State House Roundup: The Big Blind

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Wednesday's tortured, tortuous, amateurish quasi-release of the Senate gambling proposal ultimately contained few surprises — regional lines for three facilities, including one tribal, no provisions for slot machines, lots of talk about government oversight.


A casual or even close observer could be forgiven for wondering what the fiddle is going on with the Senate. Just as the House convulsed upon itself in reversing its anti-casino vote two years ago, and its anti-slots vote two years before that, the Senate, or at least its leaders, flipped wildly on racinos. In 2005, the Senate went for slots, 26-9, at a sum of 2,000-per track, prompting some on-the-rostrum fist jukes from then-Senate President Robert Travaglini. Chatter about starkly different economic times aside, if the Senate is to shoot down the inevitable proposed slots amendment, many members would have to reverse pro-slots positions — including the Upper Chamber's most powerful figures.

This, after last week's jaw-dropping swipe at illegal immigrants that had even senators who voted for it this week acknowledging they were surprised Senate President Therese Murray allowed the matter to come the floor, and almost as surprised the amendment — requiring legal residency screening before access to public benefits, outlawing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, establishing a tip line for suspicions of illegal immigrant hiring — sailed. Supporters, who were just as surprised as opponents, said they saw nothing wrong with encoding into statute some of what the state says it's already doing.

Ideological schizophrenia and election-year realism are two options, and perhaps not mutually exclusive.

Gov. Deval Patrick used the Senate's immigration vote last week as leverage to put a shoulder behind his gun control legislation, which restricts sales and strengthens background checks, and it began to move Friday, the House-dominated Judiciary Committee opening a poll that ends Tuesday. The Legislature is heading into conference committee mosh pit over the next two months, with budget negotiations complicated last week by a Congressional balk in authorizing $689 million in fiscal 2011 Medicaid funds for the state.

If that cash doesn't arrive quickly, the budgetegerists will have to figure out how to plug that hole before July 1, a stanching process that would include deeper service cutbacks than the already drastic ones Democrats say they've already made.

All of that will unfold with gambling at center stage, the Senate likely headed for a racino shoot-out in late June. If slots at the tracks get two-thirds in the suddenly unpredictable Senate, that would mean both legislative branches have gone on record with veto-proof majorities, translating into potential political manna for the governor, who could meaninglessly nix the slots for his base and still benefit from, or hand his successor, the revenue and jobs.

Privately, critics of the Senate plan questioned the constitutionality of carving out a license for a tribe, though that provision was of little surprise given past comments from Murray, for whom tribal concerns are a district issue — just like slots are for Speaker Robert DeLeo.

To believe the DeLeo team hasn't gamed this puppy out — all the way to the bill-signing/override vote — is folly. The questions are what DeLeo really wants and how stolidly he'll crusade for it, and how hard Murray and Patrick squeeze the speaker, and whether he'll withstand it, and what price he's willing to pay for the hallmark bill of his career.

Dianne Wilkerson put a price on her career, and it was $23,500. Wilkerson admitted to a federal judge Thursday she'd accepted that amount in exchange for her efforts to secure a liquor license and development permitting during 2007 and 2008, transactions captured on film at various Hill eateries, including one depicting the Fill-A-Buster's posted menu (try the Greek salad). Wilkerson's retreat from her earlier defiance proffered relief to those at the State House and City Hall worried about embarrassments that could have surfaced during a closely scrutinized trial parading the inner machinations of government's, allegedly, seamier players (hi, Sal).

It was a depressing coda to a trajectory that apexed with Wilkerson as a potential force on the national level, after starting from poverty in Arkansas, then devolved into an entirely preventable blooper reel. Prosecutors say they won't recommend more than four years, equal to two terms in the Senate.

Wilkerson did a lot of good for a lot of people, but she used her public office like a not-very-lucrative cash machine and immortalized the Wilkerson Doctrine when she penned the immortal line: "I am a firm believer in the notion that you can do good and do well at the same time."

STORY OF THE WEEK: Senate stakes out gambling position.

PRESS RELEASE OF THE WEEK: From Suffolk County district attorney's office spokesman Jake Wark, reporting marijuana trafficking charges against Edgar Gonzalez AKA Felix Soto. Wark called it "the single largest seizure of marijuana in Boston's recent history." How much of, in Wark's parlance, "the leafy green substance" did Gonzalez allegedly have in his apartment off Boston's Blue Hill Ave.? A ton, literally a ton of pot. Roughly 2,000 pounds, or more than the Celtics' starting five and the first three guys off the bench weigh in aggregate. Police said the street value was about $5 million. For self-doubting legislators who fear they may have given Gonzalez/Soto a pass with their refusal to address a 2008 voter mandate to decriminalize certain amounts of cannabis AKA weed, the roughly, allegedly, 2,000 pounds exceeds the permissible poundage.

ULF SAMUELSSON WAS UNAVAILABLE: Turns out Patrick is a transcendent uniter of divergent bases. The governor, whose sports knowledge is confined to the extent that young aides are regularly enlisted to brief him on rudimentary details, is splashing next week with a mid-dollar fundraiser featuring Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who — aides confirmed — is the same guy who terrorized Celtics fans during the 1980s with some of the best basketball ever played. Magic is headlining the Hotel Commonwealth event, sure to feature some wry remarks about how it's good to be back in Boston and how he had his fair share of success against tall white guys here. Magic's visit is timed to the NBA Finals, which heading into the weekend were not going well for the Celts. Perhaps by the time the series is over, Tim Murray will have lined up Mookie Wilson.

This program aired on June 4, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.