By Alan Burke
---- — SALEM — You might think the Salem City Council is a place where issues are hard-fought and things get personal. And you might think it a suitable proving ground for someone headed to bigger battles on Beacon Hill.
When Sen. Joan Lovely took her seat under the golden dome, however, she found an environment that was tough but in a different way.
“The biggest adjustment for me — and I didn’t see it coming — was dealing with partisan politics,” she said. “... I really didn’t appreciate how decisions are made because of party affiliation.”
For all its combativeness, the City Council is nonpartisan. There, Lovely was often seen as a soothing voice, working to unite fellow councilors.
After a year on Beacon Hill, she may have found a similar role in the Senate. Though Republicans represent a small minority, she notes, “We have really terrific Republicans.” She singles out North Shore colleague Bruce Tarr of Gloucester. “Republicans bring in some good ideas.”
It might just be good politics to say so. Lovely beat two veteran Democrats, former Peabody Rep. John Slattery and former Governor’s Councilor Mary Ellen Manning, last year to succeed the retiring Fred Berry. She dubs herself “a fiscal conservative but social liberal.”
Recently, she joined Tarr in voting to repeal a measure allowing the gasoline tax to rise with inflation. The amendment was easily defeated. And Lovely all but apologizes for her earlier vote supporting the tax last summer. “I did not want it indexed to inflation,” she said, but the tax was part of a package that included things she wanted to support.
Lovely doesn’t believe her fiscally conservative votes have alienated the Senate’s Democratic leadership, however. When she opposes her party’s position, “I always let the leadership know. If they’re requesting a certain vote ... I tell them I can’t be with you.”
Life as a state senator has meant a busy schedule, weekly office hours in the district, service on committees, and lots of work getting up to speed on issues, particularly those in her mental health and substance abuse committee. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job, but I knew that going in,” she said. On Christmas Eve day, for example, she did a newspaper interview while driving to a meeting in the district.
For all that, Lovely points to key first-year efforts, including work on controlling the tolls North Shore residents pay to get to Boston. She supported photo IDs for those receiving government benefits. And she voted with colleagues to increase Chapter 90 (highway) aid from $200 million to $300 million.
“The governor (Deval Patrick) is the one that releases these funds,” she said. “But he only released $200 million. Cities and towns were counting on that $100 million. ... He’s sitting on it.”
Additionally, Lovely helped pass a home rule petition allowing Peabody to take its police chief out of Civil Service, giving the mayor more flexibility in hiring a replacement when former Chief Robert Champagne retired. A parking garage was approved for Beverly — she praises Rep. Jerry Parisella’s work on that one. And she supported increased spending for the developmentally disabled.
Lovely credits her staff and regular advice from Fred Berry, the respected former majority leader, with easing her way. Looking ahead, with a November election on her calendar, she hopes to address homelessness and its cost in towns like Danvers, where local motels provide emergency shelter.