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The Download: Senator Zelig

Posted in: Current Affairs   Education   Massachusetts Legislature   Municipal government
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Another week, another round of head-scratching and hand-wringing over just who Scott Brown (Wrentham resident, truck owner, and current occupant of the People’s Seat in the US Senate) really is.

Brown is giving Massachusetts Democratic Party loyalists heartburn right now, because he’s making it very, very difficult for his prospective opponents to paint him as a crazed partisan in the Mitch McConnell mode, or even as a toothier version of Mitt Romney.

He’s more slippery than that. Brown supports waterboarding, but he’s following John Kerry into bed with the Russians. He voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but that was before he voted to jettison the policy. He opposed Barney Frank’s sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulations, and then cast a critical vote in favor of the legislation. He’s a deficit hawk who wants to cut taxes across the board.

All of this ideological zig-zagging makes life difficult for Massachusetts Democrats, who have made toppling Brown in 2012 their top priority. How does somebody like Mike Capuano, for instance, pillory Brown’s stint in the Senate when they voted alike on several high-profile issues? Brown’s enviable polling numbers and ever-growing campaign war chest should tilt the field against most would-be challengers. He’s that much stronger if he can credibly cobble together some sort of independent-ish voting record – if only because his opponents will have fits trying to buttonhole who Brown is, and what he stands for.

That’s sort of the point. It’s worth revisiting Paul Kix’s Boston magazine profile of Brown, which was written during the health care imbroglio, and ran back in May. It predicted the way Brown would maneuver in the Senate, and encapsulates why he’s such a strong, if maddening, candidate to run against: “He can make up an ideology as he goes along, couching his ad hoc approach as the workings of an independent thinker voting his conscience, even as one vote counters a previous one or stinks of political expediency. That’s the beauty of his improvisation: No one but Brown knows why he’s doing it. He can, in other words, allow people to project onto him whatever they wish, to see in him whatever fits their ideology, because it’s all true.”

                                                                                                                                                                                    --PAUL MCMORROW

EDUCATION

In a seismic shift, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is embracing the use of student MCAS scores in the evaluation of teachers. Tying student progress to teacher evaluations has become a centerpiece of education reform proposals, including the federal Race to the Top initiative, but unions have fiercely resisted the idea. The MTA announcement appears to make the union the first statewide teachers' organization to get on board with the idea.

Dominion, the energy company that owns the Salem Harbor Station, gives $1 million to the Salem public schools and $200,000 to two school support groups, the Salem News reports.

Fitchburg teachers sign a new contract. The city hopes to pay for raises by coaxing some teachers into early retirement.

Beacon Hill

WBUR takes an interesting look at the lemming-like culture on Beacon Hill.

A newly-elected North Shore lawmaker is being called up for a year-long Army tour in Iraq, and he’s resisting calls to vacate his seat while overseas.

The Boston Herald notes a series recent spats at the Governor’s Council, and then wonders out loud why the body still exists.

WASHINGTON

Scott Brown jumps on board with the New START arms control pact, backing a treaty that has become a career moment for his colleague, John Kerry, who is leading the Senate push to ratify the agreement. Only days after he voted to end “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” Brown's move is sure to set off further teeth gnashing among would-be Democratic challengers who were hoping, against the odds, that he'd throw in with the troglodyte wing of his party.

Could Republicans overreach in taking today's Census report and reshaping Congressional districts across the country? National Journal's Jim O'Sullivan explains how.

While some say Gov. Deval Patrick’s road to victory gives President Obama a template for reelection, The American Spectator says the election also holds danger signs for US Sen. Scott Brown if a viable third-party candidate, vis a vis Tim Cahill, decides to join the race and split the anti-Democratic vote.

Politifact separates fact from political fiction, and finds a lot of whoppers in Washington.

Getting to know you: The NH Journal publishes a list of the top 50 activists, lobbyists, political operatives and others that any aspiring presidential candidate should seek out in the Granite State. NH Journal via Political Wire.

He Who Makes Plastic Look Real: A defense of "Multiple Choice Mitt." Plain Blog About Politics via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish

MUNICIPAL AFFAIRS

Complete Makeover, Quincy edition, gets the green light from the city council in the City of Presidents.

In Lynnthere's a debate about what to do with $7.7 million in free cash. According to a story in the Item, the mayor wants to sock it away in a stabilization fund, while two city councilors think it could be used to lower the tax rate.

A walk down Boston's Washington Street with Andrea Shea and David Boeri as they remember what's gone and what's coming back.

Rehoboth selectmen meet behind closed doors with the town’s police chief, who was detained while allegedly intoxicated last month in Providence.

CASINOS

An Appeals Court judge said he’ll have a decision soon after he heard arguments yesterday on whether to uphold an injunction stopping movement on a proposed deal to build a casino in a Fall River industrial park that had been intended for biotech.

NAACP

On “Greater Boston,” Michael Curry, just elected president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, talks about what needs to be done to revitalize the one-time powerhouse group that’s become an afterthought after nearly a century of advocacy.

CHARITY

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports donor-advised funds – those charities that rely on wealth givers – are rebounding from the past couple of down years and many expect a surge at the end of the year with the tax cut deal signed by Obama last week.

BUSINESS

On his Mass Market blog, Patriot Ledger business editor Jon Chesto has a year-end round-up of the strangest business stories of 2010, including an ode to the guy who found a way to use dog poop to power park lanterns.

The FCC secures the votes to impose sweeping new regulations on internet traffic.

Energy and the Environment

With the death of a national cap and trade plan, the Washington Post reports that the country's environmental groups have turned their attention to advocacy and activism at the state level.

Trial by fire: Incoming energy and environmental affairs secretary Richard Sullivan gets an earful from western Mass residents about state parks, biomass, and more.

HEALTH

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wonders why the right is suddenly trafficking in so much anti-vegetable rhetoric. And not a moment too soon – Mama Grizzly has a hankerin’ for some s’mores, and no anti-obesity campaign is going to stand in her way, at least as long as the television cameras are around.

2010 Census

Harvard economist Edward Glaeser  tells The Christian Science Monitor that looser zoning rules have sparked housing booms in Texas and other Sun Belt states at the expense of regions like coastal California. In 2010 Census terms, that means population gains for the red states and losses for blue states.

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