Well, we knew that his hands weren't exactly clean, and that he was too close to some folks that were pretty plainly trying to buy some influence. And we knew there was something fishy with the Cognos deal.
Look, if there were someone who was clean and progressive in the running for Speaker, I suspect most people here would have been willing to throw DiMasi overboard pretty quickly. As it stands, we're likely to get an ethically-compromised, special interest shill one way or the other — everything bad about DiMasi, without the progressive vision.
I would like to amend that. Neither John Rogers nor Bob DeLeo have ever been stained by this sort of corruption. Special interest influence and insider deals are commonplace; this is really something different.
The top-down power wielded by the Speaker makes resisting his will very difficult indeed. Just as DiMasi prevailed in the Speaker vote in January, he apparently leaned on legislators — and the administration! — to do his bidding:
The speaker asked a lawmaker, Representative Robert Coughlin, to file an amendment with specific language, and he did, according to the indictment. The rest of the House and the Senate went along. DiMasi and his staff pressured administration officials to award computer contracts to a specific vendor that was paying tens of thousands of dollars to DiMasi – Cognos ULC – and the administration eventually complied, the indictment said.
Sal DiMasi is indeed a tragic figure. He was the progressive hero: the author of health care and same-sex marriage in our Commonwealth. He is also said to be a legislative crook of the lowest kind — not just a bribe-taker, but a bribe-demander.
Hero? Crook? Allegedly, both.
There are a lot of barbs being tossed around the comments, to the effect that some folks "overlooked" the signs of corruption for the sake of progressive causes. I don't really think it's productive for us to blame each other for the deeds of someone else. No agenda, no degree of heroism or courage in one area can justify criminality (or even garden-variety conflict-of-interest hackery) in another. I think we can all agree on that.
We can blame the one-party state for this kind of corruption; we can blame the top-down structure of power; we can blame complacency on behalf of elected officials in no risk of defeat. Maybe.
But what's needed in the legislature right now is a cultural shift, one predicated on the internal temperaments and values of the individuals themselves. The real fear of electoral defeat or prosecution are always salient; but at some level, people in office are going to have to do the right thing because the better angels of their nature tell them to do so. Perhaps the shock of the DiMasi affair will awaken those sentiments.
The ethics bill would be a good start on a clean conscience for the legislature. Now would certainly be a good time to bring the Ethics Commission back from life-support.
And if not … well, maybe no one is damned, because everyone is damned.