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The plodding pace of debate in the Senate over expanded gambling had been forewarned, but Senate President Therese Murray’s pledge not to “stifle” that Democratic back-and-forth was put to the test this week in a rare public display of familial acrimony.
By Tuesday afternoon, Murray had heard enough when she gaveled her Democratic flock into a private caucus in her office to allow for some not-so-public venting, opening the steam valve on what some have suggested was bubbling for months.
On the surface, some Democrats took great exception to Sen. Jamie Eldridge’s amendment prohibiting lawmakers from going to work for a casino operator for five years after leaving the Legislature. The reaction elicited by Eldridge’s proposal, however, begged the question of whether lawmakers were finally being forced to confront the ghost-of-speakers-past.
“We're creating a presumption here that the people in this body cannot operate with integrity and I find it alarming in a number of important respects,” said Sen. Gale Candaras, calling the Eldridge amendment an “attack” on his colleagues.
In the wake of Salvatore DiMasi’s conviction, many lawmakers were eager to lump the former speaker in with other notable black marks on the body. With the exception of maybe Dianne Wilkerson, it was easy to brush off the transgressions of Anthony Galluccio or James Marzilli as isolated cases of a senator’s personal life gone awry.
But DiMasi’s case cast a much larger shadow on the institution, whether Democrats wanted to admit it or not. A poll conducted by MassINC in August found that 39 percent of voters believe corruption is widespread in state government, and 40 percent said the cause is the system and culture on Beacon Hill, not just a few bad seeds.
"This is an economic development bill for the people of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It should not be an economic development bill for legislators," Eldridge said.
Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer did little to hide his disdain for the not-so-subtle subtext of Eldridge’s amendment, and it did not go unmentioned that lawmakers routinely spin through the revolving door to the private sector without similar prohibitions on joining the health care, bio-tech, or clean energy sectors.
"To have an implication that we are not people of intelligence and compassion and commitment troubles me dearly and ought to trouble each and every one of you. We will support this amendment but I reject and I resent the implications of the gentleman who just spoke," Brewer said.
Senate Democrats emerged from Murray’s conclave – one she later explained she called not because debate had grown contentious, but because it turned personal - with a “compromise” amendment allowing for a one-year cooling-off period.
Embraced by the Senate without further debate, the provision instantly leaped to the top of the list of concessions to gambling opponents ripe for the squashing when the bill inevitably heads to conference committee with the House.
“We’re one big happy family - an Irish family,” mused one veteran Senate aide after the testy debate.
For all the concern of gambling sucking the oxygen out the State House, the casino debate almost served as a sideshow this week for the rekindled kerfuffle over Secure Communities, a federal fingerprint sharing program between the F.B.I. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement aimed at cracking down on those living in the country illegally.
After a string of highly-publicized crimes allegedly committed by illegal immigrants, a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers kicked off the week announcing a package of reforms requiring individuals to show proof of citizenship when applying for a variety of services and jobs in Massachusetts, and forcing immigration status checks of those arrested. The feeling of deja-vu in the room was palpable.
Cue the fresh round of criticism aimed at Gov. Deval Patrick for his reluctance to join Secure Communities when he had the chance – a jab Patrick dismissed on the radio as a “publicity stunt” given the fact that Massachusetts law enforcement agencies already send fingerprints to the F.B.I.
Federal authorities backed up the governor insisting that Patrick’s support, or lack thereof, had no influence over their timeline to fully roll out Secure Communities nationwide by 2013. But Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson insisted that he had been told otherwise, and called Patrick’s overall approach to illegal immigration “moronic.”
Those confused at home shouldn’t feel alone: “What am I missing here?” wrote retired police chief Wayne Sampson, who now runs the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, in his monthly newsletter, before the latest flare-up. “What I do not understand is this; we all send our fingerprints to the State Police who sent them to the FBI. Why can’t the FBI (a Federal law enforcement agency) share the prints with ICE (a Federal law enforcement agency)? Wouldn’t that solve the problem and stop this ridiculous public debate that is creating bad publicity for all of law enforcement?”
At the very least, the Secure Communities debate will provide ample fodder for when U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s wanna-be-opponents gather at UMass-Lowell next week for the first Democratic primary debate, even though the stage will be light one candidate.
Once regarded as a promising prospect, Newton Mayor Setti Warren pulled the plug Thursday on his young Senate campaign that had endured one setback after another since he jumped into the race in May.
Beset by criticism in his hometown that he was abandoning Newton after a little more than a year on the job, poll numbers in the single digits, and a fundraising operation that couldn’t keep up with his spending habits, the entrance of Elizabeth Warren to the race poked the last hole in an already sinking canoe.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The governor’s immigrant problem, and the Legislature’s cooling off problem.
This program aired on September 30, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.
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