Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dan Kennedy brings us up to date on what's rotten in the state of Massachusetts:

I am pleased to report that everything has returned to normal in the land of the bean and the cod. While the rest of America celebrates the election of Barack Obama and hunkers down for the economic apocalypse, we in Massachusetts have returned to snickering – and occasionally feigning outrage – at our venal political culture.

For a brief time, fully 5% of our 40 state senators were facing criminal charges. But that distinction was lost last week, when Jim Marzilli resigned after he was caught attending an environmental conference in Germany. Not much of a crime, you say? Let me explain.

Marzilli, who was arrested last June on charges of attempting to grope several women on park benches (he also allegedly came close to knocking over a hot-dog vendor while running from police), had not reported to work for lo these many months. So when he turned up on a European junket, his long-suffering colleagues sent word that they'd finally had enough.

Marzilli's departure leaves us with only one tainted senator, Dianne Wilkerson, who, according to the FBI, was recently caught on a surveillance camera stuffing $1,000 in cash into her bra – part of some $23,500 in bribes she's charged with taking on behalf of an aspiring bar owner in need of a liquor license.

Wilkerson has been an ethical disaster area for years, having served a sentence of house arrest during the 1990s after she, uh, forgot to pay her taxes. Her term's up in January, and she's promised to resign before then – but she won't say how long before. Meanwhile, she now says she needs a taxpayer-funded lawyer on the grounds that she's broke. Obviously she needed a bigger bra.

I could go on. So I will. The speaker of the Massachusetts House, Sal DiMasi, is under investigation for demonstrating generosity to his friends that would be admirable if he hadn't allegedly violated ethics rules – and possibly state laws – in so doing.

The charges against DiMasi – who, to his credit, successfully stood up to governor Deval Patrick (a friend of president-elect Obama's) and stopped his disastrous proposal to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts – may or may not end his political career. DiMasi has been adamant in denying any wrongdoing. But it must be said that both of DiMasi's predecessors as speaker, Tom Finneran and, before him, Charley Flaherty, resigned and pled guilty to federal charges in order to avoid doing time behind bars.

Have we hit rock bottom? Not quite. Both of the likely successors to DiMasi, Bob DeLeo and John Rogers, have ethics issues of their own. Give the nod to DeLeo, as his issues appear to be relatively trivial.

Taxachusetts is back.

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