The Hill and the Hall – March, 2008

March 7, 2008

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:We’re all casinos all the time.

Hey, guess what everybody? Gov. Deval Patrick wants to build three casinos in Massachusetts. He’s been saying that they’ll bring 30,000 jobs in tow. Turns out, they won’t. Shocking, we know. But this stunning revelation gripped Beacon Hill, and all other concerns were crowded out.

Most close observers (depending on whom you read) have known for several months now that the governor’s casino research is compromised and his economic assumptions are shaky. And now that the town’s paper of record has spoken on the subject, the fan is really covered in it.

The administration has even stopped citing its 30,000 jobs figure, and taken to speaking of “tens of thousands” of jobs instead. That’s a significant fact, because it marks the first time in this whole gambling debate that reporting has been able to knock the administration off its talking points.

A similarly damning Mass Taxpayers Foundation report was reportedly met with anger, profanity, and the like behind closed doors. But the pessimistic data laid out therein hasn’t stopped the administration from using gambling revenues as a panacea for everything from property taxes to transportation funding to addiction treatment to Tim Cahill’s sick man.

But now, with a high stakes legislative hearing on the horizon, Patrick has been shoved off his mark. The Globe having done its damage, Dan Bosley’s recent statement to us that, “The governor’s going to come down and say, ‘We’re going to have 30,000 jobs,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, you’re not,’” suddenly takes on a whole new layer of meaning.

The governor initially responded to the Globe report by trying to argue, “There are going to be all kinds of claims about whether it’s 30,000 construction jobs or 20,000 construction jobs or 5,000 construction jobs. I can tell you that whatever that number is, it beats the opposition, which is at zero.”

Yes. Exactly. And given the choice between being punched or kicked in the face, being punched beats the opposition. Fantastic.

As if all this weren’t enough, Patrick insisted on pressing his case, rather than laying low for a while, by sending a sharply worded pro-gambling letter to each of the state’s legislators. Getting mad and hitting “reply to all” — that’s the way to stay out of the papers, and to keep your critics off your back. Sure it is.

The letter was followed up with what initially appeared to be a third grader’s book report, but was later revealed to be a brochure from the governor and his economic development secretary,Dan O’Connell.

Loaded with incongruous clip art, impressive leaps of logic, half-truths and downright sloppy research, the brochure is one of the most dubious—not to mention unintentionally hilarious—public documents to see the light of day in quite some time. Print this thing out, take it on your lunch break, and try to read it without having milk squirt out your nose. We dare you.

And forget about all this transparent desperation opening up the governor to attacks from the speaker. When you allow the state GOP—the political equivalent of the ’62 Mets—to land potshots about slick, “phony economics,” things are not going well.

The administration’s argument that the legislature must act now (punctuated by a comically large clock, natch) because of the inevitability of a Mashpee Wampanoag casino in Middleborough is especially, uh, interesting. In the days before the pamphlet’s distribution, O’Connell had a rather eventful meeting with the Mashpee. They told him that they would not be abandoning federal channels to a casino for the state’s proposed casino licensing auction. Tribe spokesman Scott Ferson has previously said the tribe will not bid on one of Patrick’s casino licenses.

What does this mean? Rather than hamstringing the Mashpee, rapid legislative approval of Patrick’s casino bill would actually ease the tribe’s path to a federal, tax-free casino, because the legalization of Class III gambling would give the tribe the sovereign right to run all sorts of Vegas-style games.

As things stand now, the Mashpee are in the position of threatening to round up $1 billion in financing for a bingo slots complex with a highly uncertain future: It might very well revert to a normal bingo hall if the feds follow through on recent threats to make bingo slots illegal. Nothing like negotiating from a position of strength.

As if all that’s not enough, on Thursday, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce unveiled a casino report that, by and large, confirmed the governor’s arguments on the revenue side, but that categorically declined to quantify any negative economic impacts from expanded gambling. What we’re left with is a cost-benefit analysis with no costs. Which is totally useful.

It’s also notable that the report’s authors rely on research from less-than-uninterested sources, including Harrah’s and Clyde Barrow, but if those sources are good enough for the governor, they’re certainly good enough for the Chamber. Expect both sides to hug the report and claim victory.

Ugh. That’s enough for now.

Other stuff happened this week on the Hill, too – Senate President Therese Murray unveiled a sweeping health care reform-reform proposal, the T put its budget on its credit card, and the highway department ran over a scrum of weeping veterans. None of those things have anything to do with craps, so this week, they don’t matter much. Maybe next week. Maybe.

Wire services contributed to this report.

March 14, 2008

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: The DOA Casino Bill, shattered ambitionsDon Quixote, the quotable Connolly, and Irish scones.

Word broke early this week that Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino bill was dead. House Dean David Flynn told the Taunton Gazette, “The casino bill isn’t going anywhere. I find very little support for it from members of the house,” adding that he expects a roll call vote on his racino bill, while “the casinos won’t [get one],” because Dan Bosley’s committee, “will issue an adverse report, preventing the house from voting on the casino bill.”

It’s not how things work. The Speaker’s office has repeatedly said that Patrick’s bill will receive a vote on the House floor before it wraps its budget bill in April, regardless of whether or not it gets a favorable committee report. (PS: It won’t.)

Last week was not kind to Patrick’s bizarre pet cause, and this week, the bill abandoned its slow grave-ward lurch in favor of a full-on sprint. The Globefinally buried the Chamber of Commerce’s well-intentioned, but ham-fisted, casino report, while Bosley issued a position paper that blasts yawning holes in Patrick’s economic projections. And then things got messy.

Bosley has repeatedly said that the fate of casinos, long sold as an economic development package and not a revenue-generation scheme, will rest on two questions: Where does casino revenue come from, and how much does it cost to get it?

Reps appear to be responding to those questions by coming to the conclusion that the money behind Patrick’s plan isn’t really there. Either that, or budget season’s around the corner. Whichever it is, the casino hearing the administration has demanded won’t even happen until next week, but already the bill’s most ardent backers are declaring it all but dead.

We’ve seen a major reversal of fortunes for a plan that just a few months ago was building plenty of momentum, and threatening the Speaker’s hold on his own chamber. It may be that last bit — DiMasi, not Patrick, controlling the House’s fortunes — that accounts for the astounding display of rancor erupting over the past few days.

After those persistentwidespread rumors, it turns out that Sen. Marian Walsh won’t be taking a job on the bench after allAll those would-besuccessors are, as they say, SOL.

It’s not as devastating to the collective ambitions of the state’s political establishment as John Kerry’s inexcusable failure to move his ass out of his Senate seat in 2004, but it’s still not good news for any pol who might think of him or herself as being destined for bigger and better things. (That’s no short list, either.)

Best legislative literary allusion of the week: At a Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Senator Robert O’Leary took the microphone to testify. But first, he apologized if he looked or sounded weary. “I spent last night tilting at windmills,” he joked. Senator Robert Creedon consoled O’Leary, saying that if he didn’t succeed in halting Cape Wind, then at least he landed himself “a nice picture in the Globe.”

“Very Kennedy-esque,” Creedon nodded admiringly.

Rookie councilor John Connolly livened up an otherwise sleepy City Council meeting on Wednesday by peppering his speech with ten-cent words like “quibble” and “quagmire.” If we didn’t know better, we’d think Connolly had already tired of the whole “public servant” gig, and was now honing his vocabulary in the hopes of becoming a sesquipedalian New York Times obit writer.

Hope our normally-razor-sharp instincts are wrong on that one.

It’s time for the Hill and the Hall Rumor Control!

Item: Is the Council in for a major post-St. Paddy’s bender?

Turns out, no. Council President Maureen Feeney seemed to leave the door open to government-sanctioned revelry and debauchery when she closed this week’s meeting with a vague promise to keep the celebration rolling the next time the Council meets, “At which time I will bring you some refreshments to keep you going.”

And at least one councilor was overheard asking Feeney if she was planning on distributing pints of Guinness on the Council floor. Unfortunately, Feeney was just alluding to a batch of Irish scones she’d forgotten to bring to work this week.

Wire services contributed to this report.

March 21, 2008

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 billlowering 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.

March 28, 2008

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: Therese Murray slips into a power vacuum, the Mashpee won’t give up the ghost, canoodling at City Council, and sartorial help for Mike Ross.

We may be watching the balance of power tip on Beacon Hill. While Gov. Deval Patrick and House Speaker Sal DiMasi go back and forth about casinos and taxes—and whether or not they’re going back and forth at all—Senate President Therese Murray is showing herself to be both smart enough to recognize the power vacuum brought on by the bickering, and strong enough to fill that vacuum with substantive policy proposals.

The death of the governor’s casino bill should shine a spotlight on Murray’s health care reform-reform bill. That’s for the best since it does what magical slots leprechauns doesn’t, that is address the real reason cities and towns are going broke. Murray should also get serious credit for leading the effort to implement the now one-year-old Transportation Finance Commission report, especially by harpooning politically thorny MBTA health care benefits and police details.

These are weighty and decidedly un-flashy issues, but it’s going to take heavy lifting on boring issues to raise the state out of the hellward fiscal death-spiral it’s currently locked in. Interesting that it’s Murray, who just celebrated a year on the job, and not her two counterparts, who is leading the way.

A side note: This is the second time in recent months Murray has refused to leak a major policy proposal to the press before formally unveiling it. At least one major paper (blind item!) responded to this tactic by boycotting her Worcester health care presser. It was good to see everybody on board – and on a level playing field – this time around.

Ralph Martin isn’t running for mayor. Attention now turns to his maybe I will dance partnerMike Flaherty‘s got the campaign slogan: “Change is in your hands,” but does he have a campaign to match?

Well, which is it? On the same day that Patrick spiced up his “Together We Can” attitude by telling the New York Times that DiMasi’s leadership style is “part of what we ran against, and it needs to be called out,” the governor told the State House News Service, “There’s a bigger record, a vastly bigger record than the difference over casinos, and the sooner that the people and the media appreciate that, the better off we will all be.” Huh?

Idle, totally unfounded speculation: What are the chances that John Hynes’s massive, $3 billion Seaport Square development, combined with the possibly-successful mixed-use redevelopment of Fort Point, will wind up killing the Silver Line?

For anyone who has anywhere to be, at any time, the branch is a disaster. Can you imagine how slow those shiny buses masquerading as subway cars will run when there are actual people living in the neighborhood who’ll need to get around on the things?

And more to the point, can you really imagine all those international CEOs Hynes wants to bring to the neighborhood actually riding it when the T could just slap down light rail tracks and make the whole thing run three times as efficiently?

The casino game may have limped to a bloody stalemate on Beacon Hill, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can rid ourselves of these awesomeslots-r-iffic good times. They’re just shifting south, where the Mashpee Wampanoag are making the long slog towards taking their land into trust.

The feds held a couple hearings on the Mashpee’s Middleboro land grab this week. They were notable for a few reasons.

First, the Mashpee appear to be either wicked hardball players with an already-in fix nobody knows about, or they’re Cubs-fan-level delusional.

The Cape Cod Times noted that the first phase of the not-yet in existence Middleboro casino would include a “600,000-square-foot casino building on two levels, with 4,000 slot machines and 200 table games, restaurants, retail shops, and an event center.” Which is hilarious (or, alternately, terrifying), because neither slots nor table games are legal in Massachusetts yet. Nor, in the aftermath of last week’s vote, do they look to be legal any time soon.

Are the Mashpee just pushing ahead and blowing all their investors’ money for whatev’s sake, or do they know something none of the rest of us do?

Second, reservation shopping will absolutely be a prime factor in whether or not the tribe gets to do anything with that pricey piece of land they’re sitting on. Consider the comments the Massachuseuk lobbed at the Mashpee this week: “There were several groups of native people that were in Middleboro, but none of them were Mashpee. It is disturbing that the Mashpee would come to the Massachuseuk territory and try to establish this as their homeland, which it is not, it has never been and, if we have something to say, it never will be.”

This one will be fun.

One other casinorama loose end to tie up: It looks like the Patrick administration handled something right during this month’s gambling debacle. TheGlobe recently dropped a quiet bombshell when it reported that in the run-up to last week’s vote, the Mashpee tried to cut a deal that would’ve given them a federally-recognized casino in Middleboro in exchange for 20 percent of the casino’s slot machine revenue. That deal is the same kind of stinker that Connecticut has been laboring under for decades, and the administration’s decision to say no to it shows the kind of clear, rational thinking they’ve rarely displayed during this whole saga. So, cheers!

Most people wouldn’t normally associate the City Council chamber’s glaring fluorescent lights with mood lighting. But that didn’t stop one mystery couple from whispering to each other, giggling, and canoodling through the entirety of this week’s council meeting. Flabbergasted pols’ reactions ranged from “Who are they?” to, “What are they doing?”

Backhanded comment of the week: Charles Yancey, in the most gracious terms possible, rising to “Thank the administration for providing us with the information that’s required by law.”

And a close runner-up: A councilor complimenting Mike Ross’s decision to pair a blazer and tie with a charcoal sweater with, “You look like a modern-day Mr. Rogers. Tell Mr. McFeely I say hello!”

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