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: Casinos (what, you thought we’d talk about CORI reform, lowering the blood-alcohol level or judicial appointments?) Why yes, we do.
Deval Patrick has got to hate St. Patrick’s week. This time a year ago, House Speaker Sal DiMasi appeared before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and absolutely brutalized the governor – much to the delight of the assemblage of reporters and rich people in nice suits.
And now, no sooner had the vomit dried on Broadway than the speaker was back before the Chamber, telling everybody that casino gambling “will absolutely cause damage on a grand scale” and ruin lives and everything. If it’s not the end of civilization as we know it, it sounded pretty damn close.
And with that, the great casino death train of 2008 pulled back into the station. In celebration of the occasion, some people jibbered. Others jabbered. Facts, figures, reports and the like were bandied about, and somewhere along the line, the governor’s casino proposal flatlined. It was all rather dizzying, and you’ve read it all before.
So, in the interest of keeping everybody awake, this week’s Hill and the Hall will forgo any and all analysis of this week’s casino debate in favor of a recap devoted exclusively to the overblown rhetoric contained therein. It was more than just words, you know.
Gov. Patrick began the day addressing a small throng of hard-hatted laborers. We think he challenged DiMasi to a fight: “Put up! Put up … you know how the rest of that goes.”
Patrick’s pugilistic bent was no match for AFL-CIO president Bobby Haynes, though. The union head demanded that his members demand jobs or else … you know how the rest of that goes. “It’s not gonna happen because we threaten anybody,” Haynes shouted. “Don’t call them up – march into that goddamn building up there, and you get into their office! … 20,000 construction jobs is not important enough to debate? 20,000 permanent jobs are not important enough to debate? Bullshit! Bullshit!” Haynes added, rather improbably, “I will be respectful when I’m in that building.”
The best moment from the legislature’s seemingly endless casino hearing: Around 7 p.m., DiMasi moved to retreat from the surprise appearance he’d made to the marathon session’s evening edition, and was immediately ambushed by a scrum of scribes. He indulged their questions, threw a few wild elbows at his counterpart in the Corner Office (“I guess if he thinks that his bill isn’t in the best form possible, he should’ve said that a little while ago”), and then tried to back into an elevator.
The reportorial scrum followed, and the speaker was asked when the last time was that he’d spent such a long time at a hearing. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the building, as you know. So by the time you leave, I’m there at least another couple hours,” he shot back.
And with that, he was gone.
And with that, a bill the governor had staked enormous political capital (not to mention a few campaign promises) on went down to defeat. Sorry. That was almost slightly analytical. On to more tongue-wagging!
The runner-up for speechifying while killing a casino bill is Angelo Scaccia. “I want to congratulate whomever the lobbyists were on this issue,” he cracked. “I have received more information on this issue than any other issue that I have seen before 35 years in this Legislature. They have done a remarkable job and earned every single penny that folks on the outside paid them.”
Which leaves Brian Wallace, unsurprisingly, as the winner: “Some people in this House think debate is something you put on the end of a fish hook. On this Holy Thursday, let he who has filed the perfect bill cast the first stone… If God walked in right now and told us casinos would be beneficial, he would be accused of being on the payroll of Suffolk Downs… Leadership should be about protecting their membership, and not costing them their seats, and that is exactly what today’s vote is going to do.”
It may not seem like it, but there was actually more than just fighting about gambling happening on the Hill this week. The governor pulled a double-header Tuesday, following his gambling testimony with a push to get his CORI reform bill passed.
Judiciary Committee co-chair Robert Creedon introduced the governor to the committee as the “first working governor in many years,” and though Patrick delivered one of his better policy speeches in some time in defense of the bill, he would have no luck this day. “I hate to see this championed as a CORI reform bill,” Senator Dianne Wilkerson testified. “It’s the story about the pig. When you dress it up, it’s still a pig.” Luckily, the governor had already left the room.
Still, the Soaring Rhetoric of the Week Award (non-casino category) goes to Taunton Rep. James Fagan, who pushed this week for the passage of a bill lowering the legal blood alcohol limit for drunk driving from .08 to .02. It was an exhibition and a half – eight minutes of uninterrupted vitriol, during which Fagan remained standing, glancing around wildly, shouting and denouncing “the geniuses that write in the press on this.” While staring right at press row, obviously. Some of the Rep’s greatest hits:
“What we have done with that law is encourage the second type of legal gambling in Massachusetts. You can bet in the state lottery, and you can bet when you’re out as you have a second cocktail or a third, whether your breathalyzer is going to be a .07 or a .08…
“For those people that say – what about me, I go out and have one beer, I have one glass of wine? Let me tell you something – if somebody tells you they went out and had one beer, that’s somebody that has no money or no friends, or you’re lying…
“Whether it’s popular or not, I don’t care. I’m happy enough that it gains the attention it gains so that people will talk about it and think about it and be forced to confront it. And for those people in the media that say I’m a defense lawyer and I’m gonna make money off this, I had an answer for them, it was short and it was blunt and it was impolite so I’m not gonna say it again. But my opinion on them, they are the vultures that prey off the bones of these tragedies and offer no solutions of their own.”
Yes, “vultures” was his closing line. Yes, he did earn himself a round of applause.
Politics as usual: Former state senator and Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques had her surprise judicial appointment held up this week. This development was entirely unrelated to Jacques’s apparent lack of qualifications for the position.
Wire services sat through hours of testimony and contributed to this report.