Talking Politics - Deval and Casinos

Last summer, when Deval Patrick's veto killed a gaming bill in the final days of the legislative session, many thought he had badly damaged himself politically. He was, after all, the one who had pushed for casinos in Massachusetts almost from the day he entered office. Now, he had quashed a compromise bill hammered out between Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Bob DeLeo. He had angered union members — critical support for his re-election — and none more visibly than Robert Haynes, the powerful president of the state's AFL-CIO. The 2011 and 2012 budgets would have to proceed without revenue from casino licensing and slot machines, meaning far deeper cuts to services.

Almost a year later, Patrick is safely ensconced for another four years in the corner office — while Haynes is stepping down after 13 years.

And, according to reports last week, Patrick may get the casino bill he wants this summer, after all — without the no-bid slot licenses for racetracks that he drew the line against last year.

The Boston Herald, followed by the Springfield Republican, WBUR, and others, reported that DeLeo hopes to pass a gaming bill by next month. "Casino gambling and slot parlors will soon be coming up for debate again on Beacon Hill," Fox 25 announced.

According to those accounts, the legislation will likely include three resort-casino licenses and one "slot parlor" license open for competitive bidding.

State House watchers say that would be a political win for Patrick. Even bigger, they say, would be if passage of that bill opened the path for quick movement on the governor's top legislative priority, health-care payment reform, intended to curb ever-rising costs. Murray is eager to move quickly on the Senate side, but DeLeo is dragging his feet on the measure — with many on Beacon Hill believing the speaker is holding it hostage until a casino deal is done.

Patrick is unlikely to get everything he wants in the payment-reform law. (The medical community, which has strong pull, is particularly unhappy with his approach.) That's also true for probation and parole reforms, the youth-violence initiative he unveiled last month, and any number of budget items.

But it increasingly looks like his big initiatives will happen, which will be impressive in itself.

Patrick's second-term winning streak may be the result, over time, of Patrick's slow and steady approach, calm to the point of aloofness.

But it might also be what happens when a governor uses his re-election political capital for policy initiatives, rather than immediately seeking higher office.

We really wouldn't know; it's never happened here since Massachusetts switched from two-year to four-year terms for governors in 1966. The only two governors to win a second (consecutive) four-year term, Michael Dukakis in 1986 and William Weld eight years later, immediately began campaigns for president and US senator, respectively. Leverett Saltonstall, the last governor to reach a fifth year under two-year terms, also ran for US Senate. Arguably no governor has been in a position comparable to Patrick's since the Civil War.

Despite persistent rumors, Patrick insists he is committed to serving out his term. That means he is funneling all his political capital — and his acquired skill at the job — into the changes he wants to make while he's there.

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