Rookies Go Bust

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 4, 2010

"The Senate president got a lot of things accomplished that were a priority for the Senate in general," says Jamie Eldridge, state senator from Acton. "Clearly, the Senate president had a very smart strategy."

"She got just about everything she wanted," says one state representative, who adds that Murray even maneuvered herself out of the resulting, and ongoing, finger-pointing between DeLeo and Patrick over the failure of the casino bill. "It looks like the two boys are having a pissing match on the playground, and they ended up peeing on each other."

Personal interest
DeLeo, on the other hand, looks to many like the big loser. He has infuriated labor unions, who fought hard for the casino bill only to see it die at the finish line. Other interest groups, invested in the many bills DeLeo was holding up along the way, were also more than a little annoyed.

It's not uncommon for a speaker to take the fall publicly, to protect his members — that's part of the job. But in this case, it looked like he was doing it not for his members' interests, but for his own.

DeLeo's dedication to the race-track industry is well-known, and very personal — his father worked at a track for decades, and two of the state's four tracks are in his district.

Things looked so bad, in fact, that by late last week several well-informed political operatives speculated to the Phoenix that, if the session ended without a signed casino bill, DeLeo's hold on the speakership could be in jeopardy.

And in fact, House Democrats confirm that the two most likely successors — Majority Leader James Valley and Ways and Means Chair Charles Murphy — were openly courting supporters at dinners during the final weeks of the session. Those members say, however, that the maneuvering was based more on the belief that DeLeo would retire after this year; they do not expect a direct challenge to DeLeo.

Some argue that DeLeo did better in the negotiations than some give him credit for — noting, for instance, that the House was perfectly happy to pass most of the "concessions" Murray won. "DeLeo didn't give up on anything he was opposed to," says Scott Ferson, consultant with Liberty Square Group, who represents Native American gaming interests.

And the House didn't give in on everything, by a long shot. The Senate got a watered-down version of sentencing reform, and agreed to pass a sales-tax holiday. Murray's ambitious health-care cost bill was stripped down to measures targeted just for small businesses. The "right-to-repair" auto-insurance bill — which had passed unanimously in the Senate — was left to die for the session.

The perception of failure, some say, comes from the fact that — unlike Patrick and Murray — DeLeo never articulated an agenda for a successful session, beyond the casino bill.

"A speaker only has a handful of times he can showcase his priorities," says David Guarino, former press secretary for Sal DiMasi and now a political-communications consultant (whose clients include an anti-casino group). "DeLeo didn't take any of those opportunities."

Snake eyes for Baker
For Patrick, the political fallout of last week is mixed. He alienated trade unions and other casino supporters, to whom he looks stubborn and petulant. On the other hand, he shored up support among progressives, many of whom oppose casinos, and especially stand-alone slot parlors.

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