaughlin, the possibility of a future indictment and whether he had any regrets.

“Tim, I just want to tell you, once a part of this family, always a part of this family and as a grateful governor, a grateful citizen and friend I’m awful glad we passed this way together,” Patrick told Murray at his farewell press conference, before joking (maybe, not entirely) that he was “miffed” Murray was leaving him to deal with Terry, Bob and the Governor’s Council alone.

The founders of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts saw fit to create the position of lieutenant governor, but did not see the office as important enough to warrant a replacement should its occupant leave office. And so it is that Patrick will finish – or not – his second term without a lieutenant, and Secretary of State William Galvin moves within one Obama nomination of the governorship.

Massachusetts voters may not have heard the last of Tim Murray. Not sure if Murray really wanted to lump himself in with the likes of Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, but he did anyway when he said he would not rule out a future return to politics. “There’s all these comeback stories. Just read the news,” he said.

While Murray was saying goodbye on Wednesday, Fresolo, too, decided to pull the plug on his political career while under investigation for undisclosed ethical violations that, according to some involved, included abuse of per diem travel expenses.

Fresolo told the Telegram and Gazette he felt “marginalized” by the process and could no longer effectively serve his district while on the outs with his colleagues. Fresolo’s suggestion that he was pressured to resign, and did so after negotiations with the Ethics Committee, prompted a flat denial from House Speaker Robert DeLeo, the only official words to emerge from the investigation.

“No member or officer of the House of Representatives pressured John Fresolo to resign. His resignation was not the product of negotiations,” a DeLeo spokesman said in a statement. 

The public may never know what really happened behind closed and guarded doors in the State House where the Ethics Committee took nearly 20 hours of testimony, but one source said Fresolo “got hammered” during the proceedings, and there seemed little doubt a public airing of his transgressions would have followed had he not resigned. Since that was probably not what Fresolo or his House colleagues wanted, the resignation card was played and the House never had to deal with laying out to the public a case for any sort of punishment. 

The other Murray – Senate President Therese Murray – spent her week shepherding the other 38 members of the Senate through what could be her penultimate budget debate, navigating 725 amendments to produce a $ 39.989 billion spending plan for fiscal 2014. Though she did let Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg wield the gavel a bit more than usual.

Many amendments were adopted, adding $ 64.8 million in spending to the bottom line for salary increases for human service workers and other programs. The Senate also joined the House in agreeing to pay raises for judges. More amendments were rejected than adopted, including a large block related to public assistance the Senate chieftain said would be addressed when she rolls out a welfare reform bill in the coming weeks.

While Sen. Mark Montigny quarreled with some of his colleagues about the value and appropriateness of addressing policy in a budget versus the traditional committee process, few had qualms with tacking on systematic reforms to the Sex Offender Registry system. The Senate added new classification and disclosure rules that address one of the few named priorities to get addressed by either branch this session.

“A lot of these predators are incurable recidivists. We are going to have to figure out what to do. At least the folks will have the ability to know that the person living three doors down is an animal,” Sen. Gale Candaras said, contending for quote of the week.

Republican Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez also made a strong play for most quote-worthy by calling U.S. Rep. Ed Markey “pond scum” for approving a critical ad juxtaposing his picture with that of Osama bin Laden. That’s how Gomez capped a week that started side-by-side in Dorchester with Sen. John McCain, who believes in Gomez even if he did call him Gabriel Giffords.

Markey, meanwhile, accepted an endorsement from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino as he absorbed incoming fire for missing votes in Congress while maintaining a light public campaign schedule. And to cap it off, the Malden Democrat, on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, succumbed to pressure and made available eight years of tax returns dating to 2005.
The debates can’t start soon enough.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Lt. Gov. Tim Murray headlined Worcester week in Boston, becoming the first lieutenant governor since Secretary of State John Kerry to step down from the post mid-term.

POPPY AND NONNA: Governor. His Excellency. Deval. And now Poppy. He goes by many names, but Gov. Deval Patrick this week became a grandfather when his eldest daughter Sarah gave birth to Gianluca Noah Patrick Morgese in San Francisco. First Lady Diane Patrick wants to be called Nonna. Born two months early, the newest addition to the Patrick family is said to be doing well, and the grandfather is “over the moon.” Expect the governor to be travelling west soon, and leaving the keys temporarily to Acting Gov. Galvin.

South End Patch