Let's Hope Moulton's View on Gun Slaughter Moments of Silence Is Contagious

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seth Moulton has the right idea about those weak and perfunctory and unproductive moments of silence at the Capitol after mass shootings like the one Sunday night in Las Vegas.

“As after #Orlando, I will NOT be joining my colleagues in a moment of silence on the House Floor that just becomes an excuse for inaction.  Now is not the moment for silence; it’s a time for action.” Moulton tweeted earlier today.
The action he referred to is voting on new gun control measures.  I like what Moulton’s doing but have to say good luck with that voting thing.

After more than 20 first graders were mowed down by a deranged young loner in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012, many thought it would be the atrocity of atrocities that finally spurred Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons.  Of course, we all underestimated the ability of the Republicans running D.C. to take massacres in stride.
Moulton, an Iraq War hero who represents the Sixth Massachusetts District, also tweeted, “Thinking of everyone in #Las Vegas, and praying Congress will have the courage to do more than stand in silence to commemorate them.”

Amen.

Moulton has been a Congressman for only three years, but he has a smitten national following so large and a buzz about him so insistent that many Millenials (Americans born from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s) are talking seriously about him as a Democrat candidate for President of the United States.
In the Sunday New York Times yesterday, Moulton was mentioned in an article in the Opinion section headlined, “Who Can Beat Trump in 2020?”  Here’s what the Times said about him:

“Seth Moulton…is a charismatic, intelligent Iraq war veterans who isn’t afraid to call out party elders like Nancy Pelosi.  He’s only 38, and it’s almost certainly too soon for him to have much of a chance of winning the nomination, but it doesn’t hurt to put his name into the 2020 veepstakes.”
Wouldn’t it be something if this exceptional man from Salem made it to a national political ticket.

FOOTNOTE: The online satirical newspaper "The Onion" had the most apropos headline on the horror in Las Vegas: 'No way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

 

 

This Month in Corruption: Improper Billing, Double Dipping, Disability Faking, etc.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Dream Most Improper.  On September 4, announcements came from the offices of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Attorney General that Dental Dreams, a national dental chain with locations in Massachusetts, had agreed to pay $1.375 million to resolve allegations that it improperly billed the Massachusetts Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, for unnecessary and unjustifiable dental procedures.

"Dental Dreams enriched itself at taxpayer expense by improperly billing Medicaid," said Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.  "We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to ensure that federal and state health care dollars are spent properly."

Dental Dreams "took advantage of a vulnerable patient population when it submitted claims to MassHealth for medically unnecessary and unreasonable dental procedures," said Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division.  "Today's settlement underscores the FBI's commitment to investigate health care providers who overbill federal and private health insurance programs to maximize profits.  We urge anyone with information regarding overbilling practices to contact us."

A Different Kind of Vacation for Police Officer.  On September 7, a former lieutenant with the Quincy Police Department was sentenced in federal court in Boston after a jury found him guilty of collecting double pay in 2015.

According to the Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb, Thomas Corliss, age 52, was sentenced  by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to one year and one day in prison and one year of supervised release  In June, 2017, Corliss was convicted following an eight-day jury trial of 10 counts of mail fraud and one count of fraud involving federal funds.

A press release from Weinreb's office states that an internal investigation  by the Quincy Police Department revealed that Corliss had "double dipped," or collected double pay for working multiple details and/or police shifts that overlapped on multiple occasions in 2015.

While on vacation in the Bahamas and on Martha's Vineyard in 2015, the release states, Corliss left himself on the daily roster rather than using vacation time.

In total, Corliss defrauded the Quincy Police Department (and, by extension, the taxpayers of Quincy) of more than $8,000, according to Weinreb.

A 'Disabled' Officer Quite Able in Business. On September 8, Richard A. Mariani, age 76, a resident of Dennis and a former transportation security officer at the Barnstable Municipal Airport, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud in obtaining federal employee compensation, according to the Office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb. 

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelly sentenced Mariani on that day to six months of probation and ordered him to pay $38,052 in restitution to the federal Department of Labor.

Here's how Weinreb's office described the case against Mariani:

"From February, 2002, to February, 2011, Mariani was employed as a transportation security officer at the Barnstable Municipal Airport.  After a workplace injury in 2011 that he claimed rendered him unable to work and imposed severe limitations on physical activities, Mariani began collecting workers' compensation benefits.  However, in August, 2015, Mariani began providing lawn irrigation services to various clients who paid him in cash for his work.  In doing so, Mariani was engaged in many of the physical activities he previously claimed to be unable to do.  In addition, he lied on a form to the U.S. Department of Labor stating that he did not earn any income other than his disability benefits.  For August, 2015, to August, 2016, Mariani fraudulently received $38,052 in federal benefits."

A Shady Transaction at Social Security.  On September 29, Julio Klapper, age 40, a resident of Worcester and a former Social Security Administration (SSA) employee, was sentenced in federal court, Boston, to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay restitution of $70,337 and forfeiture of $17,800, according to the office of Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb.  Klapper had pleaded guilty in June, 2017, to one count of bribery "for accepting a payment for submitting a fraudulent claim for payment to SSA on behalf of a beneficiary," Weinreb's press release stated.

The press release explained that: "Between Aug. 30, 2016, and Sept. 27, 2016, Klapper used his position with SSA to submit a request for release of Supplemental Security Income Disabled Child (SSIDC) funds by falsely claiming that the person representing the child was purchasing a car for the benefit of the SSIDC beneficiary, even though Klapper knew that the child's representative was not intending to purchase a car with the SSIDC funds.  Klapper provided false documentation to the SSA in support of the submitted claim.  In exchange for Klapper's submission of the false claim and documentation, Klapper received $2,000 from the child's representative."

After Hurricanes, the MA-Puerto Rico Connection Comes into Sharper Focus

Friday, September 29, 2017

This past Wednesday, Jeff Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, a proud son of Puerto Rico and one of the most powerful members of the legislature, came to the podium in the House chamber to call attention to those in the Caribbean suffering greatly because of recent hurricanes.

“I stand here to ask for a moment of silence for the victims of Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and the affected regions of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico in particular: 3.5 million United States citizens are crying for help right now in a way that so many of us would expect to be heard from this commonwealth if we were in the same situation,” said Sanchez, who was recently appointed chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. 
“Puerto Rico is a United States territory, a commonwealth,” Sanchez continued, “and the U.S. citizens there are seeking help.  I want to thank all of you for the outreach and the outpouring of help so many have come to us offering.  Make no mistake, the (electric) lines are down, the communications are down, people are crying, people are hurting.  Hospitals are inundated with water.  I want to recognize this travesty with a moment of silence.”

That same day, Governor Charlie Baker telephoned Ricardo Rossello, Governor of Puerto Rico, to offer assistance in the island’s recovery effort.
Puerto Ricans are not just citizens who reside in a distant U.S. territory.  They have been, for generations, our neighbors here in Massachusetts.  According to the 2010 U.S. census, the last definitive national population count, two of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest Puerto Rican populations are in Massachusetts. Springfield is Number 4 on the list with 50,798 Puerto Ricans, (exceeded only by New York, Philadelphia and Chicago), and Boston is Number 9 with 30,201. 

The 2010 census pegged the total Puerto Rican population of Massachusetts at 266,125 -- 5.76% of our entire population at that time.    
I thought that the unprecedented damage done to Puerto Rico by Irma and Maria might bring the subject of statehood to the fore again, but so far that has not happened. 

Not four months ago, on Sunday, June 11, the latest in a widely intermittent series of plebiscites on whether Puerto Rico should try to become the 51st state was held.  Ninety-seven percent of the Puerto Ricans who voted that day favored statehood.  
Only the U.S. Congress can grant statehood. With Republicans controlling both branches of the Congress, nothing will be done any time soon to advance the cause of statehood because Puerto Rico would be entitled to two U.S. Senators and three U.S. Representatives. Republicans know that Democrats would be likely capture most if not all of those seats.

I think that’s too bad, not for partisan reasons, but rather for peace and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere and for the security of our nation.
A long time ago, a very astute person, my older brother, Jim, said to me, “I don’t know why we (the U.S.) spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year stationing troops overseas and keeping the sea lanes in the Middle East open for oil shipments.  We’d do way more for our security by building the best possible relationships with our neighbors in the Americas.  Think about it.  If the Canadians and the Mexicans and all of the people in the Caribbean love us and trust us, who could ever defeat us militarily -- or economically?”

Elevating the status of a strategically important island some one thousand miles from our shores, an island whose residents are already citizens of the U.S., would make us a stronger and safer nation in the long run.  It would also convey respect for all of the Spanish-speaking nations in the region, strengthening the peaceful bonds we have with them.

If anyone’s interested in contributing to the relief and rebuilding of Puerto Rico, one of the organizations worthy of donations is “United for Puerto Rico.”  For more information, go to:


 

  

 

It's Inevitable that MA Legislature Will Give us 'End of Life Options'

Forty-five of the 200 members (22.5%) of the Massachusetts legislature are sponsoring a bill, An Act Relative to End of Life Options, that would allow persons with terminal illnesses to get prescriptions for suicide drugs.

You will not find the words “suicide drugs” in the bill.  That’s my term. The bill calls these pharmaceuticals “aid in dying medication.”  To get them, a person would have to fill out a form that goes like this:
“I, [Insert Name], am an adult of sound mind and a resident of the State of Massachusetts.  I am suffering from [Insert Deadly Condition], which my attending physician has determined is a terminal illness or condition which can reasonably be expected to cause death within 6 months.  This diagnosis has been medically confirmed, as required by law.

“I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of the aid in dying medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and the feasible alternatives and additional treatment opportunities, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
“I request that my attending physician prescribe aid in dying medication that will end my life in a peaceful manner if I choose to take it, and I authorize my attending physician to contact any pharmacist to fill the prescription.

“I understand that I have the right to rescind this request at any time.  I understand the full import of this request and I expect to die if I take the aid in dying medication to be prescribed.  I further understand that, although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.  I make this request voluntarily, without reservation, and without being coerced, and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”
The person seeking such medication would have to sign this form in the presence of two witnesses, who would also have to sign it.  The person would also have to be adjudged by a mental health professional fully capable of making the decision to end her life.

That so many legislators are sponsoring An Act Relative to End of Life Options does not mean the bill is an odds-on favorite for enactment during the 2017-18 legislative session.  But I would not be surprised if it does become law. 
When a referendum question to legalize physician assisted suicide appeared on the statewide Massachusetts ballot in 2012, it came within 2.3 percentage points of passing.  Physician assisted suicide -- again, my term; it is not found in the bill text -- has the feel of recreational marijuana prior to the election of November, 2016: an idea whose time has come. 

Laws like this are already on the books in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C.
The Joint Committee on Public Health conducted a hearing on An Act Relative to End of Life Options on Tuesday of this week.  Among the many witnesses who testified in favor of the bill were Framingham State Rep. Christopher Walsh, who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 Lymphoma, and Allison Scobie-Carroll, Massachusetts President of the National Association of Social Workers.  As reported by the State House News Service:

Walsh said, “I had to come to terms with this idea when I got this diagnosis, which is: Am I afraid of dying?  I’m much more afraid of not living well.”
Scobie-Carroll said, “Those facing a prognosis of death in just a matter of months, secondary to an illness that will erode their personal agency and quality of life should be afforded the ability to decide the manner in which they wish to die.”

The case against An Act Relative to End of Life Options is fundamentally theological -- and theology has never occupied a comfortable spot in our constitutional system.
Traditional Western theology holds that life is a gift from God, that human beings are incapable of comprehending God’s ultimate nature and purposes, and that human beings must not expropriate the powers of God but rather submit to God’s will and design, or else risk eternal damnation.

I or any number of my fellow citizens may bow to tradition, but so what?  America in its founding document committed itself to the pursuit of happiness (and, by implication comfort). 
Human beings have always had the ability to end their lives by means violent (rope ) or passive (self-starvation) any time they chose.  Today, however, we possess the blessings of pharmacology and may bring about our deaths quickly and nearly painlessly.  The desperation and fierce will needed to self-inflict fatal damage are no longer required.  Thus, it is only a matter of time before An Act Relative to End of Life Options or something like it is enshrined in Massachusetts law and more people start taking their own lives.

 

Voters Don't Seem to Be Holding Social Media Slip Against Rep in Mayor's Race

Thursday, September 21, 2017

If you’re running for public office and make a slip on social media, even a small one, it can take months to live it down.  Just ask Paul Heroux, who’s running for mayor of Attleboro and is the favorite in the race after Tuesday’s preliminary election in the town.

Three months ago, on Facebook, Heroux sent this message to a former girlfriend, thinking it was for her eyes only: “What you don’t know was behind the scenes I applied for a couple of jobs.  I have several job opportunities available to me in New York.  I don’t want to run for mayor.  I’d much rather go down there and rebuild with you.  I’m pretty sure that’s not an option though, for you that is. What do you say?”
Heroux accidentally posted the message publicly.  Within minutes, his political adversaries learned of it, and, within an hour, they were distributing print copies of it around town.  Heroux found out and promptly removed it from Facebook.  This all happened in the early morning hours of June 22.

With his commitment to a mayoral campaign questioned, Heroux did the best he could to explain away the situation.  According to an account in the Sun Chronicle newspaper, he said that he had made it clear when he first announced he was running for mayor that it was not a move he ever envisioned for himself. There are other goals in life he wanted to pursue, he told the Sun Chronicle, but he saw it as his duty to run.
The question dogged Heroux’s campaign and will continue to pose a problem for him until the final election on November 7, although probably not a fatal one.  On Tuesday, he topped the ticket in the preliminary, receiving 2,217 votes -- 251 more than the incumbent, Mayor Kevin Dumas, who received 1,966 votes.  The third-place candidate in the preliminary, retired Attleboro Fire Chief Ronald Churchill, got 587 votes.

You can be sure that Dumas, who’s been mayor for 14 years, will campaign hard to hold onto his job and not hesitate to remind voters that, mere weeks ago, Heroux was musing about starting a new life for himself in New York, so how seriously can he be taking this mayor thing?
On the last day before the preliminary, Heroux, interestingly, turned to Facebook to demonstrate how much he wanted to be mayor, posting an account of how he had just been bitten by dog while out on the streets campaigning.  The story was accompanied by photos of a bloody, torn sock and of Heroux in a medical office. 

“I have been bitten six times knocking on doors,” Heroux wrote.  “I still love dogs.  But if anybody ever questions whether or not I want to be mayor, they really should think again.”
Paul Heroux is one of the most highly educated members of the legislature.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and neuroscience from the University of Southern California, a master’s in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in international relations from the London School of Economics, and a master’s in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  He’s 41 years old and has been in the House since January of 2013.  He’s at the point in life where most men and women do some very hard thinking about the direction of their lives and careers.  By deciding to stay in politics, he may well be closing down permanently routes to some very lucrative and exciting alternatives to public life.  I don’t feel bad for him because his political adversaries have been tormenting him with questions about his commitment to public service.  He brought the problem on himself. 

But it’s no big deal, and certainly no evidence of a character flaw, that he was privately weighing other options.  (Who, by the way, reading the message to the former girlfriend cannot be touched by the cautious hope of a reignited romance and a new life together in the capital of the world – the idea that he’d ditch politics for the woman he still loved but who may not love him?  Heroux, of course, is a Democrat.)  If I were a resident of Attleboro, I would not hesitate to give him my vote for mayor.

 

This Month in Corruption: Different Schemes to Yield False IDs, Free Cocaine

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Last December, with just a few days left in 2016, I decided to devote some time each month during the upcoming year to tracking new cases of public corruption and providing a summary of those cases in an end-of-the-month blog post for an entire year.

Out of simple curiosity, I’d been reading, for years, every press release out of the offices of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the Massachusetts Inspector General, and the United States Attorney for Massachusetts, a habit that always left me shaking my head.
I’d be amazed by how much corruption “business” these offices had and by how few of the corruption cases, whether they were at the point of indictment or sentencing or somewhere in between, were reported upon in the mainstream media. 

With the opportunity to be a breaker of news, albeit a modest one, I could not help but unleash “This Month in Corruption” on an indifferent world.  It’s been an interesting exercise, bordering at times on the comedic.  [Think “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.”]  More often it’s been rather depressing, which is why I’ll close it down on 12-31-17. 
Now to our fleet-footed Month 8:

Aggravated Identity Theft.  Who Knew There Was Such a Thing?  This month was only two days old when word came from the U.S. Justice Department that four employees of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) were among six persons arrested and charged with aggravated identity theft in connection with an alleged scheme to produce false identification documents. 
According to the State House News Service, federal authorities allege that Bivian Yohanny Brea, 41, and Rafael Bonano, 32, also known as “Flako,” conspired with four RMV clerks, who were identified as: Evelyn Medina, 56; Annette Gracia, 37; Kimberly Jordan, 33; and David Brimage, 46.

The Department of Justice claims that Bonano sold Puerto Rican birth certificates and U.S. Social Security cards to Brea for about $900, and that Brea then sold the stolen identities for more than $2,000 to clients seeking legitimate identities in Massachusetts.  The department further alleges that the employees in question accepted cash to use the stolen identities to illegally issue authentic RMV documents, including driver’s licenses and state ID cards.
There’s a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison for persons convicted of aggravated identity theft, which none of the above have yet been.

Shady Cops Squeezing Drug Dealers.  Everyone Knows There Is Such a Thing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced earlier today (8-31) that John Desantis, Jr., 45, a resident of Methuen and a member of the Lawrence Police Department for 16 years, had agreed to plead guilty to the crime of using his official position to extort cocaine from a drug dealer.  The charge against him is one count of “extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right and through the use of threatened force and fear.”
U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor, IV, deferred acceptance of the guilty plea until Desantis’s sentencing hearing on Nov. 17.

According to federal prosecutors, Desantis purchased small amounts of cocaine from a drug trafficker once or twice a week for 10 months to a year without identifying himself as a police officer.  However, during a drug deal at his home on May 16, 2016, federal prosecutors said, Desantis displayed his badge and firearm, seized his drug dealer’s cocaine, and threatened to arrest the trafficker if he did not continue to supply drugs to him. 
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Desantis will be sentenced to no less than 12 months and no more than 18 months in prison, should the court accept his plea.

 

Historical Significance Had Little Heft on the Scale of Progress in Booming Malden

Monday, August 28, 2017

The First Church in Malden, Congregational, a once-cherished emblem of the history of Malden, Massachusetts, was wiped out a few weeks ago for the sake of a new downtown development.

The site of the church was contiguous to the Malden Government Center complex (city hall and police headquarters), which had been built in the mid-1970s in the middle of Pleasant Street in an attempt to create a pedestrian shopping mall from that point down to where Pleasant Street spills in to Main Street.  It turned out to be an ill-conceived and ridiculously hopeful project: no mall ever materialized. 
For years, the people of Malden yearned to correct that colossal mistake by demolishing the Government Center and reopening the entire length of Pleasant Street to the smooth flow of vehicular traffic.  Enter the Jefferson Apartment Group of Virginia in 2015.  It proposed spending $100 million to demolish the Government Center; replace it with apartments, offices and hundreds of parking spaces; and re-open Pleasant Street.  The plan hinged on combining the Government Center and church properties.  Suddenly, it made sense to deem the church edifice expendable.

Located at 184 Pleasant Street, the red-brick First Church, with its New-England-classic white steeple, was much more than a beautiful and distinctive building.  It was a direct link to the first European settlers of Mystic Side, the farming hamlet north of Boston that became the town, and later the city, of Malden.
Arriving in 1629, those settlers were Puritans, adherents of the Congregational faith.  Out of that faith ran a current of self-reliance and independent thinking that energized the Revolutionary War and helped to define the resulting institutions of democratic government in the United States.

James F. Cooper, Jr., wrote in his book Tenacious of Their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts that “Congregational thought and practice in fact served as one indigenous seedbed of several concepts that would flourish during the Revolutionary generation, including the notions that government derives its legitimacy from voluntary consent of the governed, governors should be chosen by the governed, rulers should be accountable to the ruled, and constitutional checks should limit both the governors and the people.”  
The First Church was not the original Congregational meeting house in Malden, nor did it occupy the site of the original meeting house.  It was a successor church, a “new” church constructed only 83 years ago, in 1934, when that part of Pleasant Street was the retail hub of greater Malden.  First Church members then were numerous and influential in the community – and justly proud of being able to trace their faith lineage to the Englishmen who founded the city.

Malden is booming. The population has increased by more than 3,000 over the last 15 years and now stands just below 60,000.  New apartment buildings and condos are rising, it seems, on every available site.  Restaurants old and new are busy most nights.  There is even a serious proposal to build a minor league baseball stadium on a former industrial site on the outskirts of downtown.
One can welcome progress of this magnitude.  One can cheer for the city and its leaders because their economy is so robust.  One can celebrate that these developments constitute “smart growth” -- buildings and uses that capitalize on Malden’s proximity to Boston and its connection to mass transit. (The Malden Center stop on the T’s Orange Line sits about a hundred yards from the site of the demolished First Church.)

Still, I have to mourn that something with as much character and historical significance as the First Church could disappear because its congregation had dwindled and the real estate it occupies had become so incredibly valuable.  I feel badly that Malden is like most places in the U.S. in that local citizens are inherently averse to paying more taxes for the preservation of buildings and places of historical importance.
At the tables where big decisions are made on a city’s future, a city’s past has no seat.

We’ve all witnessed circumstances like those that spelled the doom of the First Church in Malden, Congregational.  In our hearts we know that civic pride is wonderful up to the point that we the citizens are invited to uphold it with the dollars from our pockets.

It's Not Etched in Stone that Sales-Tax-Free Weekends Be Held Only in August

Monday, August 21, 2017

This comes as no surprise to the people I work with (nor to my wife) but I was dead damn wrong in my last post, “Guv’s Sales Tax Holiday Bill Looks D.O.A.  Appearances Are Deceiving,” 8-6-17.

I thought Charlie Baker must have set everything up with legislative leaders before filing a last-minute bill August 2 to have a sales tax holiday the weekend of August 19-20.
I believed that despite the immediate negative reaction to the bill from an important House committee chairman, Revenue’s Jay Kaufman, who said it would be a “colossal mistake” to have a sales tax holiday this year.

I figured our governor must have quietly secured support for the idea from House Speaker Bob DeLeo and Senate President Stan Rosenberg before the filing and that Kaufman must have been out of the loop. I figured wrong.  Kaufman was most definitely in the loop. 
I’m not sure where Baker was.

This past Thursday brought the last possible opportunity for Baker’s sales tax holiday to be enacted. The last informal sessions of the House and Senate prior to the hoped-for event were held that day and the sales tax holiday wasn’t even mentioned.
I have to admit, almost as soon as I posted “…Appearances Are Deceiving,” I started second guessing myself.

Second guessing turned to serious worrying on Tuesday, August 8, when Chairman Kaufman declared he was “certain” there would be no sales tax holiday this year.
And when Friday, August 11, came and went without any action on the bill, I knew I had blown it.

What would be the point of scheduling a sales tax holiday weekend without there being at least one full week to promote it?  
So, if Baker did not have a solid plan in place for the sales tax holiday on August 2, why did he plunge ahead with the bill? 

One can say he did it as a sop to the retailers of Massachusetts, and to the business community as a whole, which is unhappy with him over his failure to persuade the legislature to adopt reforms to the Medicaid program a few weeks ago as part of a state budget that includes new assessments on businesses.
If this conjecture is valid, Baker filed the bill knowing it had no chance but at least comfortable knowing he could lay its failure on the legislature.  A cynical approach like that, however, would mark a big philosophical change in the Baker administration, which puts a premium on dealing sincerely with legislators and not posturing at their expense.

Around the office, I call Charlie Baker “our Eagle Scout governor” because he’s always about solving problems and his eagerness to take on challenges has a refreshingly boyish aspect to it. So I’m going with a simple interpretation of these events:
Baker filed the sales tax holiday bill recognizing that (a) he could not pull it off in August, the time when it has traditionally been held, and (b) he might be able to build a legislative consensus for the holiday sometime later in the year.  There’s no reason why we couldn’t have a sales tax holiday over the Columbus Day weekend, for example, is there? 

Though disappointed it wasn’t held in August, as it has been in 11 of the previous 13 years, retailers would rather see a sales-tax-free weekend happen later than not at all.

 

 

 

Guv's Sales Tax Holiday Bill Looks D.O.A. Appearances Are Deceiving.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Given the hand-in-glove nature of the relationship between the governor and legislature, it’s hard to believe Charlie Baker introduced a bill last week to establish a sales tax holiday on the weekend of August 19-20 if he had any doubts it would be enacted promptly.  Yet, at this point, it appears that the governor’s plan to suspend the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax the weekend after next is in serious trouble. 

The bill was filed on Wednesday, August 2, and, the day after, it was sent by House leaders to the Joint (House-Senate) Committee on Revenue, whereupon Rep. Jay Kaufman of Lexington, the House co-chair of the committee, said it would be a “colossal mistake” to have a sales tax holiday because of how hard it is going to be to balance the state budget this fiscal year.

According to Department of Revenue estimates, the state would forego around $25 million if no taxes were collected on the sale of goods during the third weekend of this month.  (Only purchases of $2,500 or less would be covered by the proposed law.)

In 11 of the past 13 years, there has been a sales tax holiday in August, each authorized year to year by a special act of the legislature.  Bricks-and-mortar retailers, pummeled by online competitors, have practically been begging the Commonwealth to turn that into a 12-of-14 record.  With Amazon getting bigger by the week, how can a Republican governor not feel their pain?

There were already bills before legislative committees to establish permanent two-day sales tax holidays when the governor came up with his bill for a 2017-only holiday. 

House Speaker Robert DeLeo was quoted last Wednesday by the State House News Service as saying “it makes little sense” for the governor to have filed his own bill at this juncture.  That was a typically careful comment from the leader of the lower branch.  DeLeo did not say he was opposed to the bill.  He did not say it made no sense. He only implied that, at first blush, he was puzzled by the governor’s strategy in putting it forward now. 

Puzzlements are like rumors: made to be dispelled…and there’s no one like the nation’s most popular governor at this time (and member of the Bob DeLeo fan club) to do the dispelling.

The governor’s bill looks now to be dead on arrival in the Revenue committee.  This is a money bill and only the House can initiate a money bill; therefore, Chairman Kaufman’s opposition would seem to be dispositive, as the lawyers like to say. 

I’m focusing on how Senate leaders have not yet concurred in the referral of the bill to Revenue.  Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Speaker DeLeo, working quietly together, could now decide to pull the bill from Revenue and send it instead to the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, whose House co-chair, Joe Wagner of Chicopee, is known to favor sales tax holidays.

Wagner could then become the point man in the House for moving the bill, sparing Kaufman from having to disavow his colossal mistake comment as he retreats to the pool of unanimous support for the bill willed suddenly into existence by the Speaker.

The legislature is in recess until September and is holding only informal sessions once or twice a week in August.  Under legislative rules, only “non-controversial” items may be taken up during informal sessions.  If even one member present during an “informal” objects to voting on a bill, it must be immediately tabled, killing the possibility of any action on it that day.

I think the governor had the tacit support of Speaker DeLeo and President Rosenberg when he filed the sales tax holiday bill last Wednesday or was exceedingly confident of winning their support once it was filed.  Baker of course knows that the leaders of both branches can make things happen smoothly and quickly if they want to, and that each leader could secure the acquiescence of any reluctant member of his Democratic caucus on an issue as popular as making taxes disappear for a spell, no matter how short.  (No Republican would think of voting against a deal like this.)  

For two-and-a-half years, Baker, Rosenberg and DeLeo have formed a team as cohesive and as mutually respectful as any could be with players from different parties with different agendas.

We should keep in mind that, just about now, Rosenberg and DeLeo owe Baker one.  Before recessing, the legislature rejected a major initiative dear to the governor’s heart, a package of Medicaid reforms strongly supported by business groups.  To avoid a fight with the legislature, the governor reluctantly signed into law the measure wherein the Medicaid reforms were rejected and accepted a kind of fuzzy offer from the legislature to consider the reforms slowly and deliberately over the next few months.   Business groups, which had been calling for the governor to veto the measure, did not hesitate to criticize him publicly for not vetoing it.  The National Federation of Independent Businesses, for instance, said it was “incredibly disappointed” in Baker.

Baker can begin to mend fences with his natural constituencies in private enterprise by getting a sales tax holiday done in a hurry.  The Democrats who run the legislature can help him do that because they like and respect Baker and value the relationship they have with him.  At the same time, they’ll help their party by giving voters a break at the cash registers on August 19-20.  This colossal mistake will become no big deal in no time. 

Guess what.  Twenty-five million in lost tax revenue in an overall state budget of nearly $40 billion isn’t  a big deal. 

Baker’s new Secretary of Technology Service and Security, Mark Nunnelly, for example, could save at least $25 million by eliminating the state’s 1980s-style, grab bag approach to procuring computer and telecommunications systems and replacing it with the mindset and methods in evidence at scores of successful Massachusetts businesses, universities and medical centers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Month in Corruption: Ex-Manager of Two Towns Pleads Guilty to Variety of Crimes

Monday, July 31, 2017

On Thursday, July 20, Andrew Bisignani pleaded guilty in Essex Superior Court to procurement fraud, destroying public records, municipal bid-rigging and other crimes related to his service, from January 1, 2009 to June 30, 2014, as the town manager first in Saugus and then in Nahant, communities north of Boston.   Judge Timothy Feeley sentenced Bisignani, age 70, to two years of probation, including six months of home confinement to begin after the federal home confinement sentence he’s currently serving is completed in January, 2018.  Judge Feeley also hit Bisignani with a $60,000 fine. 

According to a press release from the office of the Essex County District Attorney, had the case against him gone to trial, evidence would have been introduced “that would have proven that, during his tenure as Town Manager of Saugus and Nahant, Mr. Bisignani orchestrated a misleading scheme that violated many procurement laws pertaining to the expenditure of municipal funds.”
In addition, the press release said, “Bisignani attempted to conceal his wrongdoing by altering and destroying documents that an Essex County Grand Jury had subpoenaed from the Town of Nahant. During the period of the grand jury investigation and service of the subpoena, Bisignani met with one Selectman for the Town of Nahant and discussed whether Bisignani would continue to be employed as Town Administrator.  During the meeting, Bisignani concealed a tape recorder in the room and secretly recorded the meeting.”

The release continued: “The scheme orchestrated by Bisignani…entailed the hiring of choice vendors without, effectively, any public procurement process.  Through the scheme, Bisignani directed the Town of Saugus to pay invoices for projects that were never advertised, not subject to any public bidding, and were identified as so-called ‘emergency’ procurements that were not approved by the Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM).  The invoices approved by Bisignani (1) disclosed only a portion of a project’s cost, (2) designated foreseeable projects as ‘emergency’ work, and (3) did not include payment of prevailing wages.  Bisignani also caused payments for these ‘split invoices’ to be spread out, further concealing the true cost of the projects, and obscuring the necessity that those projects be subject to public bidding and advertising.  Additionally, Bisignani’s purposeful failure to comply with procurement laws caused the Town of Saugus to hire a vendor during a period that the vendor had been barred from providing services to municipalities by the Department of Industrial Accidents.  Moreover, Bisignani also approved multiple payments by the Town of Saugus to vendors for the same services.”
Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett emphasized: “This scheme charged in this case did not just create an unfair playing field, but an almost entirely secret playing field where hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds were spent without any procurement process or transparency.  The effective administration of government depends upon a basic trust that persons with authority over public funds comply with the law.  Mr. Bisignani not only betrayed that trust…but he also thwarted investigators, secretly recorded one of the elected officials to whom he answered, and destroyed Town records in order to conceal his crimes.”

According to a report in “Wicked Local, North of Boston,” Bisignani’s attorney, Tracy Miner, told Judge Feeley that her client accepted responsibility for his actions.  She stressed that Bisignani never benefited personally from the scheme and pointed out that there were no allegations that the work that took place in both towns did not need to be done.
Addressing the court, Bisignani said, in part, “I was not charged with, nor did I plead guilty to, any act of personal gain…My hope is that the citizens of the communities I have served know that I always acted in what I believed to be their best interests; and that they will judge me on the totality of my public service and on my accomplishments attendant thereto.”

Back in February of this year, Bisignani was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Boston, to one year of probation in connection with failing to report more than $375,000 of his income on his federal tax returns from 2010 to 2013.  

The Genius of Brian: Other Reps Loved Him as He Got All He Could for His City

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I don’t know if they’ll ever put up a statue of Brian Dempsey in Haverhill but they should.

During the seven or so years he chaired the Ways & Means Committee of the Massachusetts House, Dempsey did what Ways & Means chairs have done throughout the history of our republic: he delivered the goods to his district.

As the Eagle Tribune newspaper said in its edition of Sunday, July 23, “The last seven state  budgets authored  by Haverhill Rep. Brian Dempsey gave the city millions of dollars to offset  its debts, boost education and create projects to establish Haverhill as a hub of activity in the Merrimack Valley.”

The Eagle Tribune cited a number of large, local projects and developments that came to fruition on Dempsey’s watch because he had the power to get them into the state budget.  These included:

  • Harbor Place, a $70-million downtown development “that benefited from more than $40 million from the state.”
  • $24 million in state funds to offset the debt the city incurred in operating the old Hale Hospital
  • A new $61-million middle school complex. (State share: $40 million.)
  • The expansion of Haverhill High School. (State share: $35 million.)
  • The renovation of Haverhill’s downtown commuter rail station. (State share: $6 million.)
  • The construction of a municipal parking garage. (State share: $2 million.)
  • Improvements to two parks and the Bradford Rail Trail. (State share: $2.6 million.)
  • Renovations to Trinity Stadium. (State share: $6 million-plus.)
  • Grants to the  Haverhill Police Department for staffing and equipment.  (More than $1.5 million over three years.)

Discussing the many grants Dempsey helped to secure for programs in the Haverhill public schools, such as the $218,000 recently allocated for equipment to train high school students in health care skills, School Superintendent James Scully told the Eagle Tribune, “Every single year, he helped us get our technology up to date.  If it wasn’t for Brian Dempsey, we’d be light years behind where we are, technology-wise.  Him leaving the House, it’s as if the Coast Guard were to stop patrolling our shores.”

Said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini, “…we’re deeply concerned about him leaving.  He’s going to be sorely missed, there’s no doubt about it.”

If someone has ever run for the Massachusetts House promising to do all he could to ingratiate himself with leadership, build relationships with every mover and shaker in sight, strategically work his way up the ladder over a period of years, and put himself, ideally, in position one day to be appointed chair of the Ways & Means Committee so that he could get maximum state dollars for his district, I’m not aware of it.    

First-time candidates for the legislature, I guess, are usually too idealistic and clueless to do that.  Or maybe they’re afraid they’d come across as cynical or crass.  Such concerns are overblown and unhelpful, in my opinion.

As the good people of Haverhill have demonstrated in their mourning over Dempsey’s decision to quit the legislature and head up a big Boston lobbying firm, (where he’ll be able to make some serious money for the first time in his life), the folks in the district always care more about getting goodies from the state than anything else.  Everybody loves a freebie, an extra, a special deal. That goes for me, too.

We the people are in on the game. We know those discretionary state funds are going to be spent somewhere in Massachusetts, so we figure, Why shouldn’t they be spent on something that will make my town better?

To his credit, Dempsey frankly acknowledges the grab-it-when-you-can imperative of legislative service.  “…as chairman (of W&M),” Dempsey told the Eagle Tribune, “you’re in a tremendous position to deliver, and I certainly wasn’t shy about it.  I felt it was Haverhill’s turn and tried to do as much as I could.”

The wonder of our system is that it works as well as it does, most of the time, and that most legislators who reach positions of top leadership do not become ridiculous and obscene in the utilization of the power granted to them via a biennial vote of their peers.  (The majority party votes for a house speaker and a senate president at the beginning of every two-year session; the speaker and president then appoint all of the committee chairs.)   

During his time as chair of Ways & Means, Brian Dempsey was good to his district but he was also as good as he possibly could have been to his colleagues who did not have the power he had come, through fate and luck, to possess.  One way to put it is that he never forgot where he came from….he remained the friendly, warm, open, humble and understanding person he was at 23 when entering the legislature for the first time.  You just had to listen to the three-minute standing ovation Dempsey received when he was introduced by Speaker Bob DeLeo for his farewell speech in the House chamber on Wednesday, July 19 -- an ovation punctuated by whoops and shouts -- to know that was the case.  There was genuine, deep-seated affection for the man across the breadth of that historic room.  I doubt you could find more than a few persons who served with Dempsey who begrudge him having taken care of Haverhill so well when its turn came around.

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Blogster's Miscellany: From Flatterers to Casino Boozing to Angus vs. Scottie

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kissing Not Welcome in this Room.  Here’s another reason to like Tackey Chan, the Quincy rep just appointed House chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure: he does not like to be flattered.  As Chan was co-presiding at a meeting of the committee for the first time this past Tuesday, together with Senator Barbara L’Italien of Andover, witness after witness opened his testimony by congratulating Chan on being appointed the House chair, wishing him well in this important new endeavor, etc., and/or predicting confidently Chan’s success at the helm of the committee. Not once did Chan nod, smile, acknowledge or reply to the praise.  I was there for the entire hearing and marveled at how the witnesses kept effusing when it was obvious that Chan did not wish to have his backside kissed.  Could it be that Chan, a graduate of Boston College High School, Brandeis and the New England School of Law, has taken to heart one of my favorite proverbs, coined centuries ago in the Roman Empire: There is no remedy for the bite of sycophant.

Dempsey’s Class Filled with Heavyweights. House Ways & Means chair Brian Dempsey, who just resigned from the legislature to take a position at a lobbying firm, gave his farewell speech on the House floor this past Wednesday.  I was not surprised to learn that Dempsey was a popular kid growing up.  He talked of visiting the House chamber for the first time as an 18-year-old student council president at Haverhill High School participating in Student Government Day exercises.  (Getting elected to the legislature has always been a lot like getting elected senior class president -- a popularity contest, pure and simple.) I was surprised at the number of reps now holding leadership positions that were first elected to the House with Dempsey in the elections of 1990, taking office in January, 1991.  As recounted by Dempsey on Wednesday, the class of 1991 contained 46 new state representatives, meaning that almost a quarter of the 200-member House turned over at that time, and that among those freshman reps were: House Speaker Bob DeLeo of Winthrop, House Majority Leader Ron Mariano of Quincy,  Joe Wagner of Chicopee, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies; Tony Cabral, chair of the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets; Lou Kafka of Stoughton, the House’s Fourth Division Chair; and William Galvin of Canton, chair of the House Committee on Rules.
He ‘Had No Business Being There.’ (Who Does?) Having caught the political bug at a young age, Dempsey ran for the Haverhill School Committee at age 18 and lost by only 36 votes.  That brush with victory inspired him to run two years later for the Haverhill City Council.  He won that race and, when he sought a second term on the Council, did even better. “I topped the ticket,” he recalled during his farewell speech.  “In those days, the top vote-getter automatically became Council president.  So, there I was at 23, president of the Haverhill City Council.  I probably had no business being council president.”  He soon jumped into a race for an open House seat and was still only 23 when he went to Beacon Hill. There he remained for twenty-six and a half years. Said Dempsey, “I have loved this job so much and I cannot think of a day I did not enjoy coming in to the State House.”

Senate Prez Defers to Conferees on Casino Bar Hours. Our Senate president could teach the folks in Washington a thing or two about compromise.  Asked yesterday by Boston Herald Radio about the provision in the newly crafted FY 2018 state budget that will allow casinos to serve liquor until 4:00 a.m., Stan Rosenberg said, “I told the proponents I wouldn’t support it.  I urged the (House/Senate budget) conference committee not to approve it, and I did what I could, but the conference committee eventually decided to do it.  I wasn’t going to vote against the (final) budget because of that.”
Casino Machinations Predicted Early On.  A State House News Service article yesterday recapitulated the Boston Herald Radio interview with Rosenberg. The SHNS wrote, “Rosenberg said casino companies usually lobby to change the rules after obtaining a license, and he predicted future efforts to allow smoking in casinos, and for lower casino taxes if the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is allowed to build a Taunton casino under federal law.  A tribal casino would pay a lower tax rate than commercial casinos under the 2011 gaming law and a compact negotiated between the Mashpee Wampanoag and the Patrick Administration.”  Rosenberg then said, “These guys applied for a license knowing what the rules were.  They got the license knowing what the rules were.  I warned people in the legislature at the time that this is what happens in every state (where casino gambling has been legalized), and we should protect ourselves against it.”

There’s a Casino Rescue Bill in Our Future.  I wish I had the standing to warn legislators about anything. (Blogging is balm for those denied a pulpit.)  I’d tell them now to expect requests from all Massachusetts casinos, five to ten years hence, to reduce the percentage of gambling profits they’re required by law to give the Commonwealth.  They’ll say they’re not making enough money.  They’ll say increased competition from Connecticut and Rhode Island is hurting their bottom lines.  They’ll say that, if the legislature won’t act swiftly to reduce the state “take,” they’ll have no choice but to start laying people off.  An emergency “casino rescue bill” will be filed at the urging of a coalition of casino industry professionals and labor unions.  By then, given my paltry retirement savings, I’ll probably be working as a greeter at the Wynn Boston Harbor casino in Everett.  I’ll probably be ripe for exploitation in a casino ad campaign.  They’ll give me $500, I’ll say on TV anything they want.  “Hi, I’m John from Melrose.  If the casino rescue bill fails, I’ll be out of a job and eating cat food in a month.  Call your legislators today.  Tell them we need to save our job-producing casinos.  Thank you…and God bless America!”
MA: Driverless Technology’s Worst Nightmare. Back in February, Governor Charlie Baker got the audience laughing during a forum on self-driving vehicles at the winter meetings of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C.  Noting that several companies devoted to autonomous vehicle technology had set up shop in Massachusetts, he said, “I thought they were doing it because we have a whole lot of smart people who know a lot about technology.  It actually turns out they’re locating in Massachusetts because our winters are horrible and our roads suck.  They basically said, If we can figure out how to move autonomous vehicles safely around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston, we can do it anywhere in the country.”

Guv Concerned About the Poor Truck Drivers.  On a more serious note at that self-driving vehicles confab, Baker urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to consider the “workforce issues” that could result from self-driving trucks and other technologies displacing workers.  “I really think it’s important for us as a country to be thinking far enough ahead on that one that we don’t end up creating just a tremendous amount of economic hardship along the way,” Baker said.  Putting truck drivers permanently out of work is not good social policy but holding back the march of technology is not wise or feasible in the long run; therefore, we’re going to help the displaced truck drivers and their families as they transition to new lines of work, and that support will have to be extensive and long-running.  If Democrats had been thinking like that over the last 10 years, maybe Trump would still be hosting Celebrity Apprentice.
Coming Soon to a Busy Roadway Near You. Driver-less trucks could become a reality much sooner than you think. Jason Seidl, managing director of Cowen and Company, was quoted recently by Railway Age as saying that semi-autonomous Level 3 trucks “will be ubiquitous on America’s highways within 5-10 years,” and that driverless Level 5 vehicles will be common “some time after that.” (Semi-autonomous means a vehicle whose driver may cede control of it on certain technologically-equipped roadways and under certain conditions.  The levels assigned to trucks have to do with the federal Department of Transportation inspections they must undergo.)  Seidel added, “A truck without a driver would no longer be subject to the current 11-hour daily drive time limit, which is in place to protect the public from overtired drivers.  Therefore, a Level 5 truck could cover more mileage, haul more freight and ultimately generate more revenue per day than a truck driven by a human.”  More trucks on the road for longer hours on Massachusetts highways?  I am hoping that some engineer will explain to us how it will not be awful when the Mass Turnpike gets equipped with driverless technology.

What if McQuilken Had Won in ’04?  I appreciate the State House News Service for all the little-but-important things it point outs.  This past Tuesday, for example, it ran an item on how the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery has hired Angus McQuilken, who had been chief of staff to former state senator Cheryl Jacques back in the early 2000s. Jacques resigned in 2004 before her term was up.  Scott Brown, then a little known Republican state rep from Wrentham, ran for the Jacques seat, as did McQuilken, a Democrat. “In 2004, in elections that could have altered the course of political history, McQuilken narrowly lost two state Senate races to Scott Brown,” the SHNS reminded us.  “In a special election, Brown outpolled McQuilken 18,876 to 18,518 before beating him 41,889 to 39,253 in the November general election.”  Only 349 votes separated Brown from McQuilken in their first showdown.  If McQuilken had managed to flip just 175 votes, Brown would not have entered the Massachusetts Senate and would not have been in a position to take on and defeat Martha Coakley in the shocking upset election of 2010 election that produced a successor to Ted Kennedy.   Elizabeth Warren subsequently displaced Brown but Brown’s first close win over McQuilken proved to be a gift that keeps on giving.  Brown was a big Trump supporter last year.  His name recognition and prominence as a former widely hailed Republican U.S. Senator boosted Trump, especially in New Hampshire, where Brown relocated after losing to Warren.  For his campaign services, President Trump appointed Brown U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, unquestionably one of the best jobs on the planet.

Sanchez Possesses the All-Important Trait of a Ways & Means Chair

Monday, July 17, 2017

This past Thursday, July 13, Haverhill’s Brian Dempsey surprised most everybody in the Massachusetts legislature -- and everyone who follows the workings of the legislature -- when word got out that he will soon be resigning from the House and relinquishing the chairmanship of Ways & Means Committee to direct a large Boston lobbying team.  

The House chair of Ways & Means is one of the five most powerful persons on Beacon Hill, the others being the governor, the president of the Senate, the Senate chair of Ways & Means, and the speaker of the house.

For years Dempsey has been seen as the speaker-in-waiting, the man destined to succeed Bob DeLeo when DeLeo decides to step down, whenever that may be. 
The sound of long-held expectations shattering is always loud.  It echoes impressively, like the blast from a large bomb dropped in a mountain range. 

Immediately, speculation began on DeLeo’s choice of a new Ways & Means chair.
Although his name wasn’t mentioned in the initial press accounts, I thought the safe choice was Steve Kulik, the Democrat vice chair of House Ways & Means, who grew up in Newton and has represented a collection of 19 small western towns for 27 years.  Kulik, age 66, has been a faithful No. 2 on Ways & Means for a long time. Promoting him would have enforced the notion that diligence and loyalty are rewarded in the lower branch.

Another potential advantage for the speaker in choosing Kulik, I thought, was that he does not have the political heft of some of the bigfoot House committee chairs who, if gifted now with the chairmanship of Way & Means, would automatically be seen as DeLeo’s hand-picked successor.
Kulik’s elevation to Ways & Means chair, I thought, would also give DeLeo time to evaluate carefully the pros and cons of every other putative speaker on his leadership team and to make at his leisure the painstaking choices required for the development of an optimal plan of succession.        

If, after the 2018 legislative elections, the time came when DeLeo wanted to appoint someone other than Kulik chair of Ways & Means, I thought, DeLeo could assert that Kulik’s leadership of the committee, by mutual understanding, had been provisional from the start and that he’d always had other things, of equal or greater importance, in mind for his esteemed colleague from the Berkshires.
Before leaving the office this past Friday, I went to the web site of our legislative tracking service, MassTrac, and printed out the biography of each of the House committee chairs I considered a strong candidate to succeed Dempsey.  In alphabetical order, they were:

  • Thomas A. Golden of Lowell, Committee on Telecommunication, Utilities and Energy
  • Harold P. Naughton, Jr., of Clinton, Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security
  • Jeffrey Sanchez of Boston, Committee on Health Care Financing
  • William M. Straus of Mattapoisett, Committee on Transportation
  • Joseph F. Wagner of Chicopee, Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies

Over the weekend, Speaker DeLeo made his choice of a new chair of Ways & Means and it was…Sanchez! 

The Sanchez news broke Sunday afternoon.  Several accounts last night and this morning described him as a surprise choice, while justly trumpeting that DeLeo has set in motion a chain of events that could culminate in the election of the first Latino to head a branch of the Massachusetts legislature.  Sanchez was born in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland U.S. as a young boy.   
The commentary on Sanchez also centered on his progressive views as a contrast to the usual centrist or conservative inclinations of legislators normally put in charge of the budget process.

I remember the period in 2005 when former House Speaker Sal DiMasi surprised a lot of people by naming Bob DeLeo, then a quiet, deliberately-low-profile chair of the Committee on Bills in Third Reading, chair of Ways & Means.
I remember talking about DeLeo’s promotion one day soon after with a friend and fellow lobbyist, a gentleman who had served with DeLeo in the House and is a member of DeLeo’s “class,” i.e., they both entered the legislature in 1991.

“You’ve known DeLeo a long time,” I said.  “Why do you think he was chosen?”
“Like most things,” my friend said, “it’s kind of simple:  Bobby DeLeo was the only one of Sal’s close friends who can say no to people.”

Saying no is a big part of running Ways & Means.  It’s not easy, it's no fun, being Mr. Bad News, especially when you have to reject pet proposals from persons you've served with for years, men and women you may be very fond of, personally.
Say all you want about Jeff Sanchez being a progressive, which is kind of a complimentary term for liberal.  Sanchez is a progressive.  What's truly salient are two attributes he's exhibited during his chairmanship of Health Care Financing:  he's willing to do the hard and tedious work of mastering the numbers, and he can say no to any colleague seeking his support for a new and ostensibly promising health care initiative if he's not convinced it's worthwhile, financially or operationally.  Sanchez is a hard sell.

Sanchez is also a good man, a serious legislator, and, wonder of wonders, a non-jaded idealist at age 48. 

The Speaker made a good call.