Keller at Large

Keller: Jake from State Yarn

On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller takes aim at Congressman Jake Auchincloss and some “classic rookie” mistakes the U.S. representative has made. Keller’s take: “As a veteran of the hopeless war in Afghanistan, Auchincloss should be familiar with hollow leadership claims and premature declarations of victory. A prolific re-election fundraiser, he’ll have plenty of his own money to spend.”


Happening Today


10 a.m. |  Judiciary Committee  hears six bills, including the governor’s dangerousness bill I(H 4290).

10 a.m. | Boston Mayor Wu announces affordable housing investments.

12 p.m. | Labor Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan announces her campaign for attorney general at the Ironworkers Local 7 Hall on Old Colony Avenue in Boston.

3 p.m. | Transportation Committee has 86 bills on the docket for a hearing dealing with commuter rail, the environment, rail operations, license plates and vehicle registration, including legislation calling for an audit of Keolis, the private commuter-rail operator.

6:30 p.m. | Congresswoman Katherine Clark joins a virtual roundtable on the child care crisis and other matters of education and care

7 p.m. | Gov. Baker delivers his final State of the Commonwealth address from the Hynes Convention Center

Today’s Stories

Good morning and happy State of the Commonwealth day.

If you’re heading to see the speech live at the Hynes tonight, bring a mask. And if you haven’t signed up yet for the MASSterList and State House News Service panel this morning on ARPA spending, featuring opening remarks from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, there’s still time.

But about that speech.

“If I had to sum up the past year in office in one phrase, it would be the following: Don’t be surprised when you get surprised.” That is Charles D. Baker, speaking not in 2021, or in the text of the speech he’ll deliver tonight, but at the top of his very first State of the Commonwealth address, in 2016. (Everybody actually calls it the State of the State, but never mind.)

The hideous, overwhelming, complicated, unexpected crisis Baker had to deal with that first year, right out of the gate, was of course the nine feet of snow that fell from the end of January to the beginning of March. It’s as if it were practice for 2020.  That caused a collapse of the MBTA system that was – dare we say it? – unprecedented? – and Baker’s first State of the – whatever you want to call – focused on the fight to get the T running again in the short term, and his vow to fix it for good in the long term.

That did not happen, and more on that in a minute, but the point is, if you go back to the text of that first SOTC, what’s striking is how it sounds the theme of Baker’s whole time in office, or much of it. He came in with a plan, and then nature repeatedly, as Mike Tyson would put it, punched him in the mouth.

Baker tonight is expected to discuss ways his Republican administration has worked across the aisle with Democrats in the Legislature over the past seven years to deliver “bipartisan results,” according to a spokeswoman. He will also touch on legislation he’s trying to pass to protect survivors of domestic violence, and will detail “several new proposals to reduce the cost of living and housing for working families.”

Of course, he will also discuss the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19. We’ll be watching to see to what degree Baker warns the Commonwealth against divisiveness a la George Washington (okay, that’s too much, but sort of like that…) and how strongly he alludes to the brand of politics that effectively shoved him out of his job despite his having more to do and a good approval rating.

It’s way too early for epilogues or post-mortems on Baker’s governorship as a whole. But to some degree, his speech tonight is among his best chances this year to do that himself. When it comes time for the grand assessments of his administration this December, the T will come in for scrutiny, and he’ll come in for criticism. On COVID, well, the governor’s likely to point at the scoreboard the way athletes do, and note the polls show people generally approved of his handling of the calamity.

In anticipation of the speech, we asked those running for his job what one issue besides the near-term COVID crisis they most want to hear the governor address.  Nobody kept it to one, but, ah, well –

Danielle Allen, Democrat: “What I learned is that housing is the number one pain point for our communities — whether it’s people in Western Mass and on the Cape being forced to live in the woods, or the skyrocketing numbers of homeless students in Boston Public Schools.”

– Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Democrat: Funding the Student Opportunity Act and a commitment to a “more rigorous approach to fighting climate change, tackling our state’s housing crisis, and closing our yawning racial wealth divide.”   

Geoff Diehl, Republican: A “roadmap to normalcy,” and, “I want to know when he says we’re taking masks off kids in schools, when we’re going to rehire first responders who were let go due to vaccine mandates, and how we’re going to get our state’s economy back up and running.” 

* Attorney General Maura Healey’s campaign said they’d get back to us with a response, but didn’t make it. She’ll doubtless have something to say post-address.  

Liss-Riordan in for Healey’s job

This augurs what’s going to the biggest story of the week by Friday, most likely: the race that’s developing around the Maura Healey’s departure as attorney general, with ambition rushing in to fill the vacuum.  Labor attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who challenged U.S. Sen. Edward Markey in 2020, plans to announce her bid for AG today at noon at the Ironworkers Local 7 union hall in South Boston where the labor organization will also be endorsing her candidacy, according to SHNS’s Matt Murphy

State House News Service

The vax dance continues with Boston city unions

The Globe updates Mayor Wu‘s somewhat torturous effort to put a vaccine mandate in place for city workers, without running too far afoul of the municipal unions. Meanwhile, columnist Joan Vennochi says there’s a larger agenda than just fighting the mandate in play for the firefighters leading the resistance to the mandate.  And Saraya Wintersmith of GBH News has coverage of the mayor’s press conference to announce a 94 percent city-worker vax rate.

Relief over relief: Baker says no clawback on UI overpayments

The suggestion there might be a new round of demand notices from the state to people who received overpayment of their unemployment insurance benefits caused a fresh wave of consternation last week, and condemnatinon from the Globe’s editorial board.  But Gov. Baker made clear Monday: “no clawback.”   Matt Murphy of the SHNS (paywall) has the story.

State House News Service

Nearly normal? State House could reopen next month

Almost. Senate President Karen Spilka emerged from a meeting with fellow legislative leaders optimistic that the State House will reopen to the public in February, though access to the public may return in phases and will likely require proof of vaccination, Bruce Mohl of CommonWealth reports.


Welfare demand on the rise after end of federal aid

The Eagle Tribune’s intrepid Christian Wade examines a phenomenon that went mostly unnoticed when federal unemployment-assistance augmentation ended – though it was certainly noticed by workers and labor officials who had to deal with the pain and disruption, as he reports.


The chemistry just doesn’t seem to be right

“Rising costs and dwindling interest” is the formula for termination of state initiatives, or should be, and it appears to be coming into play with the MCAS subject exams for chemistry and technology/engineering.

Eagle Tribune


Apologies to Jenna Russell of the Globe, whose name we misspelled yesterday.

There’s a new Sheriff in tow…no, wait, he’s DA

Saraya Wintersmith of GBH has a readable, worthwhile Q and A with interim Suffolk County D.A. Kevin Hayden, whose appointment by the governor to replace Rachael Rollins got wide approval locally. Hayden shies away from the progressive mantle, and talks about his Priority One: going after illegal guns. Via the Bay State Banner.

Bay State Banner

Speaking of DAs…..

Navy Veteran and Sandwich attorney John “Jack” Carey will announce his bid for Cape and Islands district attorney, joining the race on the Republican side to succeed longtime, retiring DA Michael O’Keefe. “Cape Cod is our home and I want to offer my experiences and leadership that I gained from my Naval career and years as a litigator in the Massachusetts courts to ensure the laws are enforced and we keep the Cape and Islands, our home, safe for our families and our children,” Carey said in a statement.

Human error suspected in gate-crossing death

For the latest in the investigation of Friday’s terrible railroad-crossing fatality in Wilmington, let’s go right to the AP wireWCVB and other outlets report that rail operator Keolis has placed on leave the signal operator who may not have placed the crossing’s safety system in normal operating mode after testing.  Roberta Sausville, 68, of Wilmington, lost her life in the crash.

Opinion: Garcia says state will be better off with undocumented-immigrant licenses

Globe columnist Marcela Garcia notes that legislation to legalize the issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is stuck, not in traffic, but in the Transportation Committee, and maybe that’s worse. Garcela takes up the proponents’ cause, arguing that issuing the licenses would make the state safer, help the economy by enabling participation in the workforce and keep essential workers on the job, besides just being an humane thing to do.

Boston Globe

RIP Sen. Bill Owens

The first Black state senator in Massachusetts history has passed away.  Sen. Bill Owens died at skilled nursing facility in Brighton, the Globe said. His family said his health had been waning for several weeks, and he was recently diagnosed with COVID-19. In the vigor of his speeches and his advocacy, and his personal manner as well, Owens had style.

His family released a statement last night: “Bill Owens was our father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and friend. He was a transformational leader and kicked down barriers to access opportunities for people who were marginalized. He made his mark on the world stage from the United States to Europe, Asia, and Africa. He came from very humble beginnings in Demopolis, Alabama, moved to Boston at 15-years-old where he opened three neighborhood dry cleaning businesses in his 20’s, went to Harvard University, became senator, and traveled the world – making an impact everywhere he went. “

Boston Globe

Spika on ‘GBH, and Walensky on, well, ‘GBH

GBH has good stuff for the policy crowd on both the radio and TV airwaves (does the TV still have airwaves?) today.  Senate President Karen Spilka goes on Boston Public Radio at 11:30 a.m., while on GBH-TV’s Greater Boston, Centers for Disease Control Director Rachel Walensky talks to host Jim Braude about the COVID-19 fight and the attendant difficulties.

While You Were Out….

For the hundreds of MASSterList followers who used to be at the State House daily to do their jobs and miss it, a small update: they’ve moved the JFK statue from its odd place way back there on the mall on the west side, with its even stranger public access point, to a position much closer to the street that will yield a better interaction for tourists once the grounds are restored. The hard hitting MASSterList investigative unit is looking into exactly what all that digging is about, and will report back in due course.

Sam Doran of the News Service did a nice piece (paywall) on plans for the move a while back… now it’s happened, but for the time being, boy, what a mess.

Right Meets Left: NBP has a chuckle over Somerville’s vax-passport rejection

We’ll let his (paywalled) piece speak for itself, but Tom Joyce of the New Boston Post has a fine time writing up the Somerville Board of Health’s Jan. 20 rejection of a vax mandate for some city establishments.

New Boston Post

New residents, new holidays: Hopkinton moves to add Eid al Fitr, Lunar New Year

The face of Hopkinton is changing, and the school board might change the calendar to keep up.  Rebecca Tauber of GBH News reports the board will vote whether to excuse students from school on Eid al Fitr (the end of Ramadan) and Chinese Lunar New Year in a town that’s now 35 percent non-white and continuing to transform.


Not immune: Feds say Lenox, land of “millionaires,” now economically distressed

Hold onto your monocles. Larry Parnass of the Berkshire Eagle explains how Lenox, the Berkshires town whose high school teams are known as “the millionaires,” earned federal designation as an “economically distressed” community. Hint: It has to do with pandemic-related unemployment spikes.

Berkshire Eagle

Downsized projects cast shadow over Polar Park payback

Several of the private developments planned in the area around Polar Park in Worcester have been delayed or downsized since 2020, casting doubt on whether the special taxation district will raise enough funds to pay off all the bonds the city floated to build the country’s most expensive minor league ballpark. The Worcester Business Journal’s Katherine Hamilton breaks down the numbers.

Worcester Business Journal

Doubling down: Bay State to receive additional Afghan refugees

As many as 2,000 evacuees from Afghanistan could end up relocated to the Bay State, nearly double the number originally projected and likely more than all five other New England states combined, Philip Marcelo of the Associated Press reports. Advocates say the state is well prepared to handle the additional influx.

Daily Hampshire Gazette

Today’s Headlines


City Clerk Maureen Feeney, a fixture in Boston politics for nearly 35 years, to retire – WGBH

Mayor Wu says more than 94 percent of Boston city workers vaccinated – Boston Globe


Fall River City Council vote supports police use of body-worn cameras – Herald News


Georgia prosecutor granted special grand jury in probe of Trump’s efforts to overturn state’s election results – Washington Post

More senators join bipartisan gang seeking to reform Electoral Count Act – Politico

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