State House Roundup: The Cup Runneth Over
During a week in which Treasurer Steve Grossman made plans to scoop ice cream for Wall Street protesters, and Sen. Bruce Tarr wondered whether pending gambling legislation included a provision to “grow unicorns,” nothing encapsulated a strange autumn swoon that gripped Beacon Hill more than a sudden outburst of affection between two of its most powerful leaders.
The on-again off-again affection between Gov. Deval Patrick and Speaker Robert DeLeo morphed into a full-blown bromance Thursday, when the pair locked in a very public embrace and DeLeo uttered the remark heard ’round the Hill.
“He’s the greatest governor we’ve ever had,” the speaker said, with hundreds of witnesses on hand.
Patrick aides practically leapt out of their bow ties at the remark. Never mind that big pieces of the governor’s policy agenda – millions of dollars for youth jobs, more expansive gun crime legislation, and a health payment reform bill – lay idle before House-controlled committees. Or that this was the same DeLeo who just six months ago effectively doomed Patrick’s proposal for an expanded bottle recycling law by dubbing it a “tax.”
Nevertheless, the saccharine lovefest under the dome – abetted by a business-halting visit from Boston Bruins brass with the Stanley Cup in tow – came to define the week.
The House and Senate expressed near unanimity – with the exception of Marlborough Republican Rep. Steven Levy – on a plan to cram $350 million into the state’s rainy day fund and spend $150 million on caseload accounts and programs hit by cuts in recent years. The AFL-CIO coalesced around a new leader, Sen. Steven Tolman, who promised a more harmonious era for organized labor and to look anywhere he can for new union members. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic establishment favorite to take on U.S. Sen. Scott Brown next year, drew raves for her first debate performance.
In fact, the only person who wasn’t feeling the love inside the State House was Jane Lubchenco, the Obama administration’s top oceanic and atmospheric official, who took a drubbing from Senate President Therese Murray, along with members of the state’s Congressional delegation, over stringent regulations they argued were crushing business for thousands of Massachusetts fishermen. But even that discord had a uniting effect among Massachusetts officials, with Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry joining forces to put the hurt on federal fisheries policy.
The public collegiality hardly appears to signal the advent of a new era of good feelings in Massachusetts government, however, with potentially bruising fights ahead over redistricting and pension reform – and probably underway behind the scenes already. There’s also that matter of ethics. House Democrats and Republicans engaged in a brief but pointed dustup this week when Democrats said reforms the GOP proposed in the midst of former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s corruption case can wait until next session.
What became increasingly clear this week was the House’s further move away from public deliberation, an acquiescence by rank-and-file members who made clear they’re fine with private negotiations on key initiatives and not much interested in publicly explaining their policies. During consideration Wednesday of the supplemental budget – one of the few opportunities each year to glom long-stalled policy ideas onto a catch-all bill – no member questioned any aspect of the lengthy proposal and no one demanded roll calls, one of the few tools available to backbenchers to force their colleagues on the record.
Although he opted against speaking on the floor of the House, Rep. James Lyons (R-Andover) hailed the passage of an amendment he sponsored that would force the Patrick administration to break down benefit spending based on residency status of recipients.
“Sharing this knowledge with the taxpayers of the Commonwealth will enrich our legislative budgetary debates,” Lyons said in a press release. “The reporting of this essential data is the first step to answering the question posed to me by constituents: 'How and where are our tax dollars being spent?'”
The amendment passed just after 4 p.m. Wednesday. By 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the Senate had rejected the Lyons amendment while turning around its version of the supplemental budget and passing it 36-0, setting up some haggling with the House, although the bulk of the proposal was largely prearranged.
Senate gambling debate continued its plodding pace, with proponents continuing to rack up lopsided victories on amendments offered by detractors and skeptics. But one amendment, a proposal to eliminate a license for a slot machine parlor from the bill, drew enough support to make for a fascinating calculus that could have slots proponents quaking and anti-gambling lobbyists licking their chops.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton), garnered 12 votes – with at least one absent senator who opposes expanded gambling, Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain). Gambling proponent Sen. Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury) is still abroad in Iraq, and Sen. Tolman (D-Brighton) is preparing to depart the Senate after being elected Wednesday as president of the Mass. AFL-CIO. The short-handed Senate puts the prospect of upholding a gubernatorial veto within reach of slots opponents.
Patrick has given no indication that he intends to veto the bill or any provisions, in fact offering words of support for the broad outline of the bill and saying he would support a competitively bid slot parlor in the interest of making a deal with legislative leaders. But he has regularly raised concerns about the “human cost” of slot machine gambling, expressing a clear preference for resort-style casinos that incorporate other industries and entertainment options. His choice may be: honor the deal, and build political capital in the building, or go with his instincts and reject a form of gambling he’s never liked much anyhow.
Not everything came up unicorns for the governor this week. A close aide since his 2006 run for office, Ron Bell, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, and has since been placed on unpaid leave. The governor also faced renewed heat for his skepticism on the federal Secure Communities program, following remarks by U.S. homeland security chief Janet Napolitano that suggested the program would eliminate the very problem Patrick has worried it would cause: the indiscriminate deportation of illegal immigrants who present no threat to public safety.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Occupy Boston preoccupies Boston, while gambling and spending plans churn on Beacon Hill.
GONZO: The oohs and ahs over the unrestrained affection between Gov. Patrick and Speaker DeLeo on Thursday at a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration quickly overshadowed what, until that moment, had been an eyebrow-raising story from Secretary Jay Gonzalez, Gov. Deval Patrick’s top budget aide, about his own Hispanic heritage. Gonzalez, who introduced the governor, said he owed his existence to Hispanic culture. The story began innocently enough: about his Ohioan mother’s study abroad trip to Spain when she was a young college student. But his mother, he explained, returned to America with more than just an enriched cultural education. She also came home married to “a 19-year-old Spaniard” – and pregnant with the future secretary. Although he acknowledged being pleased at having been born, he had a warning for Education Secretary Paul Reville: don’t incorporate my mom’s educational path into the Massachusetts curriculum.
This program aired on October 7, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.