NO CONCON DO? Patrick, Murray, Coakley, and DiMasi are pulling out all the stops to prevent Bay Staters from voting on the gay-marriage ban — but it still might not be enough.
As same-sex-marriage advocates gear up for next Friday’s scheduled vote on a gay-marriage ban, it’s remarkable how dramatically the state’s political leadership has changed since the most recent Constitutional Convention, a mere five months ago. Governor Mitt Romney, who was openly hostile to gay marriage, has been replaced by Deval Patrick, who is eager to support it. Stubbornly oppositional Senate president Robert Travaglini has given the gavel to staunch advocate Therese Murray. Long-time gay-marriage proponent House Speaker Sal DiMasi has become, in some eyes, the most powerful person in state government. The new attorney general, Martha Coakley, is fighting to protect same-sex marriages, whereas her predecessor, Tom Reilly, fought to prevent them. Even the Republican minority leaders in both the Senate and House are on record opposing the constitutional ban.
They, the most powerful people on Beacon Hill, are not just paying lip service to the issue. They are working actively to change votes, say those close to the action, in a serious effort to drive a stake through the heart of this latest attempt to write homophobia into the state constitution. To pull it off, they’re focusing on just a handful of legislators who they believe could tip the balance in their favor.
Yet it’s looking increasingly unlikely that they’ll succeed. The sense on Beacon Hill these days is that the amendment still has more than the 50 votes needed to put the issue on the ballot in November 2008. And the list of possible vote-switchers is shrinking, say close Beacon Hill observers.
Based on past votes and public declarations, gay-marriage proponents need to sway eight of the 57 legislators currently expected to vote yes. That includes at least 20 Republicans and a number of immovable Democrats. MassEquality, the leading gay-marriage lobbying group, has narrowed the list of targeted legislators to two dozen, says president Marc Solomon. Others say the list of realistic possibilities is considerably smaller. As time runs out, many have begun to suspect that Murray will postpone the ConCon again.
Evidence of political power lies in delivering those last votes. So why don’t Patrick, Murray, DiMasi, and Coakley have the juice to do it?
Doing the math
It certainly seems that, after four years of exhaustive, and exhausting, debate on the topic, few legislators are likely to change their minds. But the task is made all the more difficult by the fact that the state’s highest offices are filled by relatively new leaders, who haven’t had years to solidify their power. Just as important, these leaders rose to power largely by not being Tom Finneran–like generals.
“DiMasi is not someone who tells people what to do,” says Michael Moran, Democratic representative from Brighton. “That’s exactly what he promised not to be.”
Some have speculated that if the “whip count” — the leadership’s poll of members — gets within a vote or two, DiMasi will deliver his closest lieutenants, including Robert DeLeo of Revere and Thomas Petrolati of Ludlow. And if Petrolati flips, insiders say, he will bring along his fellow Western Massachusetts Democrats, Michael Kane of Holyoke and Sean Curran of Springfield. But those close to the lobbying effort deny that such a scenario is in place.
Murray, for her part, is known to hold a grudge, and to reward loyalty, but she consolidated the power needed to become president this year in large part by promising not to wield a heavy hand, Senate Democrats say. Murray has also pledged not to kill the amendment procedurally, a promise her staff has recently reiterated to several media outlets.
Since DiMasi and Murray can’t or won’t order legislators to change their votes, they are relying more on carrots than sticks to sway the increasingly valuable holdouts.
“When you get the governor, the Speaker, and the Senate president on your side, there’s certainly a wide range of things they can offer,” says one person close to the lobbying effort, who tells the Phoenix that, as the ConCon approaches and potential vote-flippers become more valuable, “they’re being offered more stuff.”
That includes positions in Patrick’s administration, as has been reported in the Boston Globe. Committee chairs are “absolutely” under discussion, says another gay-marriage advocate close to the lobbying effort.
And then there’s the opportunity for pork in the state budget, which is currently under negotiation. “The rumor is, whoever is coming out good in the budget, that’s whose vote is changing,” says a staffer for a pro-gay-marriage senator. “It’s coming down to arm-twisting.”
But the political leadership is hamstrung in its ability to offer rewards. The current fiscal crisis precludes much budget generosity, says lobbyist Arline Isaacson.
Besides, Patrick got elected on the promise to run an open, above-board government that would shun closed-door dealings — and on the promise to specifically eliminate the culture of earmarks. Murray has enough of an image problem with defending those earmarks against Patrick’s proposed cuts, and is under investigation by both the state auditor and inspector general for allegations of inappropriately awarding millions of wasted state-tourism dollars.