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Simply the Best

Mar 05, 2017 05:45AM ● Published by State House News

Gov. Charlie Baker presented Appeals Court Justice Elspeth Cypher, his latest nominee to the Supreme Judicial Court, at a Governor's Council hearing Wednesday morning. The council is expected to vote on confirmation next Wednesday. If Cypher is confirmed, Baker appointees would constitute a majority of the state's highest court. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]


Massachusetts residents got a reminder this week of something that can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day political skirmishes: the state isn't a half-bad place to live.

Recap and analysis of the week in state governmentU.S. News & World Report, in its first-ever state rankings, declared Massachusetts the best of the united 50. 

With his state catapulted over the heap by its top-rated education system and superior access to health care, Gov. Charlie Baker got to leave a conference of his peers in Washington to appear on CBS This Morning Tuesday and crow about all that Massachusetts has to offer – an enviable spot for a Republican governor trying to navigate through his blue state's politics.

The picture painted by U.S. News stands, in a some respects, as a counter-argument to the daily debates on Beacon Hill. To hear some tell it, Massachusetts is drowning in debt, income inequality and a lack of affordable housing. Tens of thousands of students are being left behind by the public school system, and health care and energy costs are crushing families and small businesses.

But in Massachusetts, being ranked number one is unlikely to be enough, just like five Super Bowl rings on Tom Brady's right hand couldn't stop the parade-goers last month from chanting: “We want six.”

Now it's on Baker, the Legislature, mayors and everyone else to keep the top spot.

While it may not be in everyone's nature to accentuate the positive, no one in Massachusetts is quite on President Donald Trump's level of “American carnage.” But Trump gave his first not-technically-a-State-of-the-Union address to Congress on Tuesday night, and adopted what the pundits deemed a more “presidential” and uplifting tone and demeanor, even if the policy had not changed all that much.

Former Republican Congressman Chris Shays, who famously worked with Marty Meehan on campaign finance reform, told “Greater Boston” host Jim Braude that he gave the president an A- for his remarks, but was quick to make clear the unpredictable president was being graded on a pretty steep curve.

However, the positive reviews for Trump in what seemed like a reset for his presidency quickly gave way to more troubling headlines about contacts his campaign may have had with Russian officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sessions recused himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign that might be underway, but so far has not caved to pressure from Democrats – including the state's entire Congressional delegation – to resign over what, at the very least, was incomplete testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearing about a meeting he had with the Russian ambassador during the campaign season when he was a U.S. senator.

The state Senate is hoping that its bridge building with the business community is going more smoothly than Trump's. After first inviting the Massachusetts Business Roundtable in for a bipartisan caucus, this week's caucus guest was Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

"I'm hoping that today represents sort of a reset of the relationship between AIM and the Senate," said AIM's John Regan during the public portion of the caucus. 

As the more liberal of the two branches, Senate leaders have their work cut out for them if they hope to get back in the good graces of the business community and champion causes like paid family and medical leave. 

Attorney General Maura Healey was one of the voices calling for Sessions to resign the same week she confronted Texas Rep. Lamar Smith over perceived interference with her investigation into Exxon Mobil's climate research. 

Healey called on Smith's committee to drop its subpoena of documents pertaining to her investigation, while at the same time requesting documents for herself pertaining to any mention of the committee's investigation into her actions.

All of this the same week Healey saw Trump not in court, but face to face at the White House where joined fellow attorneys general in a meeting with the president that was disclosed not by her office, but the White House itself.

Healey seems to relish her role as a Trump antagonizer, which cannot be said for Sen. Patricia Jehlen and her new role as Senate chair of the Committee on Marijuana Policy.

Instead, Jehlen seems to be steeling herself for the job as she prepares reluctantly to tackle one of the most high-profile assignments of the year for a lawmaker – making changes to the 2016 marijuana legalization law. 

“I think it's a really important job. It's not one I was hoping for because it's a lot of work and it's not an area that I have a lot of expertise in, but I'm getting there," Jehlen said during an, at times, awkward radio interview on WBUR.

Speaking of reluctance, MassDOT this week finally published a solicitation for bids to study the feasibility of constructing a North-South rail tunnel between North Station and South Station in Boston that would create a seamless route up the East Coast from Washington to Maine.

Baker is highly skeptical of the project, which is backed by former Govs. Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld, but he has agreed at least to study its potential for $1.5 million.

After weeks of infighting among members of the Governor's Council, the enigmatic panel pulled off a disciplined hearing on Baker's newest nominee to the Supreme Judicial Court, who appears bound for confirmation.

Judge Elspeth Cypher, who was able to marry her partner after the court she now hopes to sit on legalized gay marriage, defended a woman's “absolute right” to choice regarding her health, and declared her opposition to the death penalty. 

She was more circumspect when it came to the legal basis for cities offering “sanctuary” to immigrants, which coincidentally was also on the mind of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu when he blamed Lawrence and its policy toward immigration for his state's fentanyl problem.

Lawrence has become the scapegoat for other New England governors and their opioid problems. Just ask Maine Gov. Paul LePage. And Sununu vaguely threatened to send his police forces into neighboring states if they couldn't keep the drugs out of New Hampshire themselves.

But Baker said “pointing fingers” - as Sununu did – is unhelpful and misses the larger picture of an opioid addiction problem and drug trade that has many root causes and avenues that allow it to flourish. 

Always the peacemaker, Baker said only together will the states effectively be able to fight the drug epidemic.

If U.S. News & World report validated Baker's "Let's Be Great, Massachusetts" slogan from 2015, adopting Deval Patrick's "Together We Can" may be coming back into vogue.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Massachusetts keeps winning so much, it's going to get sick of winning.
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