First, she was Gov. Mom, the first sitting governor to give birth in office. Then she was Gov. Liberty, descending into the Framingham bunker to fight terrorism. After that she was Gov. Human Services, protecting the needy against a heartless Democratic Legislature. Last night she was Republican candidate Jane Swift, the acting governor, launching her election campaign with a sometimes-hardball first State of the State address.

If the speech she delivered is any indication, the state of the state this election year is all about politics.

Not once did she mention her campaign, but her ambition – and possibly her electoral strategy – was previewed in her choice of issues.

The fiery speech displayed her as someone who has grown more comfortable in office, more relaxed with leadership, and is capable of forcefulness – although at times her delivery seemed strained and overbearing.

“One thing Jane does is connect,” said Sen. Brian Lees (R-Longwood). “She has a likeability and truthfulness about her. She had to be serious tonight, but she had to be herself and say what she felt and where she wanted to go.”

She was most animated – and was applauded most loudly – for defending the tax rollback and taking the Democratic Legislature to task for failing to fund the voter-approved Clean Election campaign finance reform law.

“Beating up the Legislature on Clean Elections is a home run,” said Rob Gray, a Republican strategist.

Education was the dominant theme, with Swift singling out a vocational student from Springfield who failed her first MCAS attempt, and with a benediction by a Roxbury minister who is trying to attract a pilot school to his church.

Swift’s pledge to overhaul bilingual education is a political wild card, according to some strategists, an issue that divides teachers as well as some bilingual households.

Her proposed reform is seen as a play for conservative Democrats in older cities with large non-English speaking populations – cities such as Fitchburg, Lowell, Quincy and Brockton.

Cellucci-Swift carried those and other older cities in 1998, and Swift appears to be targeting them again with a program conservative Democrats, who never have liked bilingual education, can support.

Swift played it cute, offering a modest reform – giving communities the choice to pull back from the current system – while declining to say if she would oppose a ballot question mandating a draconian reduction.

If her move is seen as pre-empting the ballot question, analysts said, she may attract bilingual supporters as well as opponents, staking out what could be a fertile middle ground.

But allowing flexibility on bilingual education may be seen as an inconsistency, analysts said, contrasting with standardized MCAS requirements and raising the specter of students in some communities being left behind.

Swift’s speech was notable for the issues she glossed over – the Big Dig, affordable housing, soaring prescription drug costs – all thorns in her political side.

“Other challenges remain,” she acknowledged.



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