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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Men behaving badly

Deval Patrick tried to roll the dice and came up with snake eyes.

That's the easiest pun to describe Patrick's decision not to accept House Speaker Sal DiMasi's compromise proposal to keep the casino gambling bill alive.

A less generous analogy would be to call Patrick's action a Dukakis moment, demonstrating the first-term hubris of the state's last Democratic governor who thought he could work around the Legislature.

Patrick's move to get Rep. Michael Capuano to serve as an emissary to DiMasi was smart politics. His decision to reject DiMasi's deal for a delay -- publicly call for more time, make it clear the speaker was not shutting off debate, and admitting DiMasi had sufficient votes to kill the legislation -- was abject foolishness.

It was made worse by the fact that Patrick had already acknowledged "I can count" and lamented that he did not have enough time. DiMasi took care of the rest by allowing a 12-hour public hearing and a lengthy floor debate -- even if it was sending the proposal to study committee purgatory.

Patrick also did himself no favors by publicly blasting DiMasi in an e-mail to supporters in which he charged the Speaker with not allowing an "honest and open debate." For starters, many of his supporters were already decidedly sour on the casino bill.

And DiMasi has clearly signed on to the life sciences and energy proposals. Slapping him after suffering a resounding defeat is just sour grapes and won't do wonders for the rest of his legislative agenda.

As for Mr. Speaker, the Herald reported yesterday that, despite his claims to the contrary, DiMasi did offer chairmanships and stipends to win votes. It is decidedly business as usual on Beacon Hill -- and neither Patrick nor DiMasi were shy about bargaining for votes to kill the gay marriage amendment.

But unlike my good friend Dan Kennedy, I can't get enthralled about DiMasi as a "bare knuckles do-gooder." The "good" in question here was DiMasi's hold on his membership in the face of Patrick's own "lobbying" and the underlying discontent represented by Majority Leader John Rogers.

As the Globe notes, DiMasi was willing to accommodate Patrick to delay a vote and allow the governor to restructure the legislation. And DiMasi had run for Speaker on a platform that called for changes in the bare-knuckled way that Tom Finneran ran the chamber.

Ultimately though, the big loser is Patrick. He put forward a poorly constructed proposal, gambled he could win it all after DiMasi met his offer to negotiate with a reasonable counter-offer, then launched yet another attack on DiMasi when an olive branch was more appropriate.

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