By Michael Norton
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Snuffing out rumors that he may be leaving for a new job, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he believes that Gov. Deval Patrick would make a “great candidate” for president of the United States and suggested that consideration should be given to moving former his former ally, disgraced former Speaker Sal DiMasi, to a prison facility in Massachusetts.
During a 13-minute interview with Jim Braude on New England Cable News, DeLeo also touched on his fight with Patrick over tax hikes, efforts to raise the minimum wage, proposals to overhaul laws governing civil sex abuse cases, the slowly developing power shift in the state Senate, the future of tolling in Massachusetts, and his feelings about a federal probe into a patronage scandal at the probation department with ties to the state Legislature.
Here are some highlights:
DeLeo stomped on recent rumors that he may be eyeing a new job soon. “They’ve been talking about my leaving since 2009. I’m not going anywhere. I’m already starting working on the fall agenda and getting ready to go. We’ve got another year and a half ahead of us. We’ve got things to accomplish.”
Gov. Patrick would be a “great candidate” for president of the United States, DeLeo said. “I think that, I’ve often talked to him actually about being a great candidate for president. He says he wants to go into the private sector and then he’ll decide from there.” Patrick has “never said never” to DeLeo about the idea of running for president, DeLeo said.
Asked whether he’d done anything to help secure “compassionate treatment” for former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who is reportedly fighting cancer in a North Carolina prison hospital while serving an eight-year prison sentence on a public corruption conviction, DeLeo said he had not. “I don’t know what I could do as Speaker in terms of helping him,” DeLeo said. He said he was “not sure” about urging President Barack Obama to commute DiMasi’s sentence, but suggested that moving him to a facility in Devens makes sense for DiMasi and his family.
While downplaying his spat with Gov. Deval Patrick over tax increase, calling it “one blip” in a years-long relationship, DeLeo acknowledged being a “bit upset” at some of the criticism Patrick directed at the Legislature as they passed a $500 million tax hike after the governor rolled out plans for a $1.9 billion proposal in his State of the Commonwealth address back in January.
“I think we got off to a bad start in terms of the governor making his State of the State and us really not knowing what was going on,” DeLeo said. As for the governor’s pointed remarks about the Legislature, DeLeo said, “I didn’t think it was necessary to get into some of those sideshows.”
Asked about how a two-day sales tax holiday was good for business and how new gas, cigarette and computer services taxes are not bad for business, DeLeo said, “We need financing of our transportation system. Our transportation system, as just about every major economic group will tell you, is in need of funding and with that funding comes improvement of the economy here in Massachusetts. So it was necessary for us to invest some funds.” DeLeo called the 3-cent per gallon gas tax hike “very modest,” comparing it to calls for larger increases. Republicans are already seizing on the tax hikes, a tax that is now set to rise with inflation, in their bid to oust Democrats and bolster their thin ranks.
DeLeo agreed with the view that western turnpike tolls probably won’t be eliminated in 2017 because state law allows the executive branch to keep them up, if necessary, to keep the road in a state of good repair.
Referencing the recently approved transportation financing law, he said, “I think the most important thing that we did in that legislation was to provide the secretary of transportation to give us, the Legislature, a plan in terms of what that person sees or how we’re going to further pay for our roads and bridges. So what we’re saying is for instance if we feel that maybe tolling near the borders could be of better assistance to us in terms of raising funds, maybe that’s the way to go as opposed to the present system.” DeLeo said, “The question is, are you going to get a secretary of transportation in four years to say, ‘Hey, the roads are such good repair that no further funds are necessary.’ “
While saying “I knew that I had not committed any type of impropriety throughout this whole process,” DeLeo acknowledged that a federal probe into a probation department patronage scandal has been a regular concern for him.
“Whenever you have someone, you know, taking a look in terms of what’s going on, what are you doing, sure it’s got to be behind you and I’d be less than honest with you if I said I woke up every morning and I wasn’t thinking of that.” Alluding to the indictments of his three predecessors, DeLeo said, “I knew every day when I got up is when I took this job, which I told you about four years ago, I was going to break the streak.”
“I never forgot that. I always kept that word. And most importantly I felt that the only thing that I had done was to recommend what I feel are qualified people you know for jobs and that there was no impropriety.”