Triangles are the strongest shape, but there can be some level of conflict inherent with three-sided situations. When three interests are involved, they can either all be in agreement, each be on their own, or you find yourself in a two-against-one situation.
Directors and cinematographers have been using triangles to tell stories for decades. Think about the iconic final scene of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” What is already a tense graveside interaction between Blondie and Tuco is taken to the stratosphere when Angel Eyes appears and declares, “Two can dig a lot quicker than one — dig.” The three-sided standoff that ensues has become absorbed into the popular culture and is likely the most recognizable part of the classic spaghetti western.
Sergio Leone could have had a field day with the scene that unfolded Tuesday in and outside of the State House library. You could almost hear the sounds of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack in the background as Beacon Hill’s own Big Three participated in the same event together for the first time since economic development talks collapsed as Democrats became paralyzed by Gov. Charlie Baker’s recollection of a 1980s tax relief law that complicated their own relief plans.
It was scheduled as a kumbaya moment for Baker, House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka to celebrate the state’s new reproductive rights law with advocates, but it revealed pretty clearly that the three leaders are not singing the same tune.
The mock signing ceremony went smoothly, but things got a touch awkward after Baker suggested that the horde of reporters wait to speak with him out in the hallway. Mariano was the first to head for the exits and was initially reluctant to talk to the assembled media. Instead of getting in front of the cameras and microphones, the speaker decided take a lap of the building and promised he’d be back.
Baker came out next and took questions from reporters as Spilka and other senators hung back in the library for more photos. With Baker and the media tied up, Spilka departed the library but stopped to speak with the News Service (which had the luxury of having multiple reporters on scene) before heading back to her office.
Once the governor returned to his office, Mariano came back to the hallway outside the library and took questions from reporters flanked by Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz. And once that scrum was over, Spilka returned to talk to the reporters who had been busy talking to Baker when she first left the event in the library.
The Big Three, together at the same event during a time of numerous open questions for the Legislature and governor … and they held three separate availability sessions. The days of regular Monday leadership meetings and the post-huddle press conferences with the governor, speaker and Senate president seem like a distant memory now.
It’s no wonder the reporters were the only ones who wanted a joint press conference Tuesday — the relationship between Baker, Spilka and Mariano has two-against-one situations all over the place right now.
Most significantly, Baker and Spilka appear largely on the same page when it comes to the $1 billion tax relief package that’s been put on ice. Spilka is eager to advance that package “now” and said the Senate is “willing to do whatever is necessary to get it done.” Baker has argued from the beginning that the money is there to do the Legislature’s tax relief plan on top of Chapter 62F rebates and said he “really hope[s] they come back and figure out a way to get it done.”
Mariano was the odd man out Tuesday, telling reporters that he thinks it would be “helpful if we knew how much we had to spend” on the Chapter 62F relief before doing anything else related to tax relief. That would push action out until the end of September at the earliest and Mariano holds the cards — only the House can introduce a tax bill, so Spilka is left to wait until the House sends her chamber something to do.
“We need the bill to come from the House and I believe that that’s what we need to do now,” she said Tuesday.
The more traditional two-against-one situation of the two Legislative leaders pressuring Baker to sign off on bills they worked to pass would also have been on full display. Baker this week finished acting on all the bills the Legislature sent him in the final hectic days of formal sessions. At the time of Tuesday’s event, Baker was still weighing decisions around a major infrastructure bill, sports betting, a significant climate package, a mental health access bill, cannabis industry reforms and more.
For all the Legislature’s warts, the Democrats who run the show on Beacon Hill love to talk about how different things are here than in Washington, D.C., whether that’s really the case or not. So all of the “Massachusetts as a model” talk should not have been a surprise when Baker signed the great majority of those bills this week.
On Tuesday — a full 24 hours before Baker signed it into law — Spilka said that the mental health bill was “already being heralded as a landmark, first-in-the-nation bill.” The new law seeks to rein in the emergency department boarding crisis, eliminates a prior authorization requirement for mental health acute treatment, and requires commercial insurers to cover emergency service programs.
State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz heralded Baker’s signing of a sweeping cannabis industry reform bill and said the changes and funding included in the new law “will be game changers, putting Massachusetts back among the leading states for racial justice in our economic policy on cannabis.”
And while reflecting on the last several years of working with Baker and his Republican administration on climate and energy issues, capped off Thursday with the governor signing yet another major climate bill, one top Democrat who has both worked and clashed with the administration suggested that Baker’s climate accomplishments have national importance.
“He really did put offshore wind on the map for the entire country,” state Sen. Michael Barrett , D-Lexington, told State House News Service. Referring to the federal government’s decision to temporarily put the Vineyard Wind I project on hold, Barrett added, “If Donald Trump hadn’t held him up, he would have been to market three, four years ahead of New York and New Jersey.”
Baker signed it into law this week, but it will be a while until there are ways to legally bet on sports in Massachusetts. Here’s a hypothetical for you to bet the rest of your prohibition-era “units” on: When will the first legal bet be placed in Massachusetts? Over/under Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, at noon … when Charlie Baker will hand the governorship to someone new.
The Gaming Commission is working through a number of heady issues as it tries to launch betting quickly but responsibly. This week, regulators themselves wondered aloud about the order that things would get up and running.
“I would think, without knowing all the facts, that we would want to get up and running as quick as possible the five entities that are already here — but understanding that, does that get us in trouble if we give them five and then we take our time with the other seven?” Commissioner Brad Hill asked, referring to the five licenses available to the casinos, slots parlor and simulcast centers the Gaming Commission already works closely with and the seven untethered mobile licenses that will be put up for bid.
A lot of that will start to be ironed out next week when the Gaming Commission sits down with its current licensees to get more info on their plans for offering sports betting.
As COVID-19 continues to fade from the headlines, a new viral disease is taking its place. The Public Health Council this week spent more time talking about monkeypox and the state’s vaccination strategy than it did discussing ongoing COVID-19 measures.
The United States’ first case of monkeypox this year was confirmed in Massachusetts in May and the Bay State counted a total of 202 cases as of Aug. 10. As cases continue to rise, the state’s entire Congressional delegation this week called on Baker to declare a public health emergency around monkeypox.
Baker’s administration was resistant to the idea and said the real problem was the very limited supply of the monkeypox vaccine being made available by the federal government. It doesn’t seem like an emergency declaration is in the cards unless the situation devolves further.
“Massachusetts is implementing a robust public health response for monkeypox, and nothing outlined in this letter would provide any additional resources,” Baker’s team said in response to the Congressional letter.
LOOSE ENDS: The trashy reality TV show that is the Governor’s Council had a new episode this week and it was another doozie. Not only did just enough councilors find themselves unable to make it to the State House for their usual weekly meeting to temporarily scuttle a controversial vote, but another personal spat erupted between two longtime councilors. It started when Councilor Eileen Duff tweeted well-wishes to Councilor Marilyn Devaney, whom she said had taken ill. Devaney was appalled to learn that Duff put that out into the world, telling the News Service that she had an upset digestive system thanks to a bad egg she had eaten … The drought that has overtaken the region is only getting worse and state officials are pushing water conservation measures as most of the state is in a “Level-3-Critical Drought” … we’ll get an answer soon enough, but Baker and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu are at odds over just how disruptive the looming Orange Line shutdown is going to be for people who live and work in Boston.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Beacon Hill’s three-ring circus marches into its summer recess with three distinct ringmasters, each with their own idea for how the grand finale should go.
SONG OF THE WEEK: Gov. Baker also signed the Warren Zevon bill this week, fulfilling the Legislature’s call to address lawyers, guns and money.