The Hill and the Hall Week in Review
Each Friday, Paul McMorrow will take you inside the smoke-filled rooms and darkly-lit corridors of government to bring you the hottest and juiciest political tidbits. This Week: The legislature takes it down to the wire; plus the usual maneuvering, backstabbing and backslapping that we all love.
How hard has the legislature been working? On Thursday, the thirstiest day of the week, the House and the Senate both missed last call. Now that’s public service. As Gov. Deval Patrick told a group of kids who were regaling him with birthday wishes, “It’s insane down there right now.”
In racing toward the end of the legislative session, legislators passed bills on global warming and health care costs, establishing universal pre-K education, securing Greenway funding, bailing out the debt-addled Pike, and approving several billion in new bonding expenditures. Additionally, they overrode nearly half of the Governor’s budget vetoes.
Most will need several uninterrupted days on the golf course to recover from such exertion. And, as luck would have it, they’ll be able to enjoy a cold one or ten on the links. That’s because, just before checking out until next January, the pols legalized booze on golf courses. Fore!
The House also struck a blow for freedom and soaring eagles and such, advancing a bill that would order the state pension system to divest from Iran. That bill wasn’t without some controversy, though. Byron Rushing announced that he’d be voting against the measure, complaining that the bill was “only about terrorism.” In that case…
The clock did run out on two high-profile bills – Patrick’s bid at criminal records reform, and same-day voter registration. Oh well. Maybe somebody’ll get around to that by 2010. Maybe not.
Though distinguished by remarkable productivity, the session’s end resembled the weeks that followed it, in that it was often overshadowed by House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s ongoing quest to retain control over his restless Democratic supermajority. It seems that when legislators gather to vote along party lines, they also tend to plot and scheme and spread disinformation about their boss’s future, and each other’s ambitions.
There had been whispers that the faction lining up behind Ways and Means Chair Bob DeLeo might be using budget veto overrides to reward supporters and punish enemies. The chairman was busy working his cell phone, but the override process largely consisted of reps shuffling into the chamber, voting with leadership (Dems yes, GOP no), and then ambling back out of the room.
At one point, Speaker Pro-Tempore Thomas Petrolati had to urge his charges to remain in the room, so that they might dispense with the business ahead of them in a more expeditious manner. Some allowed themselves to be herded; others did not.
In one interesting development, the House advanced a popular bill that had been stagnant since January. According to the Herald, leadership had “put a hold” on the bill after pocketing $42,000 from an interest group opposing the legislation. And then, after being held for months upon months, the bill moved. It was Wednesday, after 5 p.m., and over at Herald Square, the paper was preparing to ship a story about the bill’s curious death. By the time the story ran, on Thursday, the bill wasn’t dead; it was undead and on the move!
Still, from the ceremony celebrating the death of the last bit of law Kris Mineau could cling to, you’d never know that there was angst and scandal swirling through the State House. Patrick and DiMasi laughed and embraced and delivered speeches that made onlookers weep. Senator Dianne Wilkerson cheered the end of “a very dark, evil chapter in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” Everybody cheered the fact that Mitt Romney is no longer governor. And then the crowd sang happy birthday to Patrick.
The Senate joined little kids and gay marriage advocates in celebrating the governor’s aging. The body took a break from overriding his budget vetoes to enjoy a bite of Modern Pastry rum cake with the birthday man.
Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei warned his colleagues, “I might be a little unstable on my feet because that rum cake was very strong.” He confirmed that he’d marked the occasion by posing for a photo with Patrick, and then attempted to get his colleagues to begin their upcoming five-month vacation on a responsible note.
“When we come back in January, chances are, we’re going to come back to a real mess. We should do what we can right now to contain spending as best as we can. These agencies aren’t going to fall apart. They can certain afford a little belt-tightening. I don’t agree with the governor on a lot of policy issues. But he is correct on sounding the alarm.”
The speech, unlike that killer midday drunk joke, went unnoticed. Looming economic disaster? Sounds like something that can wait until January. Until then, most legislators have uncontested reelection contests to worry about. Have a nice summer, fall and Christmas, everybody!
Material for this week’s Hill and the Hall aided greatly by the various wire services who worked just as long hours as the legislature and didn’t get any cake.