State House Roundup: Charles Oliver's Twist

Democratic hegemony on Beacon Hill reaffirmed, the puffy-chested warriors of the Massachusetts Senate delivered fawning paeans to their departing veterans on Thursday, lamenting the many ways in which the public — that capricious, naïve mass — will never, truly, understand their sacrifices.

Their self-congratulatory swan songs, aired over three hours — even as a Probation Department corruption scandal threatens to ensnare members of the Legislature in ensuing investigations — were perhaps justified by the votes of confidence in favor of sitting members of the Senate, who won all 32 races they ran.

What they may have missed in their post-election euphoria is that on Nov. 2, someone left the back door of the State House open, and Charles Oliver Cipollini crept in.

Cipollini, one of two Republicans elected to the little-known Governor’s Council, made his Beacon Hill debut on Wednesday, and it wasn’t pretty. His 20-minute rant against Gov. Deval Patrick’s nominee to helm the Supreme Judicial Court, Justice Roderick Ireland, came out more like an anti-establishment manifesto that, however in-eloquent, left even the most recalcitrant councilors agape.

“Many of the ills of society today are caused by political patronage. All over America, in hiring and promotion, there is political pandering and the public is sick of it,” Cipollini said.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who chairs the Governor’s Council, cut their first meeting short, telling Cipollini “you’re done” when the councilor-elect began describing a pretend birthday celebration with Ireland on “the planet of Mars.” But that the self-described social conservative who insisted Wednesday that marriage should be between “one man and one woman” could capture the Fall River-based council seat is a reminder that in a year of Democratic dominance, discontent continues to percolate.

The patronage problem and a high jobless rate stood juxtaposed against celebrations like the Senate’s, where members gathered for the first time since July to publicly say goodbye to one another, delivering deserved praise to staff for carrying much of the workload and taking a victory lap for their good deeds.

Unmentioned was the Probation Department, which dominated the news for the second straight week, despite calculated attempts by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray to break their silence and dampen the furor. The report of independent counsel Paul Ware found rampant hiring abuses in the probation agency, orchestrated by the department’s commissioner John O’Brien, and fueled by job candidate referrals from lawmakers.

DeLeo and Murray, after cloistering themselves for weeks, gave a clamoring press corps 225 seconds to discuss the scandal on Monday before retreating from view again. Their analysis: Lawmakers routinely make hiring recommendations on behalf of their constituents and supporters – the problem lies with the probation leadership for hiring unqualified employees. The solution: We’re working on it. Don’t rush.

“I think we've agreed to put together a committee of members of the Senate, members of the House and hopefully some people from the governor to look at best practices getting information from the Council of State Governments, NCSL (the National Council of State Legislatures) on best practices in other states, how they operate and what's good in each one of those,” Murray told reporters on Thursday before heading to a private reception with her predecessors Robert Travaglini, Thomas Birmingham and William Bulger — whose son Chris, the Probation Department’s legal counsel, was described in the Ware report as “irrevocably compromised” by his blind loyalty to the perpetrators of hiring abuses.


On Monday, DeLeo also erroneously asserted that Ware’s report indicated “there should be no feeling of any impropriety on behalf of the speaker,” and he interpreted Ware’s post-report comments as a blanket assessment that no legislative abuses occurred “under my watch.” Ware’s deputy, Kevin Martin, pointed out Tuesday that no such exoneration occurred. Ware has suggested that he had “no reason to believe” DeLeo had done anything inappropriate, but he couched his statement by noting that key witnesses had refused to cooperate with his investigation. His report also includes a lengthy section describing avenues of investigation he hadn’t pursued because of limited time, resources and scope.

“This Report, while substantial, is incomplete,” Ware wrote. “Many avenues of obvious inquiry could not be fully explored given time and resource constraints. For example, Independent Counsel was mindful that this investigation was focused on the Probation Department, not other state agencies and not on the Legislature. Legislative conduct was not fully explored except as immediately relevant to Probation hiring.”

DeLeo gave his first lengthy remarks on the subject to high school buddy Dan Rea, who interviewed the speaker on his radio show. DeLeo said the probation scandal made him “angry.”

Meanwhile, Patrick attempted to translate the anger over the patronage scandal into an argument for granting him greater authority over the Probation Department, a quest that immediately drew him outright opposition from lawmakers, judges, Ware and even from Ireland, Patrick’s nominee to head the Supreme Judicial Court. Ireland warned that Patrick’s move could raise “separation of powers” problems.

Ireland, whose resume includes stints in the Dukakis administration, as a public defender and three decades as a judge, appeared poised Wednesday to win confirmation, securing the outright support of several Governor’s Councilors and the high praise of several more.

His appointment would be a feather in the cap of Mo Cowan, the soft-spoken, bespectacled sage of Patrick’s legal office, who was tapped the same day of Ireland’s hearing to serve as the man behind the governor’s curtain, his chief of staff, in Patrick’s second term. Patrick’s refashioned inner circle will also include Sydney Asbury, the manager — and tweeter-in-chief — of his reelection campaign.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Court order.

“THAT” LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP: Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday told a crowd of reporters, editors and publishers that he intended to partner with rank-and-file lawmakers with or without the blessing of legislative leaders, in order to advance his agenda. “It ought to be okay for me to have relationships with individual members and to cultivate those relationships to advance their agenda even if the Senate president and the speaker aren't personally there,” Patrick said, implying that someone has told him it wasn’t “okay.” Asked whether Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray had actually discouraged him from forming those relationship, Patrick paused briefly and said, “Not this legislative leadership, no.” Which begs the question, if not “this legislative leadership,” than which? DeLeo and Murray’s predecessors, Salvatore DiMasi and Robert Travaglini, respectively, are the only other leaders Patrick has served with since 2007.

This program aired on December 3, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.


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