fb-pixel

Charlie Baker has fiscal problems, Stan Rosenberg has domestic issues, and Robert DeLeo's got a federal prosecutor who won't give up.

That's not a good way to begin a new year.

Or least that's the view from the dark side. More positively, each can feel pretty good.

Baker has broken all modern records for a governor emerging from the first year with polling numbers that Ted Kennedy would have loved.

Rosenberg can feel pleased that the Senate, under his leadership, went toe to toe with DeLeo, the wily House speaker, and held its own. And that his leadership style of allowing the members to set much of the Senate’s agenda — rarely seen on Beacon Hill and much scoffed at by the old guard — survived its first lap.

And DeLeo, well, he is still there, as strong as a granite block, keeping a firm grip on his powerful position, having eliminated the eight-year term limits for speakers — not to mention having run out the clock on any potential legal problems that the patronage scandal in the state probation department could have caused him. The only thing left are the huge legal bills.

Advertisement



To be sure, there was not a lot done on Beacon Hill in 2015. Many important issues — the future of the state's solar industry, a plan to deal with the state's opioid crisis, an overhaul of the state's public records law, the expansion of charter schools — were kicked over into this year.

All that and more will now have to play out in an election year, a semiannual political dynamic that often limits bold legislative options. It creates a tough dilemma for Rosenberg and DeLeo: Both need to protect politically vulnerable members while trying to make up lost ground from last year's limp legislative session.

The politics will not be easy for Baker either. He needs to walk a very fine line: as governor looking for legislative cooperation from Democrats and as a partisan leader on the campaign trail trying to defeat Democratic legislators and bolster the GOP ranks. All the while facing a tough fiscal mess.

"It's ironic that the governor has developed close ties to legislative leaders but so little legislation was passed in 2015,'' said Michael Widmer, the former president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association and longtime State House observer. "It won't get any easier in 2016 with tight budgets and an election year."

Advertisement



In fact, Widmer sees a potentially combustible political year that could tear at the cordial harmony that now reigns.

"The common desire for progress on key policy issues will likely collide with the politics of an election year and the reality of tight budgets," he said.

Here's a look at what's in store for each of the Beacon Hill leaders.

Governor Charlie Baker

The Republican governor begins his second year amid the longest honeymoon period in recent memory. And the good feelings come from across the board. Liberal Democrats cut him a lot of slack. The conservative right won't say anything negative, at least publicly. A frustrated Democratic Party hasn't landed a punch on him.

Yes, there were missteps — his responses to the South Carolina confederate flag flap and the Syrian refugee issue drew sharp criticism. But by the end of the year when Donald Trump wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country, there was no hesitation to his outrage. It was real and from the gut, not processed through his cautious conservative reflex.

Now with the new year, the rubber meets the road. The fiscal and management problems Baker inherited are his. The MBTA's performance after a mere sprinkle of snow or this week's cold snap was not impressive. Broken state agencies — along with budget problems — can't be blamed anymore on the Patrick administration. Dealing with all that without new revenue will be a huge challenge.

Advertisement



And the coalition that elected him may be fraying. He is in a battle with right-wing activists within the party over control of the GOP state committee. Much to the frustration of criminal justice reform advocates, he continues to drag his feet on promises to tackle a very broken prison system.

He also needs to find some big, visionary moves. The extension of the Green Line could be a marquee infrastructure project of his tenure. But the green eye-shades emerge when he thinks about the hefty price tag. The political argument: This means a lot to the Democratic strongholds in which he needs to make inroads.

He could bring dramatic changes to the state's anemic prison rehabilitation programs and high inmate recidivism rates — making an argument for fiscal prudence and pleasing a liberal constituency as well.

A key part of his expected 2016 agenda — rallying the public behind a campaign to curb the opioid epidemic — could be one of the hallmarks of his four-year term.

In his favor going forward is his good working relationship with the Legislature. He has particularly found a natural ally in DeLeo, whose political leanings are more conservative and pro-business than Rosenberg and the Senate.

Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg

The Amherst lawmaker can feel good about consolidating his support in the Senate. He is popular with most of his colleagues, though there are pockets of passive resistance in the Democratic caucus.

Advertisement



To be sure, his first year had its missteps, its successes, and its troublesome undercurrents.

He started out with a serious blunder when he pushed DeLeo to change the legislative committee system to give the Senate more influence in the process. The speaker didn't even consider it, and the move created tension in their relationship.

Still, the Senate was able to claim a list of accomplishments that include leading the push to expand income tax breaks for low wager earners, shaping much of the MBTA's fiscal control board, and getting increased funding for the University of Massachusetts.

Among the issues on Rosenberg's agenda this year are pay equity for women and criminal justice reforms. Also, look for some bold moves on public records and charter schools.

But lurking in the shadows is Rosenberg's relationship with Bryon Hefner, his 28-year-old fiance, whose erratic behavior has put Rosenberg's Senate allies on edge and threatens to undercut his leadership. Even some of his strongest Senate supporters are nervous that Hefner's bizarre intrusions into Rosenberg's public life could weaken the Senate's standing in the sharp-elbowed politics of the State House.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo

If it could be said that Rosenberg, with his shared leadership system, runs a commune, DeLeo, as he enters his eighth year as the House leader, runs a plantation where he calls the shots. He relies heavily on a handful of aides and veteran allies to set the House agenda. That, according to House insiders, is because there is a not a deep bench of savvy, experienced lawmakers to run the committees.

Advertisement



Other than using the T crisis to force the rollback of the pro-labor Pacheco Law and saving the film tax credit, DeLeo finished 2015 getting blamed for squandering a chance to act on some important issues — solar energy, public records, and transgender rights.

Stung by the bad press, DeLeo begins the new year a lot thinner physically and seemingly more healthy and energetic. Out of the box, he laid down a marker this week by declaring his opposition to any tax increase, a move that kills any prospects of new levies to ease the state's fiscal constraints.

But there is an undercurrent of unhappiness in the House among some who believe DeLeo has overstayed his welcome as leader. There is increased private grumbling over his top-down leadership and avoidance of bold moves. Some liberals, with a laugh, even express a longing for the days of Tom Finneran, the conservative Democratic speaker who ran a tight ship and brooked little dissent. But he was also accessible. Rank-and-file members find it difficult to get time with DeLeo.

The speaker's relations with Rosenberg could go from shakey to bad. The Senate president is intent on separating most of the joint House-Senate committees, a move the House fiercely rejects. And the increasingly hard feelings between their staffs could exacerbate tensions.

But the leaders of both branches know the optics of a 2015 do-nothing Legislature — and they know they need to protect their members by creating some positive record.

DeLeo also begins the year with a long lingering federal investigation to determine if he played role in the probation-hiring scam still percolating. His legal team insists that he did nothing wrong and the statute of limitations has expired.

Still, the fact the grand jury has been taking testimony puts the House on edge — and pushes DeLeo's legal bills ever higher.


Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com.