Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kerrigan takes on Naughton: Quixotic quest or shrewd politics?

This morning's Telegram & Gazette contained a certified campaign stunner: State Representative Harold Naughton of Clinton will not be running unopposed after all. Former Lancaster Selectman Stephen Kerrigan will compete with Naughton for the Democratic nomination:
Mr. Kerrigan, 36, a Democratic strategist who lives in Lancaster, said yesterday that while he has supported Mr. Naughton in the past, he has wanted to work in the Legislature for some time.

“I’ve worked on behalf of my community, the commonwealth and the country for nearly 20 years, and I consider this another opportunity to continue to use my experience and skills for the people of Massachusetts,” Mr. Kerrigan said....

“I want to do this job,” he said. “This has nothing to do with Hank (Naughton). When it comes right down to it, I just want to work in the Legislature. I have a desire to serve.”
I suppose it's not a total stunner, since I predicted back in February that Kerrigan would run for the seat, but I assumed Kerrigan would run because Naughton would be a candidate for State Senate. If you'd have told me that a Democrat would take on Naughton in a primary fight for his seat in the house, I'd have said you were nuts.

There is no way Naughton can be defeated as long as he is running for reelection. However, it's possible that Kerrigan isn't running to beat Naughton, but to be ready if Naughton steps down before the September 16th primary. The rumors have been circulating. More from the Telegram:
Mr. Naughton yesterday denied rumors that he is in line for a district court magistrate post, passing it off as expected because he is a lawyer and former prosecutor, and because there are a few court magistrate positions open in Central Massachusetts.

“I’ve had several fundraisers, and there is one coming up on June 16. I am running for re-election,” he said.
As of today, I believe that Naughton fully intends to be reelected. If the situation on Beacon Hill doesn't change, Naughton will be easily reelected and be sworn in for another term next January.

But the situation on Beacon Hill could change. The vultures are starting to circle embattled Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, as he fights charges of impropriety. According to the Boston Herald, two powerful lawmakers are already drumming up support in the race to succeed DiMasi:
Two top lawmakers jockeying to succeed embattled House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi are keeping daily head counts of their backers and even courting members with expensive steak dinners in cut-throat maneuvering that threatens to undermine debate on the state’s $28 billion budget.

Backers of Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), a DiMasi ally, and House Majority Leader John Rogers (D-Norwood), are each claiming they have more support among rank-and-file members, even as supporters of both powerbrokers met with colleagues Monday night at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a restaurant at the base of Beacon Hill.
This is where Naughton's situation could get dicey. If DiMasi steps down, Either DeLeo of Rogers will be the next speaker. Now, we don't know which representative Naughton will support in a potential leadership fight (although I'd guess he would support DeLeo: Naughton serves with DeLeo on the Ways and Means Committee and recently brought DeLeo to Clinton to speak to area seniors), but we do know that the stakes are high. Representatives who support the winner are in line for powerful committee assignments. Those who are on the losing team become relative back-benchers.

If DiMasi steps down and Naughton's candidate is elected, Naughton will stay in the house because his power and responsibility will be enhanced. But if Naughton supports the runner-up, he just might find a court magistrate's position a better career move than being just another representative.

In that case, Kerrigan would be the only candidate standing.


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