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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The gloves come off

OK Sal, tell us how you really feel. The simmering tensions between House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Gov. Deval Patrick has come to a full boil.
"I think Massachusetts will look at it to find out what they can see in Obama with respect to what they did with their vote for Governor Patrick," DiMasi said in response to a question. "To be perfectly honest, I really don't want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year. It's too important."
Few but the most diehard Patrick loyalists will dispute that he had a tough 2007. The lingering effects of the Cadillac and the Drapes can be felt along with the antipathy raised by Patrick's push for casinos.

A sub-current to all of this has been the relationship between the rookie governor with the soaring rhetoric and the veteran legislator who knows where the bodies are buried on Beacon Hill. The tension between the two has been clear even from a distance and Patrick's missteps have made it easy for DiMasi to assume a stronger leadership role.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are perfect surrogates for this political pas-a-deux. Obama and Patrick share Chicago roots and even the same political adviser in David Axelrod. Heck, the even believe that together we can.

DiMasi and Clinton are also two of a kind. Both have operated slightly removed from the center of power, but wield wide influence. Both know how to mix it up in the corners. And both have a penchant for overstatement.

For Clinton, it's the claim that she was in effect the co-president, deeply involved in many of the issues, particularly foreign policy ones, made by her husband.

For DiMasi, it's the representation of his chamber's activities over the last 12 1/2 months.
DiMasi clashed with the freshman governor on a number of major issues throughout 2007, posing the biggest challenge to Patrick's efforts to tighten corporate tax codes to prevent business from avoiding state taxes, win a bill licensing three casinos in the state, and pass a $1 billion stimulus bill for the state's life sciences industry.

Asked yesterday how he would judge Patrick's first year in office, DiMasi offered a laugh, and said, "I say that the Legislature did a great job."

The record shows the Legislature (which let us remember, includes the Senate) passed 230 session laws, an increase from the 190 passed in the 2005, the first full year of DiMasi's speakership. Of course, lawmakers passed 452 session laws in 2006.

And take a look at those 230 session laws. How many are sick leave banks, land transfers and easements and suspensions of civil service provisions? How many of them dealt with the economic and financial questions plaguing the Commonwealth? Why hasn't there been a meaningful debate on taxation and the property tax?

The old adage is the executive proposes and the legislative disposes. And there is no question Patrick has been slow on the draw in presenting bills -- from casinos to transportation infrastructure.

But why, in an age of electronic bill filing and printing, were lawmakers still holding hearings on major bills in December? And why are they still holding to a languid pace that offers ample time to campaign for the national ticket when some of these delayed filed bills are now before them?

At least in 2005, lawmakers were visibly tackling issues like health care reform and the the proposed amendment to ban gay marriage. It's hard to think of a singular accomplishment from 2007 -- aside from defeating that amendment, in a vote that took place on June 14.

Yes, there has been piecemeal successes, portions of the municipal partnership act to provide some relief to cash-strapped cities and towns. And legislatures by the nature, run on inertia so the ball really won't start running down the hill until late June this year, when the end of the session comes into clear sight.

But DiMasi's words are a real disappointment. You would think that legislators who chafed under 16 years of Republican governors would have an interested in working with a politically like-minded colleague -- and help show him the ropes.

Another old adage is politics ain't beanbag (though I never quite understood the analogy). Obviously, it's all about power, who has it and who wants it. John Rogers sure knows that now.

But I for one would prefer a bit more legislation and a little less rhetoric. This state is at a crossroads. It's time for the governor and the legislative leadership to roll up their sleeves. You don't have to like each other or vote for the same presidential candidate. But you do owe it to the folks who are backing your paychecks.

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