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Personal Life Again Dims Political Star

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It couldn’t have been the best of weeks for acting Gov. Jane Swift.

First came the revelation that her heretofore untalked about, 25-year-old gay stepson is angry because Swift, a Republican, opposes same-sex partnerships.

Then there was the disclosure that Swift, 36, is actually the fourth wife of the young man’s father. She and her husband, 47-year-old Charles T. Hunt III, have never pretended he was not previously married. But the 1994 marriage application that they both signed said Hunt had been married just once before.

“Chuck had a desire to keep his life private,” Swift explained at a hastily called news conference late this week. She called the couple’s action a “misguided decision” and said she and Hunt each will pay the maximum $100 state fine for perjury on a marriage license.

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But the ruckus--and from some quarters, ridicule--once again has focused attention on Swift’s personal life, a subject she has stumbled over repeatedly. “Four Better or Worse,” trumpeted a front-page headline this week in one local paper.

When she was lieutenant governor, Swift had used staff members as unpaid sitters for her infant daughter, Elizabeth. She also deployed Beacon Hill staffers to help her family move from one house to another, again without compensation.

Last year, Swift paid a $1,250 fine levied by the state ethics commission after admitting she improperly used a state helicopter to transport her to the western part of the state, where she and Hunt live.

When Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned last spring to become U.S. ambassador to Canada, Swift took office as the country’s first pregnant governor. Carrying twins, she was confined to a hospital bed in the final days of her pregnancy. Some male legislators objected when Swift set up shop in the hospital and teleconferenced meetings instead of appearing personally.

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Her daughters, Lauren and Sarah, were born in May.

After a “working maternity leave” in Williamstown, Mass., Swift asserted herself on Beacon Hill as a champion of family issues. A priority was a proposal by Swift to provide 12 weeks of paid annual family leave to working men and women in Massachusetts.

Not enough, said stepson Brian Hunt, who surfaced this week in Southern California. Hunt, a part-time Starbucks employee, had contacted the Boston Globe to talk about his stepmother’s record on gay and lesbian issues.

The day after the Globe’s front-page interview with Brian Hunt, Swift announced she would extend certain domestic partnership benefits to gay and lesbian state employees.

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Buried in Brian Hunt’s interview was the nugget that his father had racked up three failed marriages before he was 40. Like barracudas, Boston’s political reporters went to town. The next unsavory fact to be unveiled was that Hunt had married wife No. 2 before his divorce from No. 1 was final.

All three marriages were short-lived. In at least two of them, Chuck Hunt and his then-wife lived either with his parents or with hers.

Hunt, who describes himself as the primary caregiver to his three young daughters, is an unemployed carpenter. However, the children spend much of their time in day care, an aide to Swift said.

“I love my husband. He’s a terrific father,” Swift said this week in Hunt’s defense.

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Swift, who was considered a star during her tenure in this state’s overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, where there are few women, has not yet said whether she will run for governor next year. After the helicopter and baby-sitting incidents, her approval ratings plummeted.

But in recent months, Swift recovered. The most recent state poll put her personal approval level at 67% and her job performance approval at 48%.

But the talk show jokes, the focus on her unconventional family life and the new disclosure that she lied on her marriage certificate may bite back at Swift, said Massachusetts political observers.

“If this had come out of the blue, if there had never been a problem before, people would say, hey, give her a break,” said Boston University communication professor Caryl Rivers, who studies work and family issues.

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“But this could be seen as one of a series of missteps. It could be seen as the frosting on the cake,” Rivers said.

However, local commentators who have claimed this week that Swift may have a “Clinton problem” with the truth are off the mark, Rivers contended.

“People may see this as a little different than Clinton saying ‘I did not have sex with that woman’ to protect an odious act of his. Here, she is apparently trying to protect her husband,” Rivers said. “Some people will have sympathy.”

Not only has the relentless scrutiny of Swift’s personal life been “completely out of bounds,” said political science professor Elizabeth Sherman of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, but “if it were a man, they wouldn’t even be investigating this. I honestly think there is a ridiculous double standard at work here.”

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Sherman, an expert on women in politics, noted that Swift’s predecessor as governor admitted to incurring $800,000 in personal debt. Rather than pursuing the roots of Cellucci’s financial problems, “everyone sloughed it off,” Sherman said.

In the case of Swift, “the thing that really gets me is that nobody died here, this is not a capital offense,” Sherman said. “Why did she lie on her marriage license? Who knows, and who cares?”


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