BOSTON — The china in Bob DeLeo’s House is rattling, and it has nothing to do with plane-loads of migrant children invited by Gov. Deval Patrick to Massachusetts circling overhead in Winthrop as they wait for the okay to land.
DeLeo, in fact, has so far been silent on the issue of Massachusetts volunteering to shelter up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors who have created a crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border. Senate President Therese Murray said she sees no problem with it.
More than 50,000 children have streamed into the United States from their Central American homelands driven by what the feds describe as gun and gang violence and desire to reunite with parents already here. Patrick on Friday announced that he would offer up Camp Edwards in Bourne, near Murray’s hometown of Plymouth, or Westover Air Base in Chicopee as possible temporary shelters.
The governor on Friday made an emotional plea for compassion toward the children (a speech that was quickly promoted by his political action committee) but he still has some work to do convincing people like Rep. Joseph Wagner, of Chicopee, who didn’t appreciate the lack of local input.
No, the source of DeLeo’s consternation is much closer to home, and goes to work every day on the South Boston waterfront. Her name is Carmen Ortiz. And the United States attorney has gotten under the skin of one of Beacon Hill’s top Democrats.
DeLeo, the speaker of the House, has repeatedly lashed out at the U.S. attorney for what he perceives to be a deliberate attempt to drag his name through the mud even though she didn’t have the evidence to charge him in connection to the probation hiring fraud trial that is now, this week, in the hands of a jury.
As prosecutors described a rigged hiring system to favor the politically connected and accused DeLeo of being a conspirator to the scheme in order to curry favor from lawmakers whose votes he needed to secure the speakership, DeLeo has denied any wrongdoing.
“The United States Attorney has knowingly mischaracterized legislators’ testimony as being false merely because the facts did not support her case. What is, or at least should be, criminal is impugning the characters of accomplished and honorable public officials who have devoted their lives to public service on the testimony of a single immunized and non-credible witness,” said DeLeo, suddenly streaming his opinions in public statements.
If not prodded to respond publicly to the trial, DeLeo has at least been egged on by top lieutenants in the Legislature who feel that every arrow shot his way pierces their armor just as deep – not something any politician wants to deal with when they’re running for reelection.
“He’s defending all of us because this is trying to paint legislators as scummy people and that’s not who I work with,” Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad said. “I’m happy when people ask me about it because I want to be angry. When (DeLeo) gets mud slung on him, literally, we all feel it.”
The jury went home for the weekend without reaching a verdict in the racketeering and bribery case against former probation chief John O’Brien and his deputies, which means the watch will continue next week when House and Senate lawmakers will have a slew of other problems on their minds.
Not the least of the challenges facing the Legislature with less than two full weeks left until the clock runs out is what to do with anti-gun violence legislation. The bill is supposed to be DeLeo’s signature achievement for the session, but the Senate threw a wrench in the gears Thursday when it voted 28-10 to strip a key provision from the House bill that would give police chiefs greater discretion when awarding rifle licenses.
The gun control lobby blasted the vote as a capitulation to the NRA, whose representative was on hand for the vote. Sen. James Timilty, who carried the bill, and Sen. Michael Moore, who offered the offending amendment, defended it as consistent with the Second Amendment.
The gun bill may have become a little harder to navigate, but another thorny question of whether to raise the cap on charter school enrollment got resolved quite neatly. The Senate killed it, not by leaving it in committee, but by tossing the issue on the floor and then voting it down.
After engaging in a refreshingly open debate on charter schools, the Senate voted 26-13 against a bill championed by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz to lift the cap. “This was not a leadership vote. This was a conscience vote,” Senate President Murray said. Good to know there’s a difference.
The biggest winner might have been the unions, who cheered the charter bill’s demise while Chang-Diaz and Rep. Alice Peisch called it a missed opportunity and sullen lobbyists discussed early vacation plans. Less than five years ago – before special elections changed the body’s makeup – the Senate broke 28-11 in favor of expanding charters.
The House and Senate had an easier time reaching compromise on a parole bill for first degree juvenile murderers as well as legislation authorizing a $1 billion expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The first is on the governor’s desk, the second is a step away.
It was also just a matter of hours between the Judiciary Committee taking testimony on a brand new abortion clinic access bill, filed by Sen. Harriette Chandler in response to the Supreme Court’s buffer zone ruling, and the Senate voting to pass the bill.
Legislators believe this latest attempt that would allow police to issue “withdrawal notices” to protestors obstructing entrances and driveways to reproductive health clinics will pass constitutional muster. But they’ve been wrong before – i.e. how they got here in the first place – and Eleanor McCullen, the plaintiff who fought to the Supreme Court and won, says she just might challenge again.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Children – on waiting lists for charter schools, using guns in the streets or fleeing their country for the U.S. border – drive political and policy summer headlines.