State House Roundup: 'In Terms Of Celebration'
Unlike last year, the seemingly inevitable came to fruition this week as Gov. Deval Patrick put his name on expanded gambling legislation, while Speaker Robert DeLeo looked on holding his breath and half-expecting the governor’s pen to run out of ink.
It didn’t. At 10:53 a.m. on the 22nd day of the eleventh month of the year 2011, after one final scratch of his many pens, Gov. Patrick said, “It’s law,” officially beginning a new era of expanded gambling in Massachusetts.
The moment passed in an almost anti-climactic crescendo, ending decades of debate heightened in recent years to a level of noise that virtually drowned out other policy priorities – both achieved and still pending - of legislative leaders. Gaming, however, will still likely command a good deal of discussion as the next phases begin - appointing a gaming commission, soliciting bids for casinos, and creating all of those promised new jobs.
A commercial developer on the South Coast barely held back for the bill to become law before hitting send on a lawsuit challenging provisions in the bill that give a Native American tribe first dibs on one of the three casino licenses, and already anti-casino forces are marshaling a repeal effort.
“There were times when I would question whether we would ever come to this day. I knew we had to get this bill done to get people back to work,” DeLeo said, noting his initial reluctance to speak before Patrick had actually signed the bill, and suggesting the happiest person in the room might have been Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who had been waiting for this day since her father was a representative in the House.
The clichéd adjectives for what will certainly become chapter titles in the biographies – though maybe not autobiographies - of Patrick, DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray were all there: sweeping, historic, landmark. And yet, it was largely left to the gaming-fatigued scribes of the Fourth Estate to capture the weight of the moment.
Maybe because the conclusion of the journey this session from concept to bill to law never really appeared in doubt, even those most behind the effort seemed more ready to move on rather than take a victory lap. The smiles, handshakes and pats on the back were all tempered by Patrick, who claimed casinos as a “not central” part of his economic development agenda, and DeLeo, who cautioned gaming was not a “panacea” for revenue or employment woes.
Patrick said he’s already prepared to undergo a “crash vetting” of potential candidates to chair the new Gaming Commission, which will wield near unchecked authority over the introduction of casinos and slot machines to the Bay State, including a decision highlighted by Patrick himself about whether three actually is the right number of casinos.
And Murray, a week after telling reporters she never wanted to talk about casinos again, didn’t even show for the bill signing, unexplained by her staff as a “scheduling conflict” that did not reflect a lack of support or enthusiasm for the bill.
As for those less than pleased by Tuesday’s conclusion, a ballot repeal effort could be the next step.
“We are aware of early discussions being held by some ardent casino opponents. To date, we haven’t been involved in those discussions and, since those beginning to organize around a repeal have asked that their efforts remain private, I don’t feel comfortable offering up any further details,” said David Guarino, a spokesman for Citizens for a Stronger Massachusetts.
Murray wasn’t the only one missing this week, however, as the predictable pilgrimage of legislators from the capitol to home districts left the halls of State House quiet, save for the handful who showed up for the bill-signing photo-ops with the governor for Congressional redistricting, anti-human trafficking laws and gaming.
Without the press of legislating to occupy their minds, the business of politics intruded with the unattributable whisperings of a mid-recess Democratic caucus to punish House Majority Whip Charley Murphy for not-quite-explained transgressions of loyalty.
The session had barely ended when word of a dust-up between DeLeo and Murphy in the speaker’s office on the final night of debate over an anti-crime bill amendment surfaced – the subtext being DeLeo’s frustration with Murphy’s not-so-subtle maneuvering to position himself for speaker if and when DeLeo steps down.
DeLeo, who made some not so subtle moves of his own before he became speaker, has declined to comment on whether he plans to remove Murphy from his leadership position before January. But DeLeo did for the first time indicate that he plans to remain on as speaker through 2016, with the blessing of the members, when term-limits would force him to resign the gavel.
For his part, Murphy took the unusual step of elevating the feud in public with a letter to all House members defending his loyalty to the speaker and denying press reports that he has been undermining the speaker’s leadership by fostering rumors that state and federal probes into Probation Department patronage could lead to upheaval in the House.
The players in this family drama only add to the intrigue given that Murphy was one of the lead vote wranglers for DeLeo in 2008 during the speaker’s battle with Rep. John Rogers to succeed former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi – an internecine fight that played out publicly and behind-closed doors all before DiMasi acknowledged plans to go anywhere, and while secretly orchestrating a DeLeo hand-off.
Who DeLeo plans to hand the ball off too when it’s his time is anyone’s guess right now, but Murphy knows after his “demotion” from chair of Ways and Means last January it won’t be him. Never a shrinking violent (once a Marine always a Marine) – Murphy’s style has always held the potential to rub some people the wrong way.
House in-fighting, however, was not something DeLeo wanted to discuss this week. After all, it was a time to give thanks.
“I think right now, as I stated yesterday, my focus right now not only is obviously, you know, in terms of celebration of some of the legislation that we’ve accomplished,” DeLeo said.
In addition to gaming, anti-human trafficking, and redistricting, Patrick signed anti-transgender discrimination laws this week giving the liberal wing of his party a key victory in a session otherwise defined by the tacking of party leaders to the center with efforts to raise the retirement age, curb collective bargaining over health benefits and toughen sentencing laws.
After what seemed like a year of assuming the role of Public Enemy No. 1, the unions were also thrown a bone and they took it gladly, flooding the governor’s office for the signing of a bill that allows for the inclusion of evergreen clauses in collective bargaining agreements.
The bill permits language in contracts that would allow public employees to continue working under the terms of expired contracts while new deals are being negotiated with management. Those clauses could come in handy when, or if, cities and towns move to take advantage of municipal health insurance bargaining reforms.
With great opposition from public employee unions, the Legislature in July passed a law reforming the way public employees can bargain over health insurance benefits with stronger leverage given to management in an effort to exact a projected $100 million in savings for municipalities and employees in the first year.
The most recent statistics released by the Patrick administration show only four cities and towns over the first four months of the law taking advantage of the reforms, netting an annual combined savings of $18 million.
Expiring contracts, duration of negotiations and a new impetus to resolve disputes through traditional bargaining could all be factors in the slow start, but for one of the signature achievements of the “unbelievably productive” lawmaking session, as DeLeo put it, this is hardly represented the stampede towards reform that was projected.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Shuffle Up and Deal.
This program aired on November 25, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.