The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1212162277Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This week: How hard is it to get signatures, really?; and Michael Flaherty’s war chest gets a little bigger. Plus: Falling asleep during a hearing on drowsy driving, and more campaign finance data.

You’re a state legislator. All you have to do to keep your job is get a couple hundred people to write their names on a piece of paper. Lately, that’s been an astoundingly tall task.

State Senator Dianne Wilkerson was last year’s cautionary tale. She failed to wring 300 good signatures out of a district that sprawls from Beacon Hill, through the South End, to JP and Roxbury. Suffice it to say, there are well more than 300 registered voters living in this district, and Wilkerson’s failure to successfully navigate this routine task brought several rounds of mockery and head-shaking – not to mention a brutal write-in campaign – upon the senator’s head.

So, it’s more than a little staggering that in the election immediately following Wilkerson’s debacle, another legislator has failed to navigate the chore of ensuring continued service in one of the nation’s least competitive legislatures. Rep. Carl Sciortino is now scrambling to keep his job because he didn’t learn from Wilkerson’s mistakes.

Twelve pages of nomination papers disappeared from his desk this month, and as a result, he couldn’t give Secretary of State Bill Galvin the 150 good signatures he needs to get on the ballot. Twice last week, a judge ruled that 114 signatures weren’t enough to get Sciortino on the ballot. Now he’s heading to the state Appeals Court, and likely looking at running a sticker campaign, like Wilkerson did two years ago.

But, the senator had it easy: She was caught in a wild four-way write-in campaign, but there weren’t any Democrats on the primary ballot. Sciortino has an opponent, Bob Trane, who’s out for blood. This opponent, as it happens, has mastered the art of rudimentary bureaucracy. That’s bad news indeed.

Sciortino has said that the towns in his district, Somerville and Medford, certified 186 of his signatures. He then picked up those papers and brought them to his State House office. After a week, he noticed that several were missing, and later reported them stolen. “I know exactly where they were in my office,” he told State House News on Thursday. “They were not misplaced or misfiled. They were stolen.”

That accusation has grabbed headlines, but it’s really beside the point. It doesn’t matter if some Keno-fiending townie version of G. Gordon Liddy may have waltzed into Sciortino’s unlocked office and walked off with 72 good signatures, because Sciortino shouldn’t have been in a position where 72 signatures could keep him off the ballot.

The rule of thumb is to gather twice the number of signatures that you need. That way, when your signature gatherers catch residents who’ve let their voter registrations lapse, or when a campaign worker accidentally spills coffee on a signature sheet – or even when you failed to bring your certified signatures right to Galvin’s office right after picking them up at City Hall, and instead left them lying on your desk for days, just asking to be pilfered by an as-yet-unidentified signature pirate – it’s not the end your career.

Considering that anti-tax robot Carla Howell recently found over 66,000 people who figured it’d be a great idea to plunge the state into fiscal oblivion and got them to sign their names for her, the prospect of wrangling up a few hundred good signatures in voter-rich west Somerville – well, it ain’t the Trail of Tears.

For those keeping track, Sciortino’s opponent, Bob Trane, managed to get 150 signatures to Galvin’s office, and he filed organization papers with OCPF last week. At least one guy in this race knows how to stumble through the motions of getting elected.

State Senator Marc Pacheco was hospitalized on Wednesday, forcing the cancellation of a hearing that was to express outrage over skyrocketing gas prices and demonstrate concern for the plight of the common man. There were a few tasteless jokes bandied about in response, but by far, this one’s the winner: “I think he got sick when he found out how few people were gonna show up.”

Spotted: One court officer nodding off during Senator Richard Moore’s meeting on the dangers of drowsy driving. A legislative staffer in the room didn’t look to be too far behind.

The month isn’t over yet, but OCPF filings show that Michael Flaherty, the city councilor who might, or might not be, interested in getting demolished by Tom Menino next November, deposited $16,675 into his campaign account in early May. That’s after raising just short of $75 for the month of April.

Flaherty shouldn’t feel too wonderful about himself, though: The mayor posted around $50,000 in receipts over the past two weeks, after raising over $48,000 in the first two weeks of May. As of May 15, Menino had $258,685 in cash on hand, plus $750,000 in savings. He’s already eclipsed the $1 million mark for available cash, and we haven’t even hit the busy fall fundraising season yet. That couldn’t have anything to do with rumors of Flaherty’s cold feet, could it?

Somewhat interesting observation: Menino files with OCPF every two weeks, while Flaherty files once a month. The mayor also regularly posts bank deposit records (usually hefty ones) between filing dates. The tactic allows would-be challengers to soil themselves in real time over just how rapidly Menino is growing his war chest.

For Flaherty, infrequent filings can help mask lackluster fundraising performances. It also helps keep the identities of Flaherty’s donors secret, and out of the Menino machine’s hands, for as long as legally possible.

The less than disastrous news (we hesitate to use the word “good”) in all this? Two weeks ago, OCPF released a report that found more than a third of last year’s mayoral victors were outspent. The report called stockpiling cash “no guarantee” of reelection.

More good times with campaign finance data: When the House feted outgoing Rep. Rachel Kaprielian last week, it said goodbye to one of its richest members.

Kaprielian, who was tapped last week to run the RMV, leaves the House with $116,996.03 in the bank. That’s short of the massive bankrolls of Thomas Petrolati ($422,949.20), Peter Koutoujian ($402,687.40), Speaker Sal DiMasi ($387,881.21), Ron Mariano ($310,415.13) and John Binienda ($362,606.33), but far richer than top DiMasi aides Lida Harkins ($10,971.75), Byron Rushing ($19,051.36), and would-be Speaker John Rogers ($79,253.13). Kaprielian also leaves the House with a fatter war chest than either Minority Leader Brad Jones ($102,074.46) or deposed Speaker/lobbyist/radio personality Tom Finneran ($48,987.80).

Wire services contributed to this report.