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State House Roundup: State Radio

Like the old country music joke, if you played the tape of Wednesday’s WRKO gubernatorial debate backward, you’d get your job back, your health care premiums back, your taxes back and your Big Dig back.

Pick a different television or radio outlet every week, invite the candidates (all of them) in for the type of substantive, position-delineating exchange voters got to hear during morning drive time Wednesday. The format minimizes the snark we’ve been seeing on “new media,” gives people a chance to compare side-by-side, and would carry to the fore the major policy dilemmas that will greet whomever the electorate in November selects.

That obviously won’t happen — the consultants are too smart and too weaselish to give voters that clear a view — but the campaign would be that much sweeter if it did.

There was no clear verdict on whether any of the three participants — Green Rainbow candidate Jill Stein was excluded — emerged victorious or critically wounded. Gov. Deval Patrick, the Democrat, and Treasurer Timothy Cahill, the Independent, looked to beat up on Charles Baker, the Republican, over his health care and Beacon Hill experience — the logical dynamic since Baker poses the largest threat to them both. It’s a back-breaker for Cahill to catch Patrick with Baker between them, and Patrick’s degree of reelection difficulty perks if Baker — or out-of-state Republicans — manages to minimize Cahill.

Baker has been getting dinged, savagely, by the Fourth Estate, which is undergoing a bit of whiplash after essentially prostrating itself before him during the run-up to his announcement a year ago. And he’s been deluged with advice to “introduce himself” to voters, something he probably thought he’d been doing during the “Had Enough?” tour. The introductory effort took to the air this week with Baker’s first TV ad, a nifty bit of action footage featuring some surprisingly competent hardwood moves executed by the candidate.

“Hi, I’m Charlie Baker,” he says, hands planted firmly on his hips, a far cry from the runway flagging performance he’d previously given on YouTube. Boom. Introduction box checked.

"If a few more people knew who he was, he'd be in a dead heat with Deval Patrick right now," senior adviser Rob Gray said Friday.

One problem for Baker is that the thoroughly hyped Smartest Guy In The Room thingy is not manifesting itself splendidly in a political setting, a problem acknowledged by Baker supporters aware that a knowledgeable candidate is terrific when he or she is able to communicate that knowledge in tidy packaging and usually not until then. Form and content work together in the service of theme, as someone once said. Or, as noted British political consultant E.M. Forster put it, “Only connect.”

A comforting mitigating factor for Baker is that it’s still quite early and most people aren’t paying attention.

Good thing, too, because lawmakers had a pretty easygoing week. The Judiciary Committee approved the governor’s gun bill after not approving it, sort of, last week. Small-bore changes to oversight of public charities cleared the House.

The notable exception to the light public docket was the Senate’s long-awaited release of its casino package, which delivered the expected head-butt to Speaker Robert DeLeo’s hopes for racetrack slot machines. The element of surprise was Senate leaders’ popping of last week’s trial balloon guaranteeing a license for one tribe. Under the version that cleared the Ways and Means Committee Friday on a 9-3 vote, a tribe would have to compete just like every other casino aspirant. Once awarded a license, that tribe would then negotiate with the governor and obtain “regional exclusivity,” which is nice.

The bill divides the state into discrete zones — the west, the southeast and Boston-Worcester — and demarcates a casino for each. Not unlike the floor of a casino itself, where you got your slots, got your tables and you got your high-roller section.

The western operators get a 33 percent markdown in both the license price tag and the amount they must pour into construction, from $75 million to $50 million, and $600 million to $400 million, respectively. Municipalities would have to sign off on the facilities. Proceeds go into economic development, local aid, debt reduction, mitigation and savings.

The tracks get nada in terms of new gaming rights under the leadership bill and their demise is in fact foretold in the form of racetrack subsidies that are essentially legislative life support.

Also not in the bill, or the House’s version, are limits on how much gambling interests can spend lobbying the Hill.

Senators plan debate and passage next week, when the anti-gambling bloc, which is considerable in the Senate, will have a go at arguing the social and economic ills. The racino crowd will undertake the DeLeo mantle, arguing that Beacon Hill would basically be taking jobs away from some workers to give to others by not ensuring slots for the tracks.

That’ll probably all get sorted out in the Great Policy Swap Meet of 2010, underway in various backwaters of the legislative process, backwaters gradually getting poisoned by the threat from Washington, swiftly approaching reality, that almost $700 million in federal funds banked on to stanch fiscal 2011 might not materialize, despite earlier statements of unsuspecting optimism from state budget chiefs that los federales would deliver.

As uncertainty grew, state reps and senators began pushing their old colleague Scott Brown, who is now a U.S. senator, to get behind a Senate bill that would authorize the spending, but Brown so far has resisted, raising concerns over worsening the deficit.

If the funding murkiness persists, DeLeo said Monday, "We'll just have to do the budget without it and move on."

If, ultimately, the money does not arrive some fairly unpleasant conversations across a number of channels would take place. Hill denizens have told folks that, despite ratifying about $2 billion in new taxes, they’ve had to scale back the services proffered by state government. On the other side, they’ve resisted calls for deeper cuts by telling critics that there’s no way they can pare any further. Now they might get to tell them again.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Not quite Lincoln-Douglas, but a strong start to the 2010 debate season.

NOT FROM AROUND HERE: Maybe Charles Murphy forgot he had a fundraiser Tuesday night. Or maybe he forgot where it was. Maybe he’s so laserbeam-focused on his various conference committee responsibilities that he just plum misplaced logic. Whatever the explanation, something terrible happened at some point Tuesday before he arrived at the funder, because the House budget chief showed up in seersucker at Tresca, which is in the North End and does a killer tagliatelle. Murphy is from Burlington, which means he can seersucker with impunity in his hometown. But cruising down Hanover Street in white bucks, regardless of the weather, is in grave and perhaps irretrievable error. One was reminded of Damon Runyon’s observation that his penchant for seersucker had been “causing much confusion among my friends,” who found it difficult to reconcile it with his reputation as “King of the Dudes.” Murphy’s obvious failure to achieve that profile notwithstanding, the confusion remains.

This program aired on June 18, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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