SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 27, 2013

Benton: Looking ahead to 2014

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — The end of the year provides an opportunity for looking back, as well as forward. In the political realm, 2013 brought some notable changes on the local front. But the year about to begin will bring a big test for Democrats and Republicans both in Washington and on Beacon Hill.

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I suspect that even a Hawaiian vacation won’t keep President Obama from fretting over the disastrous rollout of a universal health insurance plan he’d hoped would be the crowning achievement of his eight years in office. Turns out Republicans would have done him a big favor by blocking its implementation.

A few months ago the GOP’s inept effort to hold the functioning of government hostage to the health-care issue had many predicting a Democratic rout in next fall’s mid-term elections. Today, the public’s confusion and doubt over “Obamacare” has raised Republican hopes for a takeover of the Senate in January of 2015.

Indeed, The Associated Press reported Monday, “Thanks to the fiasco that followed the launch of President Barack Obama’s health care law, Democrats are bracing for hard-fought Senate races in states (Michigan and Colorado) they had hoped to win with ease just two months ago.”

Of course this favorable outlook could change if Republicans allow the more extreme elements of their party to control the choice of candidates.

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Here in the Bay State, voters’ attention will be focused on the race for governor. With Deval Patrick opting not to seek another term, the Democratic race will pit two of his fellow constitutional officers – Attorney General Martha Coakley and Treasurer Steve Grossman – against each other. On the other hand, businessman (and former Swampscott selectman) Charlie Baker should have the Republican field pretty much to himself with former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s decision to seek greener pastures and a more friendly constituency in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, voters may have an opportunity to weigh in on the commonwealth’s recent turn toward a more pro-tax, anti-business environment. (Which may help explain why, for the first time in years, the state’s unemployment rate now exceeds the national average.)

There are efforts to get referendums on the November 2014 ballot that would raise the minimum wage, as well as dictate the number of nurses hospitals must have on duty and the amount of sick time employers must offer their workers. Having installed decidedly union-friendly politicians in Congress and at Boston City Hall in recent months, voters might want to say enough is enough by rejecting the automatic gas-tax hikes approved by the Legislature this session.

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One of the more interesting legislative races locally should be in Peabody where upstart Republican Leah Cole – the surprise winner in last spring’s special election held to fill the vacancy created by the death of state Rep. Joyce Spiliotis – will be seeking her first full term. Democrats said to be contemplating a challenge to Cole include School Committeewoman Beverley Griffin Dunne and City Councilor Tom Gould.

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Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll will start the new year with a drastically refashioned city council after several veteran anti-administration councilors were shown the door by voters last November. This may have cooled her ardor for seeking statewide office, at least this time around.

On the other hand, there are reports state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, may be seeking other opportunities.

Meanwhile look for Driscoll and Keenan to continue pushing for construction of Footprint Power’s proposed gas plant on the city’s waterfront. A court decision on the matter expected this spring or summer could have grave consequences for both Salem and consumers of electricity throughout the region.

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Political columnist Nelson Benton retired as editorial page editor of The Salem News in 2012.