DiMasi’s sheep

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 15, 2011

Ross, another pro-gaming legislator, ended up voting against Patrick’s bill in committee to give DiMasi the majority he needed. He then indiscreetly told the press that he had switched in return for a promise from the Speaker to allow an open vote on a long-sought bill to allow slot machines at race tracks — tracks like the one in Ross’s district. DiMasi promptly denied it, but tellingly, a host of pro-gaming members known to prefer race-track slots over casinos proceeded to vote against Patrick’s bill on the floor.

Follow the leadership
DiMasi defenders point to his floor defeats — such as those in 2006 on primary enforcement of the seat-belt requirement, and on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants — as evidence that he lets members act independently. They also correctly point to the lack of overt examples of DiMasi’s supposedly vicious retribution. Only one legislator has been stripped of a post that carries extra pay: Jim Marzilli, a Democrat from Arlington, who filed a competing environment bill to DiMasi’s, and subsequently lost the $7500 vice-chairmanship of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. (He has since been elected state senator.)

Some pro-DiMasi observers also point to the success of members who have periodically “voted off” as evidence that the timidity of most House Democrats is needless and self-imposed. Take Kathi-Ann Reinstein of Revere, who has cast votes against the Speaker on some high-profile issues, and yet was called to join the leadership team earlier this year, as chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. Then there are committee chairs James Fagan of Taunton and David Flynn of Bridgewater, who, despite their leadership positions, are among the top dissenters, while Rules committee chair Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park — one of DiMasi’s inner-circle members — also votes periodically against the Speaker.

One rank-and-file member who has “voted off” with some frequency says that he has felt no repercussions. “[DiMasi] said he wasn’t going to hold it against us if we voted our conscience,” the rep says, “so I’ve been doing so.”

But, as the numbers show, those are the exceptions rather than the rule. DiMasi has brilliantly co-opted formerly independent voices — on the left, such as Ruth Balser of Newton, and the right, such as James Miceli of Wilmington — by giving them leadership roles in exchange for their promise to put up a solid public front. John Binienda of Worcester, once considered an independent voice, is now chair of the Joint Committee on Revenue; in the current session, he has cast just two votes dissenting from DiMasi.

Which is as it should be, says one liberal member: “If you are offered a leadership position, and you accept that position, you have a responsibility and an obligation to work with the team.”

“You want to pick a leader who will lead an agenda,” says Balser. “The Speaker has been skillful at developing and pushing that agenda.”

But there’s working for the team, and then there’s blindly following like lemmings. The 45 top leaders — committee chairs, division chairs, majority and assistant majority leaders, and the speaker pro tempore, all of whom receive annual stipends for their positions — have cast a combined total of 77 votes against DiMasi thus far in the 2007–’08 legislative session.

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