State House Roundup: Coulda' Been A Contender

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The ubiquitous tweeting of lawmakers eager to bypass more old-world channels of communication may be the reality of politics in 2012, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo isn’t one of those politicians.

The leader of the House has no Facebook page, no clever Twitter handle and not even a personal website. So on Wednesday, House lawmakers were perhaps witness to the 61-year-old Winthrop Democrat’s first friend request.

“To Mark Zuckerberg, and other leaders of new companies, we want you here,” DeLeo said during his annual speech to the House, a refashioning of his image from Casino Bob to Digital DeLeo.

Zuckerberg, the multi-billionaire founder of Facebook who dropped out of Harvard and moved to Silicon Valley to grow Facebook, never blamed high corporate taxes for tech start-ups, capital gains rates or lack of qualified programmers for leaving Massachusetts. In fact, he said at Stanford University, “If I were starting now, I would have just stayed in Boston.”

But his mere suggestion a few months back that if he had it to do over again he might have stayed local had DeLeo in a wistful mood.

“Think of it,” DeLeo said, pondering what $3.7 billion in annual revenue and a forthcoming IPO offering might have meant for the Massachusetts economy.

They were thinking about it, among other things, trying not to dwell on what it might mean for Massachusetts politics if former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, incarcerated for corruption, but described this week by federal officials as “in transit,” comes back to Massachusetts and provides testimony in an ongoing probe of probation department hiring practices.

While DeLeo lamented losing the “innovation battle” to other states and vowed to create a “friendlier, better climate for the creation of new jobs” this year, Gov. Deval Patrick has been making the national rounds touting the state’s investment in biotech, life sciences and clean energy as the reason for below average unemployment.

The two men should have plenty to talk about next week when they sit down for their weekly powwow, not the least of which will be the speaker’s scuttling of Patrick’s plan to balance next year’s budget with $260 million in new revenue, described by the governor’s budget chief as a “small amount of targeted tax revenue.”


DeLeo’s decision to re-up his no-new-taxes pledge prompted Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez to issue a challenge of sorts to do better: “The budget is about choices and we’ll wait to see what choices the House of Representatives makes in lieu of these proposals,” Gonzalez said.

The budget wasn’t the only fight on Gonzalez’s plate this week. On Tuesday, he presented to the board of the Committee for Public Counsel Services the governor’s budget pitch to further shift defense work away from private bar advocates to public defenders in an even 50-50 split.

Struggling still to implement last year’s budget reform that gave public defenders 25 percent of the caseload – up from 10 percent – the board and CPCS officials unabashedly worried that Patrick was pushing too fast, too soon without knowing the consequences.

The budget debate might only be in the early stages of negotiation, but Attorney General Martha Coakley was able to sign Massachusetts onto the dotted line of a $25 billion national settlement with the country’s five largest lending banks, netting $318 million in relief for homeowners victimized by foreclosure fraud.

One of the last holdouts to the settlement as she successfully negotiated her right to continue to pursue pieces of her own lawsuit against the banks, Coakley’s stand for homeowners, and her vocal defense of Obama’s health care act, earned her a 665-word write-up in the National Journal declaring it in a headline, “Martha Coakley’s Comeback.”

“I feel like I’ve been working very hard the day after the election getting back to work. I think we’re doing great work in Massachusetts…,” Coakley told the News Service, referring to her disappointing loss for Democrats to Sen. Scott Brown. “I’m delighted to be where I am.”

As House Democrats tried to read the tea leaves of DeLeo’s speech for morsels they could take back to their constituents – the no new taxes or fees pledge among the most popular – the GOP minority spent the week griping about process and a lack of movement on legislation that could create jobs.

Minority Leader Brad Jones said the Republican caucus will outline its job creation proposals next week, hoping that for all DeLeo’s talk about jobs, he might be willing to listen.

And after spending a Monday morning on the unemployment line, Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk) sarcastically remarked that residents out of work could at least “sell your kidney to pay the rent,” taking a jab at leadership for making an organ donor bill the first order of business after DeLeo’s remarks.

The job creation push from Republicans was accompanied by the launch of what the GOP is calling the Rule 28 Coalition, a process-y push to free bills that have stalled in Ways and Means, Rules or the Third Reading committee and force more debate and voting on the floor.

Though House Rule 28 is already a tool at the Republican’s disposal if they can marshal majority support with the Democratic colleagues, the attempt to highlight the slow legislative process and leadership control of bills moving through the House was panned almost uniformly by Democrats as an election-year gimmick.

Only two Democrats, including DeLeo’s prickliest thorn, Rep. Charles Murphy, have signed the pledge, and though the GOP needs 49 Democrats to join, Murphy’s support, by Jones’s own acknowledgment, could be more curse than blessing.

So on message were House Democrats with their reaction to the R28C one might have thought they had been coached. And they had. All that dismissiveness had been laid out for them in a two-page talking points memo from Matt O’Neil, the political consultant on retainer for the House Democrats PAC.

By way of explanation for the Speaker’s ungoogleable comings-and-goings, the speaker’s spokesman said DeLeo knows the value of social media and technology to the younger generation: “You don’t have to be a surgeon to know the importance of health care to Massachusetts, and he knows this is a valuable source of jobs for the commonwealth,” said Seth Gitell.

While on the topic of surgeons, DeLeo also pushed the health care payment reform bill percolating in the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing up the hill, vowing to protect community hospitals as well as patient access to the highest quality care in any reform proposal.

Senate Health Care Financing Co-Chair Sen. Richard Moore predicted a bill by March, with or without House agreement, which could, maybe, give the Legislature time to meet the governor’s preferred pre-budget timeline.

And while House Majority Leader Ronald Mariano suggested Patrick might not like final outcome, he said the governor might just be “desperate” enough for a bill to accept whatever the Legislature comes up with.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Speaker speaks, Beacon Hill listens.

This program aired on February 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.