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State House Roundup: A More Convenient Season

This article is more than 9 years old.

The rains arrived late Thursday like an absolution, washing away all the iniquities of the 186th General Court and its sometime partner in the Corner Office and all the legions of those seeking to influence their right and sound judgment. The State House’s Great Hall puddled with water that spilled down from skylights under repair and out into the halls, and an ark was built.

Or was the flood a baptism, a beginning of sorts, the prospect of a $655 million gusher from the Beltway having reanimated hopes among advocates of Massachusetts casinos, and racinos, that Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature could shelve their ill feelings and, in what would be a historically dichotomous embrace and simultaneous shunning of voters’ will, agree to an expanded gambling bill after legislative rules decree that no such lawmaking occur?

Odds on this appeared low, at best, on Tuesday when the Big 3 stood together in the left-field grandstand of Fenway Park, about 50 feet from the spot where another great regional aspiration slipped over the wall on an October afternoon about 32 years ago. Casual observation revealed sentiments between Patrick and Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray at this purportedly feel-good ceremony celebrating a new law mandating insurance coverage for autism to be, well, frosty. Collectively, they looked about as comfortable as John Kerry shopping for a dinghy.

Part of the reason that a bill which Murray said Tuesday could likely not be salvaged retains such a hold on the imagination is that it was so unimaginable not long ago that a force around which so much momentum and consensus had built could so rapidly give out at the last second. Smart people spent a lot of time this week trying to figure out how that happened, sort of refusing to believe that it had.

While reporters chased the principals demanding they pronounce the gambling bill alive or dead, in those un-nuanced terms, Washington was coiling to throw Bob DeLeo’s legislative agenda a lifeline. The debate shifted from whether the Legislature would come back to address gambling to whether it’d have to return to appropriate the additional health care and education funds, and whether that happy reunion of legislators could give rise to some, assuredly, sheepish action on gambling.

On the hustings, the gambling collapse licensed Independent Treasurer Tim Cahill to bash Patrick for not getting it done and Republican Charles Baker to argue that the issue had road-blocked needed reforms. Patrick, in turn, capitalized on the latest chance to render the Legislature, DeLeo loyalists in particular, fairly purple with anger and the lurking feeling they’d been once more suckered by the Corner Office into serving as stage furniture.

In a fairly admirable execution of political jiu-jitsu, the governor, who is in favor of three casinos and the largest gambling expansion in the state’s history, drew praise for killing the largest gambling expansion in state history from the anti-gambling progressives who would have drifted from him, while at the same time avoiding a complete meltdown with labor because, hey, he’s still got the largest gambling expansion in the state’s history proposal on the table. Such are the amenities of the bully pulpit. Bravo.

Amid the hand-wringing about legislative gridlock, there was actual gridlock north of Boston, people running out of gas on their way to work because two massive holes opened on the I-93 decking in Medford, starting Tuesday. Crews scrambled to fix the ruptures and Patrick on Wednesday suggested those members of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd who did not have to start their evening commutes immediately join him taking in “Othello” as part of the city’s Shakespeare on the Common series. Sometimes people say things.

Then again, sometimes they don’t. Neither Baker nor Cahill had a better recommendation, prompting wonderment about whether the guv’s most prominent challengers had beaten the legislators they castigate to vacation’s door. The chagrined populist outrage was left to the Fourth Estate, which has been known to voice such feelings and did so.

Patrick continued his law-giving spree, acting on the loads of bills belched his way at the end of last month. Onto the books went a state pension fund divestment from Iran, the autism insurance bill, an economic development package with tax sweeteners for businesses and a sales tax holiday, changes to criminal records access rules and reduced sentencing mandates, and a circumvention of the Electoral College.

Just about everything but the bill streamlining construction of on-shore wind energy facilities and its slightly more famous cousin, rived by legislative strategy now into two bills, H 5000 and H 5001. They sit currently as testaments to why it’s a good idea not to yield to the temptation, as DeLeo’s office did as everything was starting to fall apart, to settle scores before you win, why Sinatra was right when he said that the best revenge is massive success.

And they do breathe, if slightly, they’re on the slab but breathing. U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi restored viability Wednesday by announcing that the House would come back next week to vote on the funding extension, putting wing to the conspiracy theories that the bill might in fact happen, that it was too big to fail after all.

Beaten, lawmakers might not have the tummy for it. The capitol’s deep state of actual physical disrepair reflected the widespread fatigue and hangover, professional and otherwise, on the Hill.

“I feel like 16 cents in loose Canadian change,” one legislative Democrat texted amid the madness, and the feeling was general.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Postmortems in pencil.

NOW HE TELLS US: Gov. Deval Patrick said this week he would sign the “right to repair” bill, a battlefield measure that died in the House after monumental lobbying efforts on both sides. This is one of those pieces of legislation that breeds tremendous inferiority complexes in the legislative advocacy community and among public affairs professionals because if you did not have a piece of this baby, if you weren’t collecting a retainer, you’re a loser. Right to repair is an undead bill, meaning it will be back next session, and the session after if need be … and the session after that …

This program aired on August 6, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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