State House Roundup: Fallout From The Storm

The first full week of the new legislative session started much the way the last session ended, punctuated by a crippling winter storm and featuring little in terms of actual lawmaking or formal debate.

That’s not to say it was quiet, as comings-and-goings continued to dominate the news with a new sheriff in town, a pick for UMass president, the firing of nearly an entire state board, the flight of jobs and the arrival of a Kennedy all commanding attention.

As lawmakers – new and old – awaited their committee assignments and dutifully readied bills for filing, Gov. Deval Patrick stepped up to the podium to wipe at least one action-item off his agenda with the release of a damning report on the parole department’s handling of accused Woburn cop-killer Dominic Cinelli’s release from prison.

Out on parole despite being sentenced to three concurrent life sentences for past violent discretions, Cinelli’s case elicited a public outcry from family, police, Democrats and Republicans alike and virtually overshadowed the inauguration of the first governor to be elected to a second term since William Weld.

Patrick did his best to avoid appearing Draconian, but regardless of what was said during the governor’s “discussion” with friend and Parole Board Chief Mark Conrad, Patrick got what he wanted. The resignations of Conrad and the four other Parole Board members who voted to release Cinelli – at Conrad’s suggestion, not Patrick’s – pleased the board’s harshest critics.

And the governor didn’t stop there, accepting resignations from former parole executive director Donald Giancioppo, who got a promotion in the Department of Corrections late last year, and beginning termination proceedings for three other parole officials involved in Cinelli’s supervision.

Patrick’s crackdown may have been warranted, but even those who agreed with the moves appeared wide-eyed that it went down the way it did. Asked if he was surprised by the governor’s actions, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “I have to say, I probably am actually.”

Lawmakers used words like “swift” and “decisive,” and now the question is whether they can follow the governor’s lead. The governor’s version of Melissa’s Bill, a three-strikes-and-you’re-out reform to state sentencing filed on Friday, may not go as far as some would like. His decision to allow for parole after an offender serves two-thirds of a max sentence was a compromise for Patrick, who believes strongly in the rehabilitation mission of the correction system.

But the details almost seemed moot until the Legislature pays more than lip service to breaking the logjam that has held the bill in the Judiciary Committee for a decade. Clock’s ticking, but even DeLeo said the bill deserves a House debate.

Maybe it’s circumstances. Maybe it’s coincidence. Maybe it’s a newfound spirit of cooperation. But the beginning of Patrick’s second term –and his last – has hinted at what could be a shifting of power.

Consider that once upon a time under the dome, a newly elected Patrick, still struggling to find his footing, walked into the building to find a reality where whatever the Speaker wanted, the Speaker got.

A young governor at the time proposed bringing three resort casinos to Massachusetts, only to have then-Speaker Sal DiMasi, of the governor’s own party, put his foot down and say, “Not so fast.”

DeLeo tried to exert similar influence over the casino debate last summer – albeit in favor of a different outcome – and that didn’t work either. Now DeLeo appears ready to bend like a willow in order to not let the issue die.

"What I'm saying is, I'm willing to compromise even more than I did last year," DeLeo said this week. "I thought I compromised greatly. But I'm willing to talk even more."

Pressure to address scandals in parole and probation have made Patrick’s climb off the campaign trail a rocky traverse, and it didn’t get any easier with Evergreen Solar dropping a bombshell on the state when it announced that it would be eliminating 800 jobs and closing up shop in Massachusetts after accepting $58 million in tax breaks and incentives to expand just two years ago.

The poster-child for the governor’s green-economy future departing for Michigan and China left administration officials clinging to “claw back” provisions in the company’s contracts that will likely allow the state to recoup pennies on the dollar, and renders next week’s unemployment data drop more than a little subject to interpretation.

Charlie Baker, the governor’s felled election opponent who has sometimes taken to social media to comment on the goings on since losing in November, remained silent this week on Evergreen, but the news proved to be enough to lure his former press secretary Rick Gorka out of hiding.

“Evergreen Solar firing 800 ppl today that means the taxpayers of MA shelled out about $75k per lost job, thanks Gov,” Gorka tweeted. Could this be enough to rekindle the Twitter-wars of old between Gorka and Patrick press secretary Alex Goldstein? The Roundup can only hope.

Without actual legislating to be done, the House chamber has become something of a historic theater in recent weeks, first playing host to Patrick’s inauguration and then this week a coming-out party for Joseph P. Kennedy III.

The 30-year-old grandson of Robert F. Kennedy came to the State House to deliver a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of his uncle’s famed “City Upon a Hill” address in the same chamber on his way to the White House in 1961.

Kennedy, far more soft-spoken than his former Congressman father, delivered a speech that Democratic representatives deemed both “eloquent” and “timely,” while offering an unexpected commentary on the tone of political discourse in America in light of the shooting tragedy in Arizona.

“We have a new Kennedy,” quipped a beaming Senate President Therese Murray after the speech, feeding the stable of Bay Staters not eager to let Camelot die. Victoria Kennedy even avoided the press after the event, giving the spotlight solely to the young, red-haired Cape Cod prosecutor.

Only later, through a Boston Globe columnist, did Vicki Kennedy seek to end speculation, again and maybe for the last time, that she would not run against U.S. Sen. Scott Brown in 2012.

The younger Kennedy reportedly took a pass last year on running for retiring William Delahunt’s Congressional seat, so now only time will tell if redistricting or the 2012 cycle creates another opening for another Kennedy.

The UMass Board of Trustees also selected Towson University President Robert Caret to succeed outgoing system honcho Jack Wilson next summer, capping a politically tumultuous search process and shunning what many perceived to be Patrick’s favorite, M.I.T. Chancellor Phillip Clay.

And Rep. Peter Koutoujian finally engineered his escape from the Legislature by earning the governor’s nod for interim Middlesex County sheriff, meaning after years of stockpiling the tall, Waltham Democrat might actually need his $418,502 war chest for 2012.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Out with the old, in with the new.

WHAT’S THE WORLD GOT IN STORE? Kyle Sullivan, the governor’s departing communications director, worked his final day Friday, earning a heartfelt send-off from Patrick at a morning Cabinet meeting, according to someone in attendance. Patrick praised Sullivan for “giving 120 percent” through highs and lows of the first term. Sullivan was one of the few senior staffers to stay on the job for four years. Patrick’s thanks reportedly elicited “as much emotion as Kyle shows,” before the veteran spokesman offered a “no comment” and exited the room.

PARLOR INTRIGUE, MINOR LEAGUE STYLE: Veteran lawmakers were looking upon the new freshman class with that, “Oh, aren’t they silly” gaze that comes with years of experience on Beacon Hill as the newly minted representatives and senators, with little else to do, got their first taste of power brokering under the dome. Choosing a class president is right of passage for freshmen, despite the position holding basically no significance other than the respect of one’s peers. By virtue of sheer numbers, the president historically comes from the House. Democrats reportedly began to coalesce around Rep. Jerry Parisella, who is on his way to Iraq later this month, as a gesture of respect, but some more ambitious members have balked. Meanwhile Republicans, who for the first time in a long time have more freshman House members than Democrats, want their own man, or woman, to hold the title. The partisan jockeying, according to one new member of the Senate, has prompted Democrats to begin reaching out to the eight freshman senators for their help. “I don’t really care,” said one of those senators, “but I remember when I was a freshman it was a really big deal.”

This program aired on January 14, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.


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