State House Roundup: The Wonder Of It All

As winter reasserted itself here, Gov. Deval Patrick spent his week on a beach in Costa Rica and biting winds gave pause to those left behind in the capital who for these five days – and likely just these five days – might have wanted to trade places with the “maybe, maybe” future presidential candidate.

For those not on vacation, there were anti-bullying and water infrastructure investment bills to pass, questions to be answered about runaway foster children and medical marijuana licenses and tightropes to be walked between appealing to a broad electorate or the quasi-leaders of your political party.

As the flame extinguished on the Sochi Olympics, a special commission found that hosting the 2024 summer games in Boston would be “feasible” if the private sector were willing to put some “skin in the game,” and Rep. John Keenan decided he’d lost enough skin after 10 years in the House and is ready to try something new in 2015.

Then there was the week had by the executives at Penn National Gaming and Mohegan Sun, who wouldn’t have traded it at all.

Penn National became the first licensee under Massachusetts’ expanded gaming law, a milestone event for the future of gambling in the state as the national gaming company beat out two other competitors for the state’s sole slots parlor license to be built on the sight of the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville.

The 3-2 vote by the Gaming Commission ended the aspirations of the Cordish Company to bring gaming to Leominster, while state regulators put Rhode Island on notice that the Bay State is ready to compete for gaming dollars along border and George Carney’s dreams of resurrecting Raynham Park to its greyhound glory days limply fell by the wayside.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, who found himself on the losing side of the slots vote, said in the Boston Globe that he had a “tiny bit of a sick feeling” that the commission may be missing an opportunity to provide an economic boost to North Central Massachusetts by bypassing Leominster. Just imagine the butterflies he’ll feel when he has to pick between Steve Wynn and Mohegan Sun.

Revere voters solidly approved a host-city agreement with Mohegan Sun on Tuesday against the wishes of a well-organized opposition effort to green-light the Connecticut-based tribe’s hopes of building a casino on a portion of Suffolk Downs’ land just north of Boston. Mohegan is now officially in even more direct competition with Steve Wynn, who wants to build a casino in Everett.

Patrick picked a convenient time (for him) to mention to a national publication that “maybe” he’s interested in running for president someday, just not in 2016. The comments published by POLITICO while the governor was in D.C. for National Governors Association meetings last weekend sparked a whole new round of will-he-or-won’t-he/should-he-or-shouldn’t-he speculation in the Boston media.

On the surface, Patrick’s comments weren’t much different than what he’s been saying to the local press, save for the added responsibility he deflected onto his wife. But when you drop it in a conversation with the national media before jaunting off to Costa Rica for vacation, it was bound and possibly intended to grab headlines. “That’s a decision I have to make along with my wife of 30 years, and she’s a tough one to convince,” Patrick said.

While Patrick may not be interested in running for the White House in 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is. The scandal-dogged Garden State governor kept a low profile at the NGA meetings before trying to slip quietly into Boston for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser with Mitt Romney and GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Charlie Baker.

Originally scheduled as a closely guarded, intimate affair at the home of New Balance Chairman Jim Davis, the host got cold feet, sending the well-heeled Republicans on the guest list to the Lenox Hotel where the RGA netted $1 million for the RGA, of which GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is hoping to see a good chunk of cash. An RGA official said Christie will continue to collect checks in the coming weeks in Utah, Georgia, Connecticut and Michigan.

“I think both Gov. Romney and Gov. Christie are good examples of Republican governors who worked on a bipartisan basis in blue states to get important things done and I think that’s a model that has served Massachusetts well over the years,” Baker said.

Baker is gearing up for the GOP convention later this month where he may well try to block his more conservative opponent Mark Fisher from the ballot, just as he did to Christy Mihos in 2010. That could explain why Baker remained relatively silent this week as the GOP state committee approved a platform affirming the party’s beliefs in traditional marriage and right-to-life that prompted cries from Democrats but barely a peep from the standard-bearer who needs the base as well as the moderates if he hopes to capture the Corner Office.

The Legislature these days seems to be as involved in firefighting as it is legislating. While the House and Senate managed to slam dunk anti-school bullying and water infrastructure investment bills, respectively, this week, much public focus was on the MBTA’s secretive pension fund and what to do about medical marijuana licenses.

Sen. William Brownsberger and Rep. Aaron Michlewitz held a heavily attended oversight on hearing packed with union members where officials from the MBTA Retirement Fund tried to explain how their history precluded compliance with state public records and ethics laws.

Still, the Legislature can change those laws and the power-studded panel of pension executives and prominent attorneys representing the fund, which has been battered in the press, expressed a willingness to work with lawmakers to shed some light on their inner-workings, and Brownsberger seemed optimistic about progress.

“I think we need to work together with everybody who is concerned about disclosure, both from a taxpayer's perspective and an agency perspective, to develop an approach that works and I see the potential for doing that," Brownsberger said.

As the Department of Children and Families continues to face scrutiny – this time about runaways - and the Health Connector tried to put blush on the pale face of its enrollment efforts, legislative leaders also began weighing in on the medical marijuana licensing process and where it should go from here.

The Department of Public Health is currently vetting more closely the 20 provisionally approved licensees, while House Speaker Robert DeLeo said questions raised about misleading applications lead him to believe maybe it’s time to start from scratch, even as he has tasked Jamaica Plain Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez with getting to the bottom of what’s going on.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The future of gambling in Massachusetts came into sharper focus as Revere voters okay prospect of city casino days before Plainville prevails in competition for slots license.


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