Battle of Beacon Hill

1193862594 We here at Boston Daily would like to think that today’s hearing on gambling-related social ills in the legislature is all about figuring out whether or not we should, in fact, invite casinos to open their doors in the Commonwealth. But it’s not. This is about brute, all-encompassing political warfare between Governor Deval Patrick and Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi.

They’ve been at loggerheads basically since the day Patrick walked in the door. That said, this thing is escalating a lot faster than we thought it would.

In a nutshell, when Patrick introduced his casino legislation earlier this month, DiMasi — an ardent opponent of expanded gaming — quickly told everyone that the issue would have to wait until next year. He also said it would receive a full and fair debate — which is sort of like Fox News claiming its coverage is “fair and balanced.” No one expected DiMasi to remain open-minded. Everyone expected him to pick sides, and to try to win. That’s politics, and that’s what he’s best at.

It came as no surprise, then, that the speaker decided to open up the casino debate slightly before next year — and by slightly we mean two months. Today, the House discussed the potential social ills associated with gaming, which was really just a way for DiMasi to control the story. He realized that it wasn’t going away, but he wasn’t going to back down, either.

Essentially, DiMasi and company are jumping on an early opportunity to tarnish the casino proposal without having to deal with the inconvenient possibility that there might be benefits associated with the legislation. Nice trick.

So where did this hearing come from? From a desire to reinforce the point that DiMasi has been governor a lot longer than Patrick.

Politics is a multi-front war, and the casino issue is just one battle currently being fought on Beacon Hill. Consider: Yesterday, Patrick blasted the legislature for its inaction on his $1 billion Life Sciences initiative. The Herald reported that the governor was frustrated with the lack of movement on a host of his proposals:

“One large company — Novartis — was prepared to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in over 700,000 square feet of lab and office space creating over 400 new, well-paying jobs,” Gov. Patrick said. “But our inaction on this proposal over many months caused them to abandon those plans here and focus instead on other states.”

On Beacon Hill, those are fighting words. According to our favorite state house mole, it makes perfect sense that DiMasi would respond by opening hearings on the casino issue. “It doesn’t surprise me that things have unfolded this way,” our insider said.

For years, the heavily Democratic legislature has had veto power over the Republican governors, allowing the speaker and senate president to act as de facto executives on all legislative matters. “Now, suddenly,” the State House insider says, “a Democrat is elected and DiMasi gets a demotion.”

On top of trying to protect their turf, the insider added that DiMasi and his allies — who have spent years working their way up through the legislature — resent Patrick as a Johnny come lately.

“I think there is a genuine feeling on the part of some of those people that goes something like, ‘who is this guy anyway?'” the insider adds. “Whether it’s casinos, whether it’s yesterday’s discussion on biotech, the fact is the governor’s going to run into bodies of people who say, ‘You think you know. You came here two days ago.’ I think that’s what you’re seeing here.”

In the early days of his administration, Patrick was more apt to let the legislature have its way. Now, if the Herald story is any indication, he’s starting to dig in.