Relaxing the Muscle: The Week That Was in State Politics

By 
Jim O'Sullivan, State House News Service
Feb. 26, 2010

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 26, 2010…..All guesstimates below ecstatic about the level of excitement among savvy lawmakers at a high state court ruling earlier this month, suggesting they alter the anti-obscenity laws to protect youngsters more thoroughly, are invalid and uninformed.

Wait, these givers of laws said, we get a chance to take a vote that A) carries no fiscal note and doesn’t raise taxes and B) doesn’t re-anoint a soon-to-be-indicted legislative leader and C) ostensibly shields kids from gross predators? IN!

And so they did, on Wednesday, the House decreeing that you can’t send porn to kids on their cell phones, or on the Facebook. Take that, both online and on-text-message, sexual predators.

On the same day, walking and chewing gum at the same time, the House struck a blow against the incarcerated who would assault correctional officers by throwing bodily fluids at them, disgorging a new class of crime.

This is what Speaker Bob DeLeo meant when he asked his committee chairs a few months ago to bring him bills he could pass that didn’t cost anything.

In the Senate, they were voting to slap additional regulations to crack down on funeral procession crashers and trade shows. Quietly, the Upper Chamber lent preliminary endorsement to a bill banning texting while driving (also free), while backing off the House proposal to prohibit all handheld phone use behind the wheel.

The legislative spokesforce gets all bent out of shape when its agenda is described, regardless of degree of accuracy, as “light” or “minor” or “small-bore” or “paltry,” but it is difficult to describe the counter-siege against the scourge of disrupted funeral processions as much other than “targeted” legislation.

The big-ticket stuff comes next. DeLeo has spent … well, more or less the entirety of his legislative career working on a bill that would expand gambling in Massachusetts, and the fruit could be borne next week. Casinos. Slots. Bob DeLeo becoming the public face of the casino culture in Massachusetts, the one and the same culture against which his predecessor railed, and against which DeLeo himself voted, less than two years ago. Times change, the reps who are meeting with constituents to explain why they were against casinos before they were for them will say. It’s about jobs now, they’ll say, or already have.

Craven flip-flop in the face of an about-face in leadership? Principled, economy-driven policy evolution? What’s the etiquette for convincing constituents that you’ve “grown” on an issue when, privately and sheepishly, you wouldn’t swear on a stack of one-eyed jacks that what you’ve done wasn’t taking an assignment from your chamber’s titular head and fulfilling it?

Sometimes, within the environs of the Great and General Court, it is polite to let the demons win.

DeLeo batted down questions this week about where the $378,000 in taxpayer dollars allocated in the People v. Sal DiMasi actually went. There weren’t a lot of eyebrows raised when, as leading DeLeo critic Rep. Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham) pointed out, the attorney hired by the speaker decided that the speaker had conducted himself according to Hoyle. The legal bills to outside counsel Gargiulo Rudnick were “fair and reasonable,” decided Dan Crane, a former senior Patrick aide.

Some cunning and/or fortuitous caucus scheduling and promotion allowed a far smaller crowd than usual at the closed-door session on transparency where the speaker and the attorneys explained why and how House funds were going to produce and vet House documents relevant in former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s federal corruption case. Smaller crowd, fewer questions, better spin. DeLeo came out looking pretty good to all but a few, dissidents in the House fed up with what they call centralized clout and consolidated say-so.

In the world of outside public opinion surveys, a real doozy dropped Friday morning, 500 registered voters relaying their sentiments to Suffolk University, and about half of them think unfavorably of Gov. Deval Patrick, who is on the ballot this fall. Sixty percent want someone else to have a crack at it.

The flimsy, silver-liningish, gossamer-type material on the inside of that poll for the governor is that unenrolled Treasurer Timothy Cahill slumped little even as Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker gained. If he can hang onto the current arithmetic, starkly more about division than addition, the governor survives. If either Cahill or Baker can hit a tipping point vis-à-vis the other, goes the conventional wisdom, significant career problems arise for the governor. The Suffolk/7NEWS poll had Patrick strong over long-shot Grace Ross, Baker overtaking the increasingly hobbled Christy Mihos, and then: Patrick 33, Baker 25, Cahill 23.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The Legislature nibbling at policy crumbs while gearing up for the gambling showdown.

SERIES OF TUBES: House floor division leader Garrett Bradley, a Hingham Democrat holding what for decades had been a Republican seat, evinced a, to put it politely, LIMITED understanding of this whole World Wide Web situation this week. Bradley, who in 1998 lost an effort to unhorse a septuagenarian grandmother and World War II Marine Corps veteran, promotes education as one of his legislative priorities. Bradley’s grasp of “intranet” proved wanting during a talk before the Hull board of selectman Tuesday, when he incorrectly deployed the term in reference to a news outlet.

STRATEGERY: New fad is staying quiet about one’s electoral intentions. Asked Thursday about whether he intended to run for Hampden County district attorney, Sen. Stephen Buoniconti replied, “No comment.” Peter Flaherty, a top adviser to former Gov. Mitt Romney and new U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, headlined a closed-press breakfast Friday morning about the Senate race and did not field questions from the audience, which almost assuredly would have asked him whether he’ll run for attorney general. Team, it’s late February, and the elections are in November. Also, someone around here recently sort of tried the strategy of not letting people know she was running, and it did not end well.

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