The Harshbarger Way of Influencing the Casino Debate Doesn't Add Up

Friday, October 14, 2011

In the prime of his life, Scott Harshbarger was one of the most powerful men in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a popular state-wide office holder regarded by many as a likely future governor.

Today, approaching his 70th birthday, he is a lawyer in private practice and a voice crying in the wilderness against casino gambling.

Harshbarger has said that our elected officials are "careening toward a cliff" as they push the casino bill toward enactment on Beacon Hill.

He has said it is "shameful" that "Beacon Hill clearly hasn't learned the lessons of its recent past and insists on moving forward with a bill that will only help casino owners, lobbyists and special interests."

He has said the casino bill "was worked out in secret by no more than three State House leaders and has been proven by the media to be a larded-up, special interest giveaway co-authored by the casino industry to help feather its nests at the expense of hard-working Bay State residents."

And he has harshly criticized the owners of Suffolk Downs, who are itching to compete for one of the new casino licenses, for making contributions to charities associated with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and East Boston State Senator Anthony Petrucelli, calling those donations "yet another instance of the looming shadows stretching into our political, social and now even non-profit culture by the greedy insiders and shady players that dominate the casino industry."

For someone who seriously wants the legislature and governor to reject casinos, Harshbarger's decision to attack publicly the speaker of the house, the president of the senate, and the governor doesn't add up.

Harshbarger is not stupid. He knows those words are like poison to the folks on Beacon Hill, those both in the leadership and in the rank and file. He also knows that the mayor of Boston will never forgive him for throwing him under the bus like that.

(One can safely assume that Harshbarger has no legal business with the city of Boston, nor does he hope to have a client who one day will need to bring a matter before the Menino administration.)

Harshbarger must also know that the people who do not hold public office and who have the most credibility and the most sway on Beacon Hill would never strafe the decision-makers in public before, or even after, a big vote.

One cannot imagine, for example, Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, accusing the senate president of engaging in "name-calling" rather than "embracing an honest debate on the complex issue of casino gambling," as Harshbarger has done.

So why is Harshbarger waging the battle in such a patently self-defeating manner?

Either he sincerely believes his rhetoric is the best way to rouse the public against casinos, or he just doesn't give a damn. Maybe he's earned enough that he can say whatever he wants whenever he wants, and anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell.

Or maybe he's still hurting over the heartbreakingly close election for governor he lost to Paul Celucci in 1998, an election many believe he would have won, if only the members of the Democratic establishment at the time had genuinely embraced his candidacy and pulled out all the stops to get him a victory.

Way down deep, could he be thinking, the big shots on Beacon Hill never considered me one of their own, and you know what, they were right, so I'd rather lose than ever have to pretend I have regard for any of them?

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