State House Roundup: DeLeo Ex Machina

And on the 428th day, Speaker DeLeo filed.

The currently most prestigious opponent from two years ago of casino legislation, currently its most prominent proponent, descended the Grand Staircase Thursday morning, about 14 months after becoming speaker and followed by other erstwhile critics of slightly less prestige: DeLeo, then Vallee, Mariano, Haddad, Pedone, Murphy (Charles), et al.

All, currently, yes votes.

The blitheness with which they're flipping has become a fact of life, much like Mother Nature taunting us with bright sunshine and spring before dumping another six inches of water in our basements. It's accepted. It's happened so quietly, some would say skillfully, that almost no one even talks about it. "The only thing that's changed is that we have a speaker who's in favor rather than a speaker who's against it," said Rep. Daniel Bosley, a casino and slots foe who was on the winning side when then-Speaker Salvatore DiMasi throttled casinos two years ago.

So when DeLeo unfurled The Gambling Bill to the crush of lobbyists gazing on with indebtedly glassy eyes Thursday — two casinos, 750 slots at each of the four tracks, promises of 15,000 jobs and perhaps close to $2 billion in tax revenue based on a 25 percent rate for casinos and 40 percent for the tracks — there was really little drama around whether or not he already had the votes to pass the bill.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto is a separate question, one to which the answer is probably yes, but one that will nonetheless bedevil the House over the next few months as it delivers the bill to the Senate and awaits the anti-slots opprobrium of Senate President Therese Murray and the state's newly feisty chief executive, Gov. Deval Patrick.

These are the questions that disturb the sleep patterns of the Jims. That's Eisenberg and Kennedy, two of the speaker's top advisers and in the opinions of some covetous, elected leaders of the House, guys with way more pull than they themselves enjoy. If DeLeo can make it to 107 — the threshold needed to override a veto, though the number more likely will be closer to 105 because some member of the House is bound to slip on those treacherous stairs the night before the vote — then all will be beer and skittles in DeLeoWorld.

If not, he'll have to cut a deal, the contours of which are the matter of tremendous heaps of discussion among insiders and would-be legislative strategists. "I haven't even had any thought of that, whatsoever," DeLeo said Thursday, all babe-in-the-woodsy.

Patrick is proving a tough customer here, engaging in a bit of he said/he said with the speaker over his private comments regarding slots. DeLeo said Patrick is privately more hospitable to the idea, not the first time a legislative leader has accused a governor of giving one answer in meetings and another in public. Patrick shot back: "No, he didn't say that."

The great casino debate overshadowed another Patrick showdown, one infused with more campaign trail heft. Patrick's Division of Insurance canned proposed health insurance premium hikes, sending the insurance industry into orbit and drawing incredulous allegations of election-year tomfoolery from Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, a former insurance CEO, and unenrolled Treasurer Timothy Cahill. The governor says the smackdowns will create jobs, Baker says jobs will be lost, and Cahill, who has started suffering criticism over his lack of policy specifics, called the plan lousy all around. All very confusing.

Hours after DeLeo pitched casinos and racetrack slots as job incubators, the Senate was going about its own, somewhat more prosaic bid for economic development, a bureaucratic restructuring that ran into a snag when the Boston Herald pointed out that the Senate president's bill created a commission to investigate extraneous commissions. The type of idea that looks swell in legislative agate but not so great in screaming tabloid headlines like "Hacks Hunting … Hacks!" Senators began public deliberations on the bill but waded through less than a third of the proposed amendments before pausing, out of deference to Holy Thursday, and the remaining two-thirds of the proposed amendments.

In between, the Senate veered into one of its intramural arguments over who's done more harm to the economy, Democrats or Republicans. It got testy and personal. One senator even accused another of "posturing," which on the floor of the Senate is akin to turning to the member next to you and noticing he or she is respiring. Further debate was postponed until next Thursday.

"That casino thing is going to suck the life out of everything for the next two and a half months," Republican state Sen. Michael Knapik said, prognosticating perhaps on the conservative side. Gambling will run its own course and factor into the legislative lifeways of just about everything else.

Envision a scenario, quite likely, in which DeLeo still needs Senate and executive cooperation to get some form of his bill through by the time the session ends in July. Patrick needs to usher the slots-hatin' liberal base into the barn for the fall and is still seeking criminal records changes and caps on health care provider charges, Murray wants some components of her health care payment reform and economic development bureaucracy packages passed, and candidates for office high and low are reminding voters that the pesky fundamental reform to the state's pension system is still sitting out there. At that point, all hell breaks loose and you'll need a squeegee to cleanse the sausage parts from the capitol walls. When gambling bill auteur Brian Dempsey said Thursday of the legislation, "It's all very interconnected," he may have been previewing the balance of the legislative agenda.

To borrow a line from the governor himself: Everything is on the table.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The House is going to learn the casino business.

ODD COUPLE: Gov. Patrick visited Howie Carr in studio Thursday, showing a little election season gameface to brave the razzing from one of his most scornful, and gleeful, critics. "It's comin'," the governor told Howie when asked where Howie's property tax cut was, a reference to one of Patrick's bedrock 2006 campaign promises. From where, and when, was left unsaid, but it doesn't appear to be soon.

LATE: President Obama declared a "major disaster" in Massachusetts Monday, about two-and-a-half months after the rest of his party had reached the same conclusion. As the flood waters receded, 44 arrived Thursday to kick a little fundraising butt, defending the new health care law and mocking its critics as ill-informed and impatient.

THE FAME: Fun fact about Secretary William Galvin pointed out to the Roundup in a legislative aide's generous email this week. Click on Lady Gaga's official YouTube channel and there's the secretary, greeting you with a quick web ad about the Census. A Galvin-Gaga ticket would be equal parts stolid policy earnestness and downright sexiness, interchangeably.

This program aired on April 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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