Blogster's Miscellany: Question Not to Ask Guv, and the Meanings of Ways & Means

Thursday, October 24, 2019

NOT HIRED FOR PUNDITRY: Be sure not to ask our Republican governor how he feels about the folks now running for president, including the two Bay Staters in the field, Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Bill Weld, and the combustible incumbent from his own party, Donald Trump. Charlie Baker was on a live radio call-in show last week when someone phoned to ask, "Why do you think Elizabeth Warren would be a bad president?"  Baker bristled: "I've been very particular and specific...about staying out of presidential politics and I continue to plan to stay there because the one thing I do know is the minute I get into talking about presidential politics, that's all anybody's going to want to talk to me about every single day and I would much rather talk about issues that I was hired by the people of Massachusetts to work on."  There's a man who knows how to avoid tripping into hot water.  Which is probably why he remains, five years into his governorship, the most popular governor in the U.S.  Seventy-three percent of Massachusetts citizens contacted in a recent nationwide poll indicated they approve of the job Baker's doing.

RODRIGUES TAKING PASS ON PRESIDENCY: Chairing the Ways & Means Committee in either the Massachusetts House or Senate is a great way to become House Speaker or Senate President.  For proof, look no farther than the careers of the current Speaker and President, Bob DeLeo and Karen Spilka; both chaired W&M in their branches immediately before ascending to the top jobs. That's why something jumped off the page when I happened recently to be catching up on a profile of Senate W&M Chair Mike Rodrigues that ran late last winter in SouthCoast Today, ("Mike Rodrigues: The Westport centrist will now manage the state budget," 3-9-19), by contributing writer Susannah Subborough.  Rodrigues "sees the appointment to Ways and Means chair as the highlight of his career and said he is not interested in becoming Senate president in the future," Subborough wrote.  I was surprised he took himself so early out of a race that is likely six or eight years in the future. I find it hard to believe he's really ruled out a shot at the job for all time.  If so, it is a mistake and a shame.  Rodrigues would make an excellent Senate President one day.

RODRIGUES'S RISE IN A NUTSHELL?: In that same profile, Susannah Subborough wrote that Mike Rodrigues's "most notable success, and what many people believe is the reason Spilka picked him for Ways and Means chair," was his handling of the investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg when Rodrigues chaired the (Senate) Ethics Committee.  She paraphrased Senator Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford -- "a close colleague and friend of Rodrigues," she called him -- as saying he did not think anyone managing the Rosenberg investigation would get through it unscathed, especially he (Montigny) and Rodrigues because they had been friendly with Rosenberg and had been appointed to important positions by him.  She then quoted Montigny directly: "I thought he (Rodrigues) would come out bruised, meaning there would be damaged relationships as a result. But he didn't, and I think that's why she (Spilka) picked him."

CENTRIST A BAD WORD FOR SOME: In a Senate dominated as never before by liberals, Mike Rodrigues stands out for his "centrism."  That's how he describes himself: centrist.  To some, that means he's really a conservative -- and really tight with a dollar.  Rodrigues does have a powerful instinct to save money during flush times, like our state has been experiencing now for a long stretch of years. The state's Rainy Day Fund is a thing of great beauty to Rodrigues. In this, he's like former House W&M chairmen Tom Finneran and Bob DeLeo.  Susannah Subborough, in that SouthCoast Today profile, cited a Commonwealth magazine column by Jonathan Cohn, chairman of the issues committee for the group Progressive Massachusetts.  Cohn wrote that progressives should  be concerned about Rodrigues's centrism and asserted that Rodrigues has a significantly conservative voting record.

YES TO POWERFUL JOB, BUT ONLY IF YOU CAN SAY NO:  The reality is that, when you are a major architect of the state budget as a W&M chair, you have to squash a great many of the pet spending proposals brought to you by your colleagues, men and women you've known for years and are very fond of in many cases.  This is not easy.  Many good and talented legislators could never do so.  Years ago, when Bob DeLeo was first appointed House W&M chair by then Speaker Sal DiMasi, the shorthand explanation around the State House was: "Bobby DeLeo was the only one of Sal's friends who could say no to people."   Like DeLeo, Rodrigues has the ability to say no and make people like it.  The strength of our Commonwealth depends upon it.

RODRIGUES KEPT HIS DISTANCE: Mark Montigny's comments on how well Mike Rodrigues handled the Ethics Committee investigation of Stan Rosenberg  -- who ended up resigning -- recalled for me the scene at the State House on a February afternoon in 2018, just before former Boston senator Linda Dorcena Forry gave her farewell speech.  Because the Senate chamber was undergoing major renovations, the speech was scheduled for the House chamber.  Didn't want to miss it, so I arrived early and put myself in a front row, center seat in the gallery, where I could almost reach out and touch the Sacred Cod.  I was well situated to watch senators (and others) file in and take seats.  Senators seemed to concentrate themselves at the back of the chamber, down on my left.  Rosenberg, who had voluntarily stepped down as president while the investigation was ongoing, arrived later than most, but well before Forry spoke.  He was warmly greeted by his longtime colleagues.  Some jumped up to shake his hand; some Rosenberg approached in their seats.  But Rodrigues remained in his seat and Rosenberg remained a safe distance from him.  It wasn't because they dislike each other; the opposite is the case, I am sure. It was because Rodrigues was leading the investigation, and, in those circumstances, had to keep a discernable professional barrier between them.

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