A half a year back, I found myself standing, with a dozen or so of my colleagues in the portrait-flanked reception room leading to the Governor’s office.
As we awaited an audience with the man himself, our conversation turned to the gubernatorial portraits. In the spirit of our non-partisan coalition, we tried to avoid speaking in the negative about any of the Governors, and found ourselves, oddly, left with little else to say.
Instead we critiqued the artwork, which, to us, seemed to range from shades of Singer Sargent (Cellucci) to advanced finger painting (Dukakis).
We raised a collective eyebrow at Bill Weld’s crayola-colored choice of casual wear, and thought it was nice that Mitt Romney thought to include a picture of his wife – though were puzzled as to why the artist painted Mrs. Romney’s head at such an awkward angle.
And, after that, there definitely wasn’t much else to say. A room full of Massachusetts Governors, and the most we could accomplish was not to roll our eyes.
I suppose a Governor’s real lasting legacy is that he or she gets to put “former governor” on their resume, and sit at better tables in restaurants for the rest of their lives. For the most part, they and their administrations will be largely forgotten. Their quirks and foibles, however, will endure – Jane Swift’s expensive helicopter ride, Cellucci’s defection to Canada, Dukakis’s sweater during the Blizzard of ’78, Mitt’s insult to Massachusetts during his presidential campaign, and Ed King’s distinction as Ronald Regan’s “favorite Democratic governor.
As for Deval, I think it might be the drapes. Unless, that is, he signs whatever gambling bill emerges from the deeply flawed process it has undergone between House, Senate and Conference Committee.
But I’m certain Deval will sign the bill. So certain, in fact, that I think racino proponents would be perfectly insane not to include a maximum number of bid-free slots at all four state race tracks.
And when he does sign the bill, it will go like this.
Deval’s hand will pause ever momentarily in midair as he cites the need to sign the bill, despite it’s provision for slot parlors, in order to create badly needed jobs now, and so the legislature can move on to other important issues. At some point, he will use the word ‘desperate’.
Putting down the pen, the Governor will then launch into lavish extensive praise for the conference committee members, legislative leadership, and every member of the House and Senate for their great work and exceptional diligence. It’s a job creation bill, he’ll say, the best bill it could be. With a nod to future addiction, he’ll insist that we’re ‘doing it right’. And don’t forget – we’re just recapturing lost revenue and gambling is here already.
And then, in a truly groan inducing moment, he’ll thank predatory gambling opponents for their tireless input and advocacy, because, thanks to them, the legislature was able to create a better bill.
And then he’ll go home and sleep like a baby.
In a taped interview early this year the Governor admitted that he felt newly inspired after his wife told him he should go after the things he really wanted – that he shouldn’t give up on them. And I had the clearest impression that he was talking about casinos.
I mean, he couldn’t have enjoyed having his beloved 3 casino plan go up in smoke back in 2008, could he? It was probably embarrassing. If, in the end, he succeed in bringing casinos in now, wouldn’t that prove he’d been right all along? Wouldn’t that prove he is the great and powerful leader he has always believed he is?
It has nothing to do with whether it’s right or wrong. If it was orchestrated by gambling interests and lobbyists. If it will expand government. If it excluded the public and was hammered out behind closed doors.
Of course, the Governor could take a different path. He could refuse to sign any gambling bill that falls on his desk. We prefer our lawmakers to be more Jefferson Smith than Gorden Gekko after all, and any politician in search of a lasting legacy would be wise to remember the staying power of a Frank Capra film.
To that end, Patrick could cite the expert advice of folks from Harvard and MIT who’ve testified 4 times as to the growing evidence that slot machines cause an addiction on par with crack cocaine. Or he could soberly agree on the need for a comprehensive and independent analysis of costs and benefits. He could easily make points with voters by standing up to unions and lobbyists, and refer to the industry as predatory, with apt comparisons to Bernie Madoff and other masters of the universe who continue to collect multi-million dollar bonuses in taxpayer bailouts.
But he won’t.
As long as it included casinos, Deval Patrick would sign any bill to expand gambling – even if it had provisions for 8 racinos, 4 stand-alone slot parlors and video slots at every single Dunkin’ Donuts in the State.
From where I’ve been sitting, the Governor’s casino obsession has always been clear.
Starting with a fast-talking fireplug of a politician named Tom Calter, a state rep whose district includes the town of Middleboro, and the tract of land where the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, in 2007 decided to it wanted to build a casino.
Calter had been a disappointing no-show on the issue that summer – despite frantic calls from constituents living on roads circling the area. Until word got out about the stars.
Apparently the light never fades on these mega-casinos. They are lit internally and externally 24/7/365. And it was the thought of that alien ambient glow, rising up out of the trees to pollute what is officially the darkest night sky in Southeastern Mass, that sparked the ire of Plympton, another town in Calter’s district, with a population of barely 3,000 souls – virtually all of whom are intensely involved in their community including a selectman who happenes to be an amateur astronomer.
But the potential demise of their nightly starscape wasn’t the only thing. Plymptonites, who are fiercely protective of the quality of life in their their rural, horsey community, soon discovered that casinos come with more crime and traffic and a disturbing host of other problems – inciting them to pick up their rakes and pitchforks and descend, en mass, into Calter’s Kingston office one afternoon to demand he oppose the Middleboro project.
Faced with the loss of 3,000 votes, Calter readily complied, whereupon he was summoned to Middleboro, to stand before her stony faced board of selectmen and offer a rapid-fire explanation as to why, as a businessman, he had to oppose the casino plan. The costs, he said, would outweigh the benefits. The benefits were overblown. The contract lacked certain guarantees.
But now Calter had a bigger headache. Because the Governor was, at that very moment, trying to grow legislative support for his 2008 casino plan. And so he did what he also did recently with the Speaker of the House and Senate President – he invited himself to dinner.
Calter must have been on the moon to host the Governor at his own home, and one can only imagine what the Governor said to him that evening, but it must have been some powerful stuff. Calter remained opposed to the Middleboro casino – in fact the Governor opposed it too – but darned if any other casino weren’t just fine by him.
I suspect the Governor sat down to dinner with Calter that night to make an offer – that in exchange for his support for his casino plan, a casino would never be built in Middleboro. And, of course, to work the Patrick magic.
And powerful magic it must have been. In what would be Calter’s maiden speech at the House casino debate, he defended his position with a bit of gross overcompensation – going so far as to insult his own constituents, calling them “deluded” for believing the Mashpee Wampanoag wouldn’t get land in trust for a casino. (They
weren’t.) But then, he probably figured his constituents weren’t listening. (They were.)
But the magic doesn’t work on everyone. During the casino hearings themselves, committee member Senator Mark Montigney revealed that, the Governor had actually gotten Monigney’s own mother on the phone the night before, bending her ear for a quite awhile, in an effort to convince her to convince her son to support the casino plan. But Mark’s mom stood her ground, and so, in the end, did Mark.
Nevertheless few months after the hearings, the Governor was at it again. In an egregious case of putting the casino cart before the federal horse, and obviously timed to keep the myth of inevitability alive, Patrick told a TV reporter that he was prepared to negotiate a compact with the Mashpee tribe – a position on which he was subsequently forced to backtrack when the facts came to light.
Federal Indian law is confusing, but it’s not rocket science. The Governor has a Harvard degree and a staff of professionals. He knows that tribal casinos don’t make slots inevitable, but rather that slots make tribal casinos inevitable. What Patrick did fail to recognize was that other people knew it too. Which is why is partner in resort casinos, Therese Murray, enlisted Stanley Rosenberg to carry the banner instead.
For three years I’ve put Patrick’s every move on expanded gambling under the microscope, trying to understand where he really stands and, given the chance, what he’d eventually do. No matter what else he has or hasn’t done in office, I believe he is determined to get his destination resort casinos. And if he has to lose a little, or a lot, of ground on the slots issue, well hell, it’s only a flesh wound.
Patrick knows it won’t matter in the short run. Even if he wins a second term, the nasty effluence of casinos and slot machines won’t have had time to seep to the surface.
But there will be more timely repercussions. In fact, corruption cases will occur almost immediately. They always do – even here in Massachusetts the Mashpee Tribe’s chairman was caught less than a month after he got what he wished for. Slot machine addiction and government’s addiction to slot machine revenue will become bigger issues in the near future. And Bay State Casinos will trigger a gambling arms race in the rest of New England, cutting into predicted revenue.
But for now, the majority of his supporters will continue to support him, despite their differences on casinos. There are other issues, they’ll say. A politician is about more than one issue.
It helps that the Governor seems untroubled by the social issues that concern so many of his supporters. By Patrick’s own admission, his mom loved the slots. But what of seniors who don’t have the benefit of a wealthy, Harvard-educated lawyer in the family to bail them out when their social security and medication money is gambled away.
Patrick has just returned from a well-covered visit with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I find myself wondering what he would think about a New England soldier named Erin Walsh, a helicopter pilot who killed himself after losing money at a Bangor Maine slot parlor. Walsh became addicted to slots in the army, and couldn’t escape them when he came home.
Would Patrick consider Walsh’s sacrifice a waste since it didn’t happen in the name of destination resort casino? Would a 5-star restaurant and concert hall have made it all worthwhile?
No, it won’t be Frank Capra or Jefferson Smith for this Governor. It’ll be the casinos he’ll be remembered for – long after the temporary construction jobs are gone, when the human cost has touched every family, the recaptured wealth fails to reach our communities, and the legislature predictably spends every leftover dime and still insists there’s not enough money.
But that is the lens of perspective. In the present is an imagined portrait of a great governor – the victor in a war where an important battle had once been lost.
And it hangs on the wall, not far from an expensive pair of drapes.