The Hill and the Hall Week in Review

1216401693Each 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: A rash of bills on the Hall, but who cares because it’s open season on Jim Marzilli; Tim Cahill has us thinking like it’s 1978; and somebody’s been raising some cash while we’ve been away.

The legislature rushed towards the end of its session this week, racing to take action on a number of bills that had fallen prey to the body’s famously inattentive attention span. There was action on nursing, gay nuptials, health care and same-day voter registration. The Hill also witnessed shameful scandal and naked political ambition. And, thanks to the latter two, we don’t have to pretend to be trying to wrap our skulls around any of that policy stuff.

The week opened with Senator Bob Hedlund‘s very public bid to strip Senator/alleged serial-groper Jim Marzilli of his chairmanship, and the $7,500 stipend it carries. The Senate’s ethics committee is currently investigating the allegations of leering, weepy pervdom, but it may not get to take action before Marzilli slinks out of office next January.

In the meantime, Hedlund argued, relieving Marzilli of his leadership position might send the message — long, long overdue, some might argue — that somebody in state government actually disapproves of bad behavior.

Besides the fact that the Arlington darling is “clearly incapable of fulfilling his duties as chairman,” he doesn’t even come to work anymore. Hasn’t in weeks. Slam dunk, right?

No such luck. Senate President Therese Murray rejected Hedlund’s bid, leaning on the ongoing ethics investigation. Which, in turn, is leaning on the judicial process. After all, several pages of graphic police reports (and one teary, though nondescript, exclamation about one’s life being over) could be wrong.
“It is what it is,” Hedlund said Wednesday, indulging in Beli-speech. “I respect the fact that he’s been duly elected, and it makes no sense to expel him now because there’d be no time to hold a special election. I respect the ethics committee process. But this was one thing that could’ve been done now by the President, unilaterally. People have been stopping me and asking me why we haven’t dealt with it. This would’ve been one thing to show we’re able to police ourselves.”

Well, why can’t they? We’ve heard whispers that it’s not because the Legislature loves coddling alleged serial sex offenders, per se. It’s more that conservatives who get caught sexually misbehaving are loathsome pervs, while good liberals are necessarily the victims of some chemical imbalance or another.

So, while a number of senators privately applauded Hedlund’s effort, just one Democrat, Ways and Means chair Steven Panagiotakos, has publicly called for Marzilli’s resignation. The rest are afraid to voice an opinion. They clearly don’t have permission (to have opinions, that is).

In one of those only-in-this-building moments, Rep. Eric Turkington, Marzilli’s co-chair and former House colleague, told State House News that the senator’s absence hasn’t hamstrung his committee’s work, because most of its bills have been reported out already. So there isn’t much work for the ghost-chairman to miss anyway.

The interesting wrinkle here is that, if Marzilli can manage to hang in office until the end of his term in January, he’ll add another year to his pension at his higher, Senate leadership salary. All he needs is one day to get credit for the year.

A pension reform bill that would’ve closed this loophole—stipulating that state employees work six months, not a single day, to get credit for a year of work—has been hopelessly circulating the State House halls. It has enjoyed little favor from legislative leadership. Its author? Bob Hedlund.

This week’s lesson: It’s not OK for disabled firefighters to prance around flexing in man-panties, though it’s totally kosher for favored no-show chairmen to pad their pensions. As long as they weren’t doing any work in the first place. Obviously.

Of particular interest to those political observers who aren’t naturally inclined to mock the misfortunes of grabby men suffering from bipolar disorder, was this week’s teeth-baring clash between Gov. Deval Patrick, L.G. Tim Murray, and Treasurer Tim Cahill. The very public dispute, while ostensibly concerning Big Dig finances and debt at the Pike, could presage open warfare in the state Democratic party.

Cahill has repeatedly denied that he will challenge the governor in two years, but his willingness to savage the administration on Pike finances speaks volumes. As does the administration’s attempt to tie the Treasurer to the Pike—the most radioactive agency in state politics.

There are higher stakes than Cahill softening up Murray in the event that Patrick bolts Boston for Washington. There’s talk on Beacon Hill that Cahill has made up his mind that Patrick is beatable, and that he’s crowned himself the man to do the beating. (It won’t be the Republicans, after all.) The governor, who has suffered a number of unflattering comparisons to Michael Dukakis, could be in for the worst yet—a craven power-grab from the conservative wing of his own party. It’ll be 1978 all over again.

Cahill doesn’t believe that he can beat AG Martha Coakley or Congressman Michael Capuano for a Senate seat, in the event one opens up. It’s time for him to move up or get out, so he has to establish some high-profile differences with the competition.

That means making a tour of TV newsrooms and assailing Patrick’s apocalyptic sense of finance. The more Cahill can erode Patrick’s polling numbers, the more the Democrats will need him to ride in and rescue the Corner Office from Charlie Baker.

There’s a reason why nobody sees Coakley picking fights with the administration. One Beacon Hill observer quips. “It’s because she has no interest in his job.”

And this is the perfect flareup for Cahill to press Patrick. The Pike is political poison. It destroys all who cross its path. Now, more than property taxes or casinos or bio-tech, the governor is wrestling with a monster that will define him.

“The key to the governor’s success is the perception of him as the cavalry,” says political consultant Michael Goldman, an adviser to the Patrick camp. “He needs to up the stakes, and remind people that this was a Republican mess that Weld, Cellucci and Romney left behind.” If Patrick doesn’t, he’ll be the one taking the fall for any disaster that ensues.

That’s why he’s got to throw some dynamite at something, or somebody. The quicker, the better. “Now’s the perfect time to exert influence and blow up the Pike,” says Warren Tolman, a former state legislator and onetime gubernatorial candidate. “Who’s going to stand in your way?” More important than the savings, Tolman says, “is the symbolism.” The spectacle of crazed Iraqis whacking Saddam’s head with their shoes? That’s nothing, compared to what the Canton tollbooths are in for.

Tolman compares the current flareup to the 2006 tunnel collapse, and believes that, while the consequences of mishandling the situation are severe, it also presents a tremendous political opportunity. “This was thrown on Deval Patrick’s lap, and he’s clearly got to do something. Mitt Romney was not responsible for the tunnel collapsing, but he took action, and it was to his benefit. Deval Patrick has a similar opportunity here, to show his ability as a crisis manager.”

Whoa! Look who raised a ton of money while we were on vacation. It’s at-large city councilor Michael Flaherty—the man this column once mocked for raising $72 in a month!

Flaherty took in over $132,000 in June (including $500 maximum donations from local punks Ken Casey and Al Barr). That far exceeds any effort he’d been able to muster previously, and it’s a sign that maybe—just maybe—we’ll have a halfway decent mayoral race on our hands.