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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day!

The timing could not have been worse for Sal DiMasi. Both Frank Phillips and Howie Carr have now joined the parade of reporters and columnists looking into Mr. Speaker's friends and business associates.

May Day. May 1 is the International Day of Labor. It is also the day, five years and thousands of lives and billions of dollars ago that George Bush famously declared "major combat operations are over."

And of course, it is the international call of distress. "I'm going down!"

Up until now it's been pesky youngsters like Andrea Estes and Matt Viser at the Globe and Casey Ross at the Herald nipping at Mr. Speaker's heels with tales of business relationships and palace coups. (You might want to also check out the comments on this post for a DiMasi spokesman response on one of the questions).

But now it's the aging warriors. Phillips has been rumored to have entered the building shortly after its completion. But he knows where things are buried and people come to him with the juicy stuff. Like this:
Just months after House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi killed a bill that was designed to block a controversial liquefied natural gas project from being built on 73 acres in Fall River, the landowner, Jay Cashman, sold the property to the terminal developers and made a $14.2 million profit, according to a Globe review of real estate and legislative records.
Or this:
In another move that dismayed some New Bedford-area officials, DiMasi also shepherded legislation through the House last fall that would ease state permitting for a wind farm on Buzzards Bay. Cashman is seeking approval to construct 120 wind turbines in those waters.
And this:
Deborah DiMasi and Christy Scott Cashman are launching a cable television show premiering this Sunday night, one produced by a Cashman-owned company. Neither couple would describe the nature of the business relationship, nor say how much money, if any, Deborah DiMasi receives for her role.
The Speaker, who is a gregarious, hale fellow well met type, insists there's nothing there when it came to the wind farm:
"We don't talk about those things. It was all policy-driven," DiMasi said.
But the drip of embarrassments is starting to resemble the flood that ripped through the Devonshire Street gas lines.

Friends are flacking up (and probably lawyering up too). And not just any flack, they are turning to George Regan, a sure sign you know you have problems.

It's also obvious in the fact that House members are spending almost as much time in steak dinners counting heads as in open session freely debating bills and not bundles of amendments.

After all, what's more important - $28 billion in spending for next fiscal year or who gets the better office for voting for Mr. DeLeo or Mr. Rogers?

DiMasi's House has been blessed for much of its time by governors who couldn't do the right thing. Myth Romney running for president by reversing everything he once said made a much better public target. So did the drape, Cadillac and book fiascoes of Deval Patrick.

But as the second full session of DiMasi's House starts to see the finishing line, there's precious little to show. Yes, there is a landmark health insurance law and the wins in killing the anti-gay marriage amendment and casinos -- all of which took a lot of time to broker.

Life sciences and energy bills are in the pipeline. But the health care law is taking on water too -- an essential part of the budget debate -- and the closed-door nature of discussion and action allows reporters, columnists and bloggers to be easily distracted. Like toward things of an ethical nature.

The relationships enjoyed by Sal DiMasi may indeed prove to be innocent at the end of the day. But Chapter 268A of Massachusetts General Law doesn't really draw huge distinctions between conflicts-of-interest and the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The one recent Speaker not to resign under a cloud, George Keverian, was cited for an appearance of a conflict for hiring Statehouse maintenance workers and paying them to do carpentry and other renovations around his home.

So while we may enjoy a dance around the Maypole today, the House will be putting the final touches on a budget; the friends of Bobby DeLeo and John Rogers will be putting the touch on members for their votes as next Speaker; and DiMasi will be reaching out and touching friends for help in geting himself out of this growing mess.

Happy May Day!

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