DiMasi’s sheep

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 15, 2011

Likewise, some of the most vocal liberal members are gone. Marzilli and Somerville’s Patricia Jehlen have stepped up to the State Senate — with James Eldridge of Acton and Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster looking to join them soon. Michael Festa of Melrose joined the Patrick administration. Deb Blumer passed away.

According to some, the result is a broad ideological consensus among House Democrats, resulting in far fewer dissenting voices and votes.

The exodus also has brought a huge number of newcomers: 38 of the current House Democrats were sworn in since DiMasi became Speaker less than four years ago. More turnover is coming this November.

Those inexperienced newcomers are more vulnerable to intimidation, some say — and those willing to speak up have failed to learn the procedural methods available to them. “Too many members don’t understand the rules,” agrees Jones. “When you don’t know the rules, you infuse additional power onto the leadership.”

As Jones concedes, the weakness of his Republican Party — currently numbering just 19 in the House — also strengthens DiMasi’s hand, by providing fewer potential cross-aisle allies for those opposing the Speaker. (GOP House members are also not as rigid a voting bloc, frequently splitting from Jones on issues.)

In addition, DiMasi has benefited from the notable silence of Massachusetts progressives who once railed against the same tactics when used by Finneran. These so-called process liberals don’t seem to mind when abuses further their own causes. “It’s ‘damn that despot — unless he agrees with me,’ ” says one person who works closely with the legislature.

But some DiMasi victories have come at the expense of Democratic constituencies, and the list of the aggrieved is slowly growing.

Labor unions in particular are now enraged by the defeat of the jobs-producing casino bill, for which they lobbied hard, but that was merely the very large straw on their already heavily laden backs. DiMasi’s long-standing fiscal conservatism has recently seemed to tilt even further, into pro-business ideology, as seen in his stands on corporate and telecom taxes. Several labor-backed bills are languishing in committees, including the staffing-level requirements for nurses, which seemed to be on the verge of becoming law two years ago.

Other progressive groups saw a disturbing pro-business slant in portions of DiMasi’s expedited-permitting bill; the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities labeled it a “boondoggle for bond-lawyers.”

Environmental groups also railed against that legislation. They have soured on DiMasi, who, while pushing this year to be seen as a leader in that arena, swept aside efforts of other top legislators, including Marzilli, on the issue.

And it’s not just environmental groups who are worked up over a maneuver that critics call an outrageous handout to DiMasi’s personal friend, developer Jay Cashman. Provisions that seem to clear the way for Cashman to start building wind turbines in Buzzards Bay were first slipped into DiMasi’s energy bill in November — bundled into a “consolidated amendment” without any notification to members — and then into an ocean-management bill in February. One State House insider calls it “one of the most outrageous acts I’ve seen in 10 years.”

That, along with the inspector general’s rebuke of DiMasi over his role in a $13 million software contract, has some wondering what it would take for Democrats in the House to speak up against their boss.

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