The ghosts of James Michael Curley

In my latest for the Guardian, I report that Massachusetts has returned to normal since Election Day. Which is to say that corrupt politicians are running wild, tolls are going up and the traffic jams the Big Dig were supposed to alleviate are now worse than ever. James Michael Curley’s statues — yes, both of them — are laughing at us.

Casino gambling’s “Energizer Bunny”

As recently as last Friday, the Boston Globe editorial page was still whining over Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s finest moment: his staunch opposition to Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino-gambling proposal, which helped ensure its defeat earlier this year.

Now Common Cause of Massachusetts reports that pro-casino forces gave nearly $1.5 million to state legislators between 2002 and 2007, according to David Kibbe, who covers the Statehouse for The Standard-Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times. Gambling interests also spent $8.2 million on salaries for lobbyists between 1998 and 2007, Common Cause found. Kibbe writes:

“Money clearly hasn’t bought results,” said Pam Wilmot, the executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “What it does buy is a never ending campaign that will always be back and back and back, sort of like the Energizer Bunny.”

Ms. Wilmot added: “Without somebody like Sal DiMasi, it probably would have gone through.”

Indeed. This is the kind of muscle that DiMasi — who reportedly received death threats because of his opposition to casinos — was up against. Twisting a few arms in the face of such opposition is pretty weak stuff by comparison.

The Common Cause report (PDF) includes a great quote from Scott Harshbarger, speaking in 1996, when he was the state attorney general:

I think the reason we don’t have a casino today in Massachusetts is because, in fact, the people have decided…. The only people that won’t accept it are the people who want the casinos. Because they figure they can stay at this longer. The Legislature and the governor move on to other issues, but they never stop. They’re constantly focused with highly paid lobbyists — the best in the state — whose job it is to stay focused on one central goal: to get that door open.

The gambling interests are still pushing on the door. Harshbarger, to his credit, is still trying to hold them back. And DiMasi, who’s taking a pounding over his own questionable ethics, deserves our thanks for standing up to this assault on our quality of life.

Patrick’s unfortunate NYT close-up

If you’re the governor of Massachusetts, this is not how you want to be featured on the front page of the New York Times.

“Early Dazzle, Then Tough Path for Governor” is the headline. The story, by Abby Goodnough, portrays Gov. Deval Patrick as becalmed, going nowhere because of his defeat on casino gambling and a general sense of malaise stemming from early missteps over his Cadillac and office drapes.

Patrick sounds as though he’s going to keep pushing casinos, and he criticizes House Speaker Sal DiMasi for killing his proposal. “We’re going to keep working on it until we get a Democratic [sic on the uppercase “D”; I do believe Patrick was referring to governance, not the party] process that’s functioning,” Patrick is quoted as saying. Well, now. If Patrick hasn’t learned that there is overwhelming consensus against casinos and the social ills they bring, then he’s learned very little. This doesn’t bode well for the rest of his term.

Discussion of the Times story has already begun at Blue Mass. Group. And though BMGers are generally pro-Patrick, the first few commenters seem to be relishing the governor’s troubles.

The Outraged Liberal today offers some sharp analysis, noting that the Boston Herald’s ongoing coverage of DiMasi’s predeliction for golfing with well-connected friends, backing state contracts for political allies and supporting more revenue-losing tax breaks for the film industry may prove more important than the Times’ one-day embarrassment of Patrick. The O.L. writes that “the net effect is a steady drip of stories no politician can relish.”

Jon Keller, whose otherwise fine blog still lacks permalinks, offers some withering thoughts on the realities now facing Patrick and on the Times’ reliance on Steve Crosby — chief of staff to what Keller calls the “Titanic”-like administration of Jane Swift — to make the best case for Patrick. Keller writes:

Patrick tells the Times: “I have a better idea this year about who to trust and who not to, and you better believe that’s helped.” Really? Of whom does he speak? The key cabinet member who’s being allowed to run wild with inside power-plays and other clumsy blundering that threatens to make hash of years of progress in a crucial policy area? The aides he’s becoming notorious for not listening to? Sal? Maybe Patrick can’t trust him, but he should have known that going in. The real question is: can he beat him at his game?

Overall, not a good media day for Patrick or DiMasi.

Murphy on why he flipped

State Rep. Charles Murphy, D-Burlington, one of several House members identified by the Herald the other day as having flipped from pro- to anti-casino after being awarded leadership positions by House Speaker Sal DiMasi, provides some details over at Blue Mass. Group.

Murphy says casino opponents plied him with information. “Like most of my colleagues, I read it all,” he writes. The fiends!

Bare-knuckles do-gooder

In today’s Boston Herald, Casey Ross shows how hard House Speaker Sal DiMasi went at casino-gambling supporters — to the point of awarding lucrative leadership positions to six legislators who had supported expanded gambling in the past. Four voted “no” last week, and the other two missed the vote.

Naturally, those who were interviewed by Ross deny there was any quid pro quo. But let’s say there was an understanding. It would be too cavalier to dismiss it with a “so what?” But this is the way the legislative game has been played for so long that I can only be amused at the outrage over DiMasi’s use of strong-arm tactics to stop something that would be of incalculable harm to the state.

The danger now is that some of these same legislators seem to think they’ll get their way in pushing through slot machines at the state’s race tracks. Let’s hope not. For now, though, I think DiMasi deserves credit for using his muscle for the greater good.

Jon Keller on the casino vote

WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller on Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi and the casino vote:

The governor and other casino advocates lobbied hard for their position, using the same bag of tricks available to the speaker, everything from one-on-one meetings between legislators and a governor who could, if he chose, make their lives miserable back in their districts, to the profane strong-arm tactics of organized labor, who openly threatened to try to unseat legislators who didn’t toe their line. Nothing wrong with any of the above, that’s how it’s done. DiMasi and company just did a better job of it than Patrick et al.

No kidding. The anti-casino forces won this fight fair and square.

Misplaced criticism of DiMasi

A Globe editorial today is really unfair in the way it portrays House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s “lobbying tactics” in defeating Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino proposal. The editorial says of DiMasi:

He does not support the introduction of slot machines at the racetracks — a wise decision, because the model has more negatives and doesn’t generate the kind of jobs and revenues associated with destination casinos. Yet while lobbying House members to kill the casino bill, he promised at least three legislators that he would not block their attempts to bring a racetrack slots bill to the House floor. And this from the leader who predicted Tuesday that casinos would “cause human damage on a grand scale.”

How obtuse can you be? DiMasi allowed the casino bill to come to the floor, where it died a natural death, assisted by DiMasi and state Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, a recognized expert on the false promises and social ills of casino gambling.

Now certain legislators want a “racino” bill to come to the floor so they can go on record as voting for it, thus pleasing racetrack operators in their districts. That’s fine. As the editorial points out, DiMasi opposes slot machines at casinos, and we can be reasonably sure that a bill allowing them won’t pass.

What’s laughable about the editorial is the inconsistency. DiMasi gets criticized for using his influence to defeat a casino bill that he had allowed to come to the floor. And then he’s criticized for supposed hypocrisy over racinos because — you guessed it — he’s going to allow a bill to come to the floor.

Sounds to me like DiMasi is being perfectly consistent. House members get to vote on controversial legislation. And DiMasi, as speaker, gets to let his members know where he stands. It’s called democracy.

More bad news for casino proponents

Another day, another round-up of news suggesting that Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three gambling casinos in Massachusetts, and a bid by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to construct the world’s largest casino in Middleborough, are as happening as Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign. This morning we consider four developments.

1. In the Herald, Dave Wedge reports that revenue from three casinos in Detroit is dropping like a rock, with tax money for the state of Michigan falling by $10 million over the past year. Wedge quotes a Detroit autoworker named Mark Hauswirth thusly: “They ruin the city. People blow all their money. It don’t help nobody but the people who own them.” Hauswirth knows whereof he speaks: Wedge interviewed him at, yes, a casino.

Are analogies fair? I don’t know. Building three casinos in a depressed city like Detroit is hardly the same as spreading them out in a relatively prosperous state like Massachusetts. But local casino critics like state Rep. Dan Bosley have been warning us that casinos don’t generate anywhere near as much money as proponents like to think. The Detroit experience definitely falls in line with that.

2. House Speaker Sal DiMasi disses Patrick big-time in today’s Globe, telling reporter Matt Viser that he’s endorsing Hillary Clinton for president because Barack Obama is too inexperienced — just like Patrick.

“I think Massachusetts will look at it to find out what they can see in Obama with respect to what they did with their vote for Governor Patrick,” DiMasi is quoted as saying. “To be perfectly honest, I really don’t want my president to be in there in a learning process for the first six months to a year. It’s too important.”

I’ve heard the Obama-Patrick comparison many times, and I find it borderline offensive. What do they have in common other than a political consultant (David Axelrod) and, oh yes, the fact that they are both African-American? But Media Nation is in tea leaf-reading mode today. And the leaves tell me that DiMasi has decided to take the gloves off after a period of relative calm. Since DiMasi has already made it clear that he opposes Patrick’s casino plan, his outspokenness suggests that he won’t mind killing it once and for all.

3. The Globe’s Frank Phillips informs us that Patrick “has set up a novel political fund-raising system that allows him to skirt the state’s campaign finance law by channeling big contributions through the state Democratic Party, which, in turn, has paid off hundreds of thousands of dollars of the governor’s political expenses.”

If this were a big deal, I’d expect that Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, would be upset. Instead, Phillips writes that Wilmot “found nothing about Patrick’s strategy that prompted alarm.” Still, it places Patrick on the defense once again, hampering his ability to move his agenda forward. When it comes to casinos, that’s a good thing.

4. Finally, it turns out that the proposed site of the Middleborough casino may be the home of a rare species of turtle called the northern red-bellied cooter. Gladys Kravitz explains why it matters — although Alicia Elwell, writing in the Brockton Enterprise, reports that maybe the turtle doesn’t live there after all.

Much wrangling ahead, you can be sure.