“Style,” according to Alfred North Whitehead, “is the ultimate morality of the mind.” In other words, the way we do things may be as important as what we do. Method reveals much. As we try to determine heads from tails during this time of State House transition, it is worth keeping this in mind.
Robert Travaglini’s departure as Senate president was so long rumored, that when it came it was anticlimactic. Affection for him in the Senate was real, which is a tribute to his personal warmth. And as Senate president, he never lost sight of the grassroots realities of his chamber members. He understood what senators needed to do to please their constituents. And even if he would not allow a pet piece of legislation to advance, he would allow the hearing to be held. Trav, as he is known to most, was a very effective stage manager. He seemed to prefer the shadows, not the spotlight. When the Democrats squashed then-governor Romney’s plan to gain seats in the Senate, it was Trav who quietly raised the money and deployed his people to work in the districts.
Travaglini was firmly opposed to gay marriage, but cloaked his opposition by favoring civil unions, which were no longer the issue. He let a handful of health providers and insurers write his precious health-care-reform bill. And befitting the baronial style of Senate presidents, he never seemed interested in cleaning up waste and curbing cronyism. Like so many in the legislature, fine-tuning the status quo was his instinct. That frame of legislative mind, it is not unreasonable to suggest, is a big reason our economy is not more robust. The process of leaving his post was so prolonged that it almost came to resemble a silent auction, the result of which would be to determine his market value in the private sector.
The new Senate president, Therese Murray, is — by progressive standards — solid on a host of important issues: same-sex marriage, welfare, child services, elder care, and affordable housing. Murray is among the most knowledgeable on Beacon Hill about the details of the state budget.
She has a reputation for being tough and retaliatory to the point of being vengeful. One could fairly argue that this is part of a gender-based perception problem, or a function of playing “bad cop” to Travaglini’s “good cop.” Like Trav, she has shown no interest in changing the use of patronage, earmarks, or other aspects of state government that the public presumably elected Deval Patrick to reform. The way she defanged the Inspector General’s potentially reputation-damaging investigation into the questionable awarding of $11 million worth of tourism business suggests that while she will make history as the first woman to hold the Senate presidency, her political style will be less than revolutionary. There should be little doubt, however, that having broken through the glass ceiling of the state’s political hierarchy, she will bring a different personal perspective to the Senate president’s office.
Patrick’s tech gambit
Governor Deval Patrick’s recently inaugurated Web-based citizen-involvement project is, by Beacon Hill standards, revolutionary. While technology has transformed business and private lives, Beacon Hill has remained curiously unaffected, snug and complacent in a cocoon of stasis.