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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Saturday, May 03, 2008

House afire

Wow, wasn't it just last month that Deval Patrick was finished and the Celtics were a mortal lock on No. 17? Today, the C's and House Speaker Sal DiMasi both stand on the precipice of elimination. And I like KG's chances a lot better than Sal's.

The House wrapped what has to be one of their most turbulent weeks in its history by passing a budget $210 million richer than when it started while watching leadership machinations result in one lawmaker taking to the microphone to say she was threatened by a colleague unless she voted the “right” way.

The accusations by Sutton Democrat Jennifer Callahan was simply the jimmies on top of the sundae for Beacon Hill watchers who observed the re-emergence of the battle to replace the speaker who said he isn’t leaving,

Of course, reports that he has continued to favor friends with political goodies – resulting in calls for investigations by the Secretary of State’s office, the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General – can tend to change the dynamic quickly,

It was only last Sunday that the Globe reported on DiMasi friend Richard Vitale’s involvement in changing a bill that started out as a pro-consumer anti-scalping measure into something favoring Ace Ticket – who of course denied hiring Vitale as a lobbyist because DiMasi’s personal friend and accountant isn't registered as one.

And that may be to avoid having DiMasi disclose that Vitale helped the Speaker obtain a $250,000 third mortgage on his North End condo.

Then the Globe weighs in midweek with the story of DiMasi friend Jay Cashman cashing in on the battle over a wind farm in Buzzards Bay, involving land Cashman owned.

That led to the sight of liberals Byron Rushing, Frank Smizik and Dan Bosley defending DiMasi publicly while conservative John Rogers took his long knives out of storage in his quest to take the chair that DiMasi snuck out from under him when Tom Finneran departed under a cloud.

And while House Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo was supposed to be minding the store on the budget up for ”debate” this week (mostly behind closed doors), he was engaging Rogers, through surrogates, all the while denying it.

That set the stage for Callahan to stride to the microphone Friday to recount a conversation from the previous day in which a male representative approached her and started a casual chat about a health care amendment she had discussed earlier in the week.
The tone quickly changed, she said, as he said, "I've been in this building a long time" and added, "I could really hurt you if I wanted to." She did not publicly identify the lawmaker.
The comment itself is probably not shocking -- as long as it was uttered in a political context. Politics ain't, as the expression goes, beanbag. And this internal fight is nasty.

But the wounds created by the earlier DiMasi-Rogers succession fight have not healed. Many in the Old Guard are still unhappy that DiMasi elevated liberals like Rushing and Smizik from the back benches -- and stuck Tom Petrolati in between himself and Rogers.

With the drips involving DiMasi becoming a torrent, it's payback time.

But the budget remains a key part of this scenario. Adding $210 million in spending during tight times, after passing a corporate tax increase isn't a good move -- particularly in a year when voters are likely to face a ballot question eliminating the income tax.

The budget is DeLeo's baby -- lock, stock and barrel. It was bad enough that most of the discussions on how to spend the people's money went on in a room that is off-limits to press and public. It's even worse when it appears DeLeo's attention was elsewhere.

Add it all up and you have a House divided and not focusing on the people's business. Not a strong leadership argument.

Meanwhile, Patrick spent the week tending to and mending fences around the state. DiMasi's travails tend to show how trivial his gaffes were in comparison -- and suggestions that DiMasi really runs the state have faded into the background.

For this week.

Next week the attention will finally shift to the Senate, where Therese Murray has been working quietly behind the scenes as Sal squares off against Deval and John. First up is the corporate tax increase bill, followed by the budget before Memorial Day.

Maybe after that we will be talking about how Terry Murray is really running the state. And how Sal is looking for a good landing zone.

And I do believe we will still be talking about KG, Ray, Paul, Rajon, Perk and their quest for No. 17.

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