SWAN SONG? With a tough re-election challenge coming up in November, and fallout from the
probation department scandal still looming, Senate President Therese Murray is keeping things quiet
on Beacon Hill.

Therese Murray's fifth anniversary as State Senate president passed by with little fanfare last month. But at least it wasn't marred by the sight of any of her fellow members arraigned at the federal courthouse.

The absence of lawmakers from the first round of probation-scandal indictments was a relief, but many senators and staff are looking at it as a temporary reprieve. The possibility of more charges to come still hangs over the State House.

And the federal government's case against three probation department employees includes multiple references to state senators who benefited from the patronage system — including the Senate president herself.

So, the mood remains one of head-down survival — or a beeline for the exit. Majority Leader Fred Berry of Peabody is not running for re-election. Nor is eight-term senator Susan Fargo of Lincoln. Right after the probation indictments were announced, Methuen's Steven Baddour, vice-chair of Ways & Means, resigned to join a lobbying firm.

Baddour, Berry, and Fargo follow previous leadership members Joan Menard (Somerset), Steve Panagiotakos (Lowell), Steve Tolman (Brighton), and Marian Walsh (West Roxbury) out the door.

None of them have been directly implicated in the probation scandal, and the exodus appears to have little to do with the possibility of indictments. In some cases, there have been other opportunities, such as Tolman taking the top post at the Massachusetts AFL-CIO and Michael Morrissey getting elected Norfolk County district attorney. Others, such as Berry and Menard, were simply ready to retire after long careers in public service.

What we aren't seeing is much in the way of legislative activity. And observers suspect that this may be the norm for a while to come — for the next three years, in fact, until Murray hits the end of the eight-year presidency term limit (created after William Bulger's epic 18-year reign) in early 2015.

Things are strikingly quiet in the State Senate these days, as even a number of senators admit. Murray's overarching priority for the 2011-'12 session, a long-term restructuring of health-care billing aimed at tackling costs, waits for House Speaker Robert DeLeo to take it off his back burner, which looks increasingly unlikely before the July end of the formal session. Aside from that, not much is in the hopper.

And Murray appears to have turned her attention fully to her own re-election campaign. After a narrow victory in 2010, she faces a rematch with Tom Keyes of Plymouth. Although she is widely expected to ride presidential-election turnout to victory, Murray is leaving nothing to chance — while the Senate is in formal session, working on the annual budget and other matters, she is spending most of her time raising money (she will probably spend more than a half-million dollars) and making appearances in her southeastern Massachusetts district.

In fact, Murray probably has the toughest re-election challenge of any incumbent state senator — an odd scenario, and one that may be contributing to the inactivity. Murray beat Keyes with just 52 percent of the vote in 2010; other incumbent Democrats who faced general-election challengers averaged more than 60 percent (and many others were unopposed).

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