The past is a hard thing to erase, Beacon Hill denizens were reminded this week, as the House and Senate eagerly turned the page on a recession-plagued, scandal-pocked session only to find the last chapter’s villains still writing the plot.
Indeed, there will be no tabula rasa for the 46 freshman lawmakers who took the oath Wednesday and immediately came face to face with the demons that haunted the place.
The capitol appeared wedged in a time vortex for much of the week, members of the Legislature’s old guard clinging to their seats with finger-whitening force, legislating almost impulsively until the last possible moment Tuesday. How else to explain that pet care trust funds, military license plates and extra sick leave benefits that ended up on the last-minute to-do list, after a largely dormant few months?
Nothing, though, was more jarring than the sound of 1,000 hands clapping for Sal DiMasi, the ex-speaker whose corruption trial is pending in federal court. DiMasi, per tradition, joined other former House speakers — including confirmed felons Thomas Finneran and Charles Flaherty — to lord over the new class of members from a VIP section at the front of the chamber he used to control.
Meanwhile, the pomp and circumstance of Gov. Deval Patrick’s festive, albeit muted, inauguration sequel — 800-pound cake and all — couldn’t mask the seething public fury over the Dec. 26 killing of a Woburn cop, allegedly gunned down by a paroled convict whose rap sheet reads like a criminal justice textbook.
Patrick has launched an internal review of the Parole Board’s 2008 decision to free the accused killer, Dominic Cinelli, and is awaiting results before he determines a course of action. But his response to the slaying — Patrick lamented that people were jumping to recriminations in the wake of a tragedy — has fomented the public outcry and contrasted markedly with his rapid and fervent call to oust Probation Commissioner John O’Brien when that agency’s patronage scandal burst into public consciousness.
Lawmakers’ sudden coalescing behind a proposal to nix parole for repeat violent offenders underscored a Beacon Hill that finds itself responding to headlines as members hurtle into the New Year.
Asked about reactive politics, Patrick told the News Service, “That’s a perennial worry. But these are real issues … This is just such a profound and profoundly sad thing. It’s got to be dealt with. Now, I believe that the right way to deal with it is comprehensively, not with some grandstanding but by looking at the system and examining, first of all, were the judgments made within the rules, and second, were the rules right?"
“My frustration is that we allow tragedies to compel common sense measures that should be put in place before the tragedy occurs,” Middlesex County District Attorney Gerald Leone said Tuesday.
If Patrick hadn’t already seen his day usurped by the Parole Board scandal, the sentencing of former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a onetime political ally, did the trick. As Patrick supporters got ready to celebrate his inaugural at the Boston Public Library, a judge was slapping Wilkerson with a 3.5-year sentence Thursday for accepting bribes while serving in the Senate, a charge Wilkerson copped to last year.
Scandals aside, Beacon Hill leaders — each newly emboldened by their fresh mandates from the voters and, in the case of Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, their members — appeared slightly disjointed in their prospective policy agendas.
DeLeo’s call for a renewed push on expanded gambling was met immediately by a skeptical Patrick, who said he hadn’t spoken to the speaker about gambling in months and that he would prefer to pre-conference a bill with legislative leaders to avoid crowding out the rest of his agenda.
Murray, whose members began enlisting support for a three-casino proposal Thursday, said it could take time to begin forming committees and holding hearings on gambling legislation.
And after DeLeo proposed to force cities and towns into the state Group Insurance Commission, Murray made it clear she hadn’t heard about that plan from the speaker.
“I don’t think you can mandate for everyone,” she said. “We’d have to see who's doing better. I know my own community does very well.”
Murray, in her reelection speech, called to control state debt and confront opiate addiction.
Patrick, for his part, plans to bring Massachusetts back from the brink by spending less time in it. The governor told reporters in a string of sit-down interviews that he plans to spend more time on the road — in the United States and abroad — promoting Massachusetts and eyeing other states’ and countries’ successes.
Lucky for Bay Staters, his second in command, who will act as governor in Patrick’s absence, has experience putting out fires.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Parole, hand-in-hand with probation.
MEGA MILLIONS: Someone check Jay Gonzalez’s Lottery numbers. A day after the Mega Millions jackpot eclipsed $330 million, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a $330 million spending plan that included $8.5 million for the Legislature and hundreds of millions of dollars for ballooning health care costs. Gonzalez, Patrick’s budget chief, said the money for the Legislature brings them up to their spending totals from a year earlier, but neither he nor legislative leaders could explain why the sudden surge in the Legislature’s bank account was necessary, or what cost-cutting steps lawmakers had planned to take if it weren’t for the influx of funding. The spending plan, which provided $20 million to extend a health insurance program for certain legal immigrants that was due to expire at the end of the month, includes several dozen policy changes that have yet to be explained.
DRINKING TO KELLEY: Beacon Hill staffers hoping for a Thursday-night pint got a protest instead. Veterans outraged over the unceremonious ousting by Gov. Patrick of Thomas Kelley, the Medal of Honor winner and secretary of veterans’ services, took their fight to the 21st Amendment, a famed Beacon Hill watering hole in the shadow of the State House. Patrons were greeted at the door with a flier listing Kelley’s accomplishments in his 11-year tenure atop the agency and urging readers to call the governor and lodge an objection.
This program aired on January 7, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.