The Hill and the Hall Half-Year in Review

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1210706266Each Friday Thursday, 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: It’s the Hall’s Half-year in Review.

There’s still a couple weeks left in the current legislative session, but since we’ve just passed the year’s halfway point – and since some of us are going to the beach a few days early – now seems as good a time as any to tally up the winners and losers from politicking in 2008. Here’s who did well, who did terribly, and who just got done on Beacon Hill and in City Hall.

Governor Deval Patrick

The good news first. The noise on Beacon Hill this half-year revolved around the governor’s legislative successes and failures – a dramatic departure from last year, what with talk of Cadillacs, drapes, and political incompetence. He’s suddenly able to walk the State House halls without tripping over his own feet (on most days, anyway), and it’s his policy proposals, not his relationship with the House Speaker, or a string of embarrassing staff shakeups, that dominate the headlines.

In this sense alone, the governor enjoyed the first six months of 2008 much, much more than he did the first half of 2007. And that’s saying something, considering that Patrick spent much of the half-year fighting for a doomed casino bill, and then, on the eve of the bill’s ceremonial slaughter, abandoning the few Reps who were actually willing to invite the Speaker’s wrath by standing with him when he bolted town to look for a book deal.

It was an appropriate end to a maddening six-month saga.

Stymied in its bid to squeeze coinage out of telecom companies, corporations, and restaurants, the administration dressed up a desperate cash-grab as an economic development proposal. They couldn’t convince the House that Sheldon Adelson was the answer to the state’s property tax crisis, (because he isn’t). Casinos would provide cities and towns with one-eighth of the local aid dollars that the Lottery does, dollar for dollar. So, without a real reason for existing, the thing – along with a significant volume of the governor’s political capital – got put down.

Whatevs. Few people, outside of Dan O’Connell and Clyde Barrow, gave it a fighting chance in the first place. Yet, even with one horribly awful legislative defeat on his record, Patrick still isn’t doing too bad for himself this year.

For one, he got King Sal to cave on corporate tax loopholes. For another, he can suddenly play ping-pong and not get murdered in the press for it. Plus, he finally saw his $1 billion life sciences package squeeze through the legislature – just in time to jet off to San Diego and get crowned the biotech industry’s governor of the year. He trotted out his signature education reform initiative and didn’t get totally destroyed for not knowing how he’s going to roll the teachers unions, or find a few extra billion to pay for the thing.

And, most importantly, a longtime Beacon Hill observer points out that for better or worse, this year’s budget – assuming it ever gets passed – is basically Patrick’s budget. It’s been nearly two decades since the legislature showed this much deference to the governor’s budget, and Patrick certainly didn’t get that courtesy last year.

House Speaker Sal DiMasi

One word for you: Oof.

Sal’s been getting it from all sides, and the trouble isn’t going to go away. That casino victory was forever ago, and regardless of how many energy bill parties the guy attends, this session will be remembered as the one that could undo that awesome legacy DiMasi was building for himself. That’s because any one of these seventeen active or pending ethics investigations could bring the feds into the party. They haven’t taken down a speaker in a few years now – too long, in their world.

Worse, when DiMasi’s friends weren’t running around making things worse (you don’t wave red at a bull, Rich), they were planning for his demise. Or voting on stuff while in St. Croix. That one sure didn’t help.

DiMasi can’t even seek refuge in the well-tailored arms of big business. It’s been less than a year since he vowed to institute a sales tax holiday every year of his speakership, and he’s already gone back on that promise. It sure is hard out there for a pimp.

Senate President Therese Murray

Murray has had the easiest time of the Big Three thus far. She won a staring contest with the House that would’ve turned a comprehensive oceans management plan into a blinking neon sign in Buzzard’s Bay reading, “Hey, Jay Cashman! Build here!” She played the peacekeeper – or, more correctly, the adult – when tensions over casinos and presidential politics had Patrick and DiMasi pissing in the direction of each other’s sandboxes. And she exploited the simmering conflict between the two to push her own big-ticket agenda for reforming health care and transportation.

The latter episode also showed the limits of big thinking on Beacon Hill: Interested interests quickly rallied and beat back the most ambitious efforts to squeeze police details and the MBTA’s lard-heavy retirement system. It didn’t take threats of bodily harm to scale back anyone’s thirst for reform.

Mayor Tom Menino

Boston’s most powerful person won’t have to deal with Ralph Martin next November. He’s got enough campaign cash to give every poll worker in town a platinum grill. Michael Flaherty’s taking shots at him, but they sound a lot like the ones Maura Hennigan lobbed back in 2005, and we all remember how that one turned out.

The Boston City Council

By our count, the august body hasn’t been eviscerated on the Fox 25 morning news in weeks. That has to be a record, or something.

Fat cats. Or, alternately, children

Carla Howell has a very real chance of bleeding every hack in the state dry. Either that, or she’s going to visit untold disaster upon each and every child in the Commonwealth. That’s because small government is beautiful, and because Carla Howell hates your children. Remember that, come November.

Lucidity

Failed gubernatorial candidate (rather spectacularly at that) Christy Mihos recently launched Christy2010.com, a website pushing him as an “Independent for Governor of Massachusetts.”

Mihos has not yet decided to run for governor in 2010, saying, “We’ll see what the future brings, but right now I’m pretty happy running a business where we’re doing pretty well because we’re giving people what they want.”

Dignity

The biggest loser of the year thus far, by a long shot. Take State Senator James Marzilli, for instance. He beat back sexual assault charges in Arlington, and celebrated by going on an absolutely epic spree of groping, running and crying – punctuated by some of the greatest pickup lines we’ve ever read, by the way.

Over in the House, Rep. Jennifer Callahan had a goon/colleague “personally threaten” her during the budget, saying, “I could really hurt you if I wanted to.”

James Fagan pulled not one but two absolute nutters. The first, in March, was eight uninterrupted minutes of vitriol about drinking, gambling and the evils of the working media, whom he glared at while labeling “vultures” that “prey off the bones of … tragedies.” That was Fagan staying within himself, apparently. Last week, he promised to “rip apart” six-year old rape victims, adding, “I’m going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined.”

And speaking of ruined lives! Earlier this week, House members “booed loudly” when told they’d have to come to work on July 3. Don’t you know who they are???

Speaking of vacations, the Hill is taking a long overdue one next week.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2008/07/03/the-hill-and-the-hall-half-year-in-review/