As the Massachusetts House of Representatives passes the FY2009 budget, turmoil may be on the horizon as Beacon Hill descends deeper and deeper into controversy.
According to today's edition of the Republican, the budget passed under a pall as Republican lawmakers continue to issue calls for the Ethics Commission and State Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate allegations of misconduct by House Speaker Salvator DiMasi. GOP leaders on Beacon Hill are also calling for investigations into so-call "phantom voting," when a member's vote is recorded without their presence, a huge no-no outside extreme circumstances. The circumstance to which the GOP points to in the article refers to a member being the Virgin Islands.
Behind the scenes, House Ways and Means Chmn. Robert DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers were fighting over possible succession should DiMasi be forced out. Notably absent from this battle was Ludlow Rep, Tom Petrolati, a DiMasi Deputy and Pro-Tempore Speaker.
It is hard to say at this point whether DiMasi can survive this new firestorm. It began to appear in the media following DiMasi's successful charge against Deval Patrick's casino plan leading some to suggests that Patrick may be behind it or at least tacitly aiding GOP efforts to embarrass DiMasi for wider political purposes.
Either way, while WMassP&I does not condone any wrong-doing that Rep. DiMasi may or may not have committed, his tenure marked a shift from that of his predecessor, the ill-reputed Tom Finneran. The perception one gets from political opponents and those who simply did not go lock-step with Finneran is a House where new ideas and innovation and debate were simply locked out. Groups as diverse as the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, locked out previously, have noted a much more receptive attitude from the DiMasi House over the Finneran House. The attitude has spread throughout the State House and encouraged a level of democratic participation and interest not seen in some time.
What WMassP&I does encourage is that whoever does succeed DiMasi, whether it be now or far away, is that that receptiveness remains alive.
Additionally, if DiMasi is forced out, it will be the second major leadership change in a year. In March 2007, Therese Murray ascended to Senate Presidency.
Despite this controversy and despite its stoking by the ailing State GOP, the Republicans in Massachusetts are unable to capitalize on it. The Boston Globe reported recently that a dismally low number of the states 200 State House seats (160 House, 40 Senate) have GOP contenders who have collected enough signatures to appear on primary ballots. This includes a few seats where GOP legislators are retiring such as Longmeadow Rep Mary Rogeness. If anything the GOP is in a position of greater vulnerability. However, if this controversy stews long enough, the GOP could wage a few write-in campaigns in September to appears on November's ballot. Moreover, as with Presidential Elections to Congressional races, State House and Senate races heat up when the Governor's Office is up for grabs. No matter what happens in November this years, it will set the scene for the GOP's 2010 plan.
*Photo from Rep. DiMasi's Mass.gov profile