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: Coastal legislators are peeved, casino proponents are suspicious, and the new Pike Director offers a bleak, yet highly quotable, assessment.
These are strange times for the state’s coastal legislators. First, in November, they were subjected to an energy bill sneak attack that opened up their coastlines to unfettered wind farm development. They balked, as did the Senate, which had been pushing an oceans management bill authored by Senator Robert O’Leary (pictured) as a way to set up a framework for plopping turbines down in the water.
The senate had threatened to hold Sal DiMasi’s energy bill hostage if the House didn’t act on their oceans bill, so House leadership pushed a gutted, bizzaro version of the senate’s bill to the floor last week.
“It’s not much of an oceans bill,” O’Leary told us. “It doesn’t set up a meaningful planning process that has any teeth, and without that, it’s just an exercise, something that ends up on a shelf. I’m disappointed.”
O’Leary did pronounce himself “optimistic” that he’ll be able to bring the House around in conference committee. But until he does, don’t expect to see too much action coming out of the energy conference committee.
The House’s coastal delegation feels even less sanguine about the whole exercise. They’d begged and pleaded to get an audience with the Speaker after the energy bill fiasco. When they finally did meet, they were told to expect a full debate on the turbine amendment. Instead, what they got was a chance to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a bid by Dartmouth Rep. John Quinn to strike the turbine language from the House version.
“The coastal reps are not happy at all,” says a House source. “There’s outrage. There was tremendous pressure brought to bear on people over this.”
“The whispers on the floor were, ‘Quinn is right, but I’m not crossing the Speaker on this one,'” another House source adds.
The wild card in all this outrage soup: With energy and oceans both in conference committee, there’s been speculation that the House could be playing ball on the Buzzard’s Bay turbines on two fields at once. We’ve also heard speculation that, if a logjam develops, the Senate might be willing to trade its more robust oceans bill for the House’s wind amendment—provided the House takes clear ownership of the thing by reinserting it into its signature energy initiative.
Just when state government started to look like it was ready to get working, it up and quit on us. The February school vacation week brought much of the normal activity in the State House to a screeching halt. Schedules were light, meetings were canceled, reporters were bored stupid, and elected leaders were, largely, absent from Beacon Hill.
The week would’ve been a whole lot more exciting, had a casino hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday gone off as planned. It too was canceled and rumors are that we won’t see any gambling action until the latter part of next month.
The State House News Service reported that the mid-school-vacation hearing had fallen victim to the legislature’s notoriously slow, deliberative pace. Reportedly, members of the Senate—the body that actually favors Governor Deval Patrick‘s proposal—”balked at holding such a big-ticket hearing during school vacation week.”
The legislature rarely does any business during vacation weeks (many members avoid the building altogether), so the cancellation shouldn’t come as a great surprise. That hasn’t staunched the flow of conspiracy theories, though.
Senator Michael Morrissey, a vocal casino proponent, told State House News that the cancellation owed less to legislators’ own penchant for relaxation than it did to anti-casino forces’ fear of the governor’s sudden, staggering successes. “I think that was the attempt, was to undercut the support that’s been building,” he theorized. “That’s how I view it. Good deal if you can get away with it.”
In conversations in the building this week, Morrissey’s theory found more than a few believers.
“It didn’t pass the smell test,” Rep. Brian Wallace tells us about the schedule maneuvering. “I was shocked” that the hearing was scheduled for school vacation week. “A lot of people had already left. Marty Walsh was on an airplane when he found out about it. People assume there isn’t a lot that happens this week.”
Wallace, the legislature’s go-to guy for casino head-counting, pronounced the 160-member body largely up for grabs—a fact that only heightens the stakes (and the likely circus-like atmosphere) for next month’s casino hearing. It’ll likely be one and done—one hearing, an unfavorable committee report, and then a floor vote in April or May.
“The majority are undecided at this point,” Wallace says. “There are 40 on one side, 40 on the other, and a whole lot of undecideds.”
LeBovidge compared the Pike’s bureaucrats to psychologically damaged citizens living under “dictatorship” and “absolute monarchy,” and said, “When I came here, I felt like a little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.”
His best, and most depressing, one-liner? “Unfortunately, when I took this job, I had a sense that there was a simple solution.” Zing!
Wire services contributed to this report.