Rookies Go Bust

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 4, 2010

In the end, they got all of that and more. And, according to some, ran circles around their less-experienced colleague DeLeo.

Betting it all
Although it came to a boil last week, the showdown had been building all year between Murray, who opposes slots-only licenses, and DeLeo, who wanted them for the state's four race tracks — including the two greyhound facilities, which have been banned by a 2008 ballot initiative from hosting live racing.

During that build-up, an increasing number of unrelated bills appeared to get caught up in the casino war.

According to several close observers, for months it appeared that DeLeo was putting "poison pills" in the House versions of bills — discrepancies with the Senate versions, that could later be used as bargaining chips for the final casino-bill negotiations.

For instance, when the House passed the economic-development bill in early July, it added a repeal of the so-called pharmaceutical gift ban, which currently bars medical companies from plying physicians with free goodies.

And the sentencing-reform portions of the Senate version of CORI bill was stripped out of the House version. "Not necessarily that [House members] don't want it," speculates Representative Carl Sciortino of Somerville, "but that it was more valuable as a bargaining chip on casinos."

"There were no policy reasons, just something to trade for tracks," says a Beacon Hill operative.

Entire bills were also being held up, some say, for the same reason — a reality DeLeo implicitly admitted when he told reporters that the remaining bills under consideration were all inevitably "connected."

The impasse officially broke at 6:30 last Friday evening — less than 30 hours before the session's end at midnight of July 31. House and Senate leaders announced an agreement on a casino bill that would include two slots licenses for race tracks.

It appeared to be a huge concession by the Senate, but was in fact an enormous gamble for DeLeo. Patrick had already reiterated that more than one slot license — and any license limited to existing tracks only — was unacceptable. Nobody knew whether Patrick would follow through on the veto threat — but if he did, DeLeo would have given up all his bargaining chips for nothing.

As for Murray, she was getting her priority agenda items passed, in exchange for gaming concessions that would be vetoed anyway. In fact, some observers suggest that once she got her deal with DeLeo, she didn't seem to mind the bill dying through veto.

Several people, inside and outside the legislature, believe that Murray played DeLeo perfectly. By delaying her compromise until the last possible minute — the casino bill didn't actually reach Patrick's desk until Monday morning, after the formal session was over — she avoided dealing with an override vote. In fact, these observers say, she signaled to Patrick that he could kill the casino bill without fear of an override, by declaring emphatically that she would not ask the Senate to return after Saturday for an override vote.

As a further sign that no override was coming, in the final vote Saturday night, 15 Senate members voted against passage — more than the one-third needed to prevent an override. Even Senate members and staff concede that Murray made little effort to provide a "veto-proof" supermajority — there were "conversations" about voting for the bill, but no real pressure.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Deval Patrick, Tim Cahill, Therese Murray,  More more >
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