Just a full week into next year’s U.S. Senate contest, and already Democrats are refusing to play nice.

Just a full week into next year’s U.S. Senate contest, and already Democrats are refusing to play nice.

Incumbent Sen. Ed Markey's senior adviser and former state party chair John Walsh accused U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of "not being straight" with voters by demonizing corporate PAC money after accepting millions in corporate checks over the years, including donations deposited as recently as June.

Kennedy, meanwhile, has also challenged the Senate field to take a pledge that originated between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown during the fight for his great-uncle Ted's seat in 2011. The pledge would seek to block outside independent expenditures on advertising, and probably generate some money for charity in the process.

Meanwhile, another candidate, Framingham businessman Steve Pemberton, said both men should return all PAC money given to their campaigns, including contributions from interest groups and non-corporate PACS.

"If these statements of theirs aren't just tired political rhetoric, then they should give all those contributions back tomorrow," Pemberton said.

And the fourth candidate in the race, Brookline attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, said that while she supports limiting outside spending in campaign, "this type of political gamesmanship is what is wrong with our politics."

The Brookline attorney added she was “disappointed” that both Kennedy and Markey “seem only interested in recycling old gimmicks when it's convenient for them.”

Having it both ways

Count Senate President Karen Spilka among the Markey supporters who also want to put in a good word for Kennedy.

During an appearance on WGBH Radio this past week, Spilka, who endorsed Markey when Kennedy was still only thinking about a Senate campaign, said it was "hard to know" whether she would have stayed out of the race or still endorsed Markey had she had a clear choice between the two.

"I can't hypothesize, but I believe that Markey is a great senator," said Spilka, D-Ashland.

Spilka singled out Markey's work on climate change, a longtime policy focus that the Malden Democrat hopes will translate into votes next year.

"I've said I'd support Markey, I'm staying with that," Spilka said. "He's my guy in this race."

While she didn't mention the two other Democrats running - Liss-Riordan and Pemberton - Spilka called Kennedy a "great congressman," adding: "I know the democratic process -- people can jump in and run for anything they want."

Funding education

Meanwhile, Spilka said the state's new push to spread $1.5 billion in new investments across the K-12 public education system is dependent on continued economic growth, but she declined to say tax increases won't be necessary to carry out the proposal.

"That's up to the future legislatures as to what will happen," she said, when pressed by radio host Jim Braude about tax increases.

The seven-year build-up in new education spending called for in the legislation is affordable "if our economy keeps growing the way it's growing."

It's been growing for a decade, far longer than most economic expansions. 

During the appearance on WGBH, Spilka also said the financial commitment called for under the bill will make it more difficult to invest in the many other areas covered by the state's roughly $42 billion annual budget. She pointed to transportation, for instance, as "woefully underfunded for decades."

Without specifying policy preferences, Spilka urged tax code modernization, saying lawmakers had not looked at personal and corporate taxes in many years.

The Senate president was scheduled to speak further on the topic with WBZ-Channel 4's Jon Keller at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. 

Neat license plates

Shrewsbury residents James and Nancy Coghlin, who have showered public officials in Massachusetts with thousands of dollars in donations over the years, each won low-number license plates, overcoming long odds at a lottery held in a state government board room earlier this month.

A state Department of Transportation spokesman said it was a coincidence, the State House News Service reported Tuesday morning, and later that day, Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration didn't tip the scales.

"First of all, I didn't know about it," Baker responded when a reporter asked him about the Coghlins and their winning plates, 4969 and 56D.

Baker then defended the drawing, which was publicized in advance and held at the State Transportation Building in Boston's Park Plaza.

"It's a lottery. It runs the same way the regular lottery does," Baker said. "It's a public drawing. Media's invited. The rest of the public can be there."

In this year's lottery, officials received 13,652 applications for 231 available plates.

"I guess what I would say is we had nothing to do with it," Baker added. "We didn't know about it, and the public has every right, and many did, to watch the proceedings as they play out."

Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito have been on the receiving end of many donations from the Coghlins, who collectively have contributed more than $76,000 to a long list of candidates from both major parties over the years.

Another lucky winner this year, as some readers have pointed out, was Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, with plate 63M. Carr lives in Wellesley.

Duke visits Clark University

In a talk Thursday at Clark University in Worcester, former Gov. Michael Dukakis dispensed advice to students looking to get involved in politics – as well as a little wisdom for the Democrats vying to earn the party’s nomination for president next year.

In a question-and-answer session about 50 students, Dukakis' main topic was fostering political activeness among young people. But he also veered into current events, particularly the upcoming 2020 presidential election. The 1988 Democratic nominee for president, who wound up losing to Republican George H.W. Bush in the general election, Dukakis said there were a few things he’d suggest his party do this time around to defeat incumbent President Donald Trump.

"What’s this red and blue stuff anyway?" he asked, referring to the prevalent strategy for either party to focus on swing states rather the entirety of the country when it comes to campaigning. "That’s a very bad strategy. Every state is a battleground state."

The Duke turns 86 on Nov. 3. 

Contributors to the Political Notebook this week include Deputy Director of Multimedia Dan O'Brien, the State House News Service and the Telegram & Gazette.