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'Raise Up Coalition' Sparks Backlash On Beacon Hill

Feb 06, 2017 11:03AM ● Published by State House News

Upon entering a Democratic caucus Thursday, House members were handed a copy of the rules that would govern the 160-member body for the current legislative session. Lawmakers would eventually go on to pass the rules package and override Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of pay raises for public officials. [Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS]

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON -- President Donald Trump's fledgling administration and legislative Democrats on Beacon Hill may have one thing in common - a willingness to test the boundaries of what the electorate might be willing to stomach before there are political consequences.

One difference, however, is that Trump told voters essentially what he planned to do before the November election. State lawmakers? Not exactly.

Trump crossed the line for many Massachusetts residents and elected leaders late last week when he signed an executive order halting refugee resettlement in the United States and restricting travel for immigrants and visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries.

While the White House insisted this was not the Muslim ban that Trump talked about during the campaign, many immigration advocates viewed it as just that and those in the state's higher education and technology worlds warned that it would cut off access to talent that helps drive the state economy.

The action sparked virulent protests throughout the weekend and led to Attorney General Maura Healey filing suit in federal court this week on behalf of the state and the University of Massachusetts seeking to overturn the order on constitutional grounds.

Back under the Dome, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg used the cover of the Trump chaos and the New England Patriots run-up to Super Bowl LI as an opportune time to finalize an $18 million package of pay raises for themselves and others by overriding the governor's veto.

For pay raise proponents, the override went about as smoothly as could be expected given the volume of phone calls and public opposition to the idea. Not one Democrat besides the 12 already on record in opposition defected in the week between the bill's passage and the vote. The 116-43 vote in the House and 31-9 vote in the Senate comfortably eclipsed the two-thirds margin needed in each branch to reverse the governor's veto.

In other words, no one who voted for the raise was swayed by either the governor's case against the bill or the public outcry.
Knowing they had the votes, leaders largely dispensed with the idea of speaking out to defend the move, but when they did they pointed again to the decades that have elapsed since salaries were seriously adjusted.

Rep. Jonathan Hecht of Watertown was one of the Democrats who joined with Republicans in opposition, and he got up to warn his colleagues that the lucrative stipends they were about to approve would only serve to make the House "more unequal, more hierarchical and less representative."

Hecht cautioned that lawmakers could become more concerned with appeasing their bosses who control the purse strings than the people they represent.

Calls from upset voters have reportedly poured in to some elected officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker. But as MassINC pollster Steve Koczela noted on Twitter: "Unless MA voting patterns change, the House could vote to ban apple pie and baseball without worrying too much."

In doing what they thought was right, or at least in their best political interests, Baker and Healey were actually brought closer together by the political tumult around them.

Baker bucked his party's president in backing Healey's legal challenge to Trump's executive order on immigration, and Healey waited ... and waited ... and waited until the Legislature finally overrode Baker's pay raise veto, but ultimately sided with him in deciding, like him, to reject a $39,000 pay raise.

While Republican lawmakers fretted over whether they absolutely had to turn down the money since they voted against it, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg also said she would forego a raise and Secretary of State William Galvin said he would take enough of it to make sure he got paid more than his subordinates, but probably not the whole amount.

The pay raise issue may have been a no-brainer for Baker, though conservatives may have liked to see a stronger effort from their governor to sustain his veto. Trump is another matter altogether.
The governor has come under some fire for not opposing Trump with a megaphone and avoiding some of the partisan-tinged protests that have headlined the past two weekends, but in his own way Baker has stepped further out on a limb to criticize Trump than some of the other GOP governors trying to navigate their own blue-state politics.

On Friday, Baker wrote a pleasant enough letter to Homeland Security John Kelly that initially seemed to butter up the new Trump adviser who happens to be a Bay State native. But deeper into the note, Baker called on the White House to stop its pause on refugees and rethink its immigration strategy.

"We do not need to abandon our humanitarian commitment to refugees in order to address the security threats raised by illegal immigration," Baker wrote.

Healey, who has made good on her promise to use her office to stand up to Trump, has not strayed from her insistence that she intends to seek re-election in two years and not challenge for the governorship. But that hasn't stopped Democrats from wondering as the race takes shape whether she might just try to bigfoot the field at the last minute.

Former state budget chief and health care executive Jay Gonzalez became the first Democrat to officially step up this week, launching his "Aim High" campaign more than 19 months before primary voters will choose their nominees.

Gonzalez will need the time as a first-time candidate to raise the money and build the grassroots infrastructure that will be needed to mount a formidable statewide campaign. Meanwhile, his principal rival at the moment - Newton Mayor Setti Warren - told the Lynn Item he feels he has at least four or five months before he must formally decide whether to get in the race.

It will take some time before anyone knows whether Gonzalez will be able to effectively channel his former boss Deval Patrick on the stump, but he started by going hard after Baker who he accused of lacking a vision for where he wants to take Massachusetts and too often taking a "wait-and-see" approach to leadership.

Gonzalez, in the round of interviews he gave to get his campaign off the ground, came out in opposition to the pay raise bill and in support of a $15 minimum wage and an income surtax on earnings over $1 million to pay universal pre-school. Time will tell whether he will ever be in the position to decide whether to accept the big raise approved this week, or the not insignificant, new $65,000 per year housing allowance approved for the governor.

Members of the State Senate voted on the override, as follows:
H.58 -- Question on passing, notwithstanding the objections of the Governor Senate -- Roll Call #9
YEAS.
Barrett, Michael J.
Keenan, John F.
Boncore, Joseph A.
Lesser, Eric P.
Brady, Michael D.
Lewis, Jason M.
Brownsberger, William N.
L'Italien, Barbara A.
Chandler, Harriett L.
Lovely, Joan B.
Chang-Diaz, Sonia
McGee, Thomas M.
Creem, Cynthia Stone
Montigny Mark C.
Cyr Julian
O'Connor Ives, Kathleen
DiDomenico, Sal N.
Pacheco, Marc R.
Donnelly, Kenneth J.
Rodrigues, Michael J.
Donoghue, Eileen M.
Rosenberg, Stanley C.
Eldridge, James B.
Rush, Michael F.
Flanagan, Jennifer L.
Spilka, Karen E.
Forry, Linda Dorcena
Timilty, James E.
Hinds, Adam G.
Welch, James T.
Jehlen, Patricia D.

NAYS
deMacedo, Viriato M.
O'Connor, Patrick M.
Fattman, Ryan C.
Ross, Richard J.
Gobi, Anne M.
Tarr, Bruce E.
Humason, Donald F., Jr.
Timilty, Walter F.
Moore, Michael O.

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