Yes, it’s the middle of
the summer and we certainly don’t want to be discussing complicated,
potentially mind-numbing things like campaign finance and
racketeering. And yet, here we are.
This is the last week
of the Massachusetts legislative session, when a pile of bills that
were filed months ago, some as early as December 2012, are finally
ready for their final vote, quickhurryup before the Legislature
leaves for its three-month, election-year vacation. Saved for the
very last minute were bills on gun control, economic development and
job creation, environmental and energy programs, domestic violence,
water infrastructure, substance abuse treatment, regulating
e-cigarettes and robo-calls or automated texts to cell phones, major
expansion of the Boston Convention Center, and some useful language
on welfare reform, as well as bills increasing the fine for the
illegal taking of eels and elvers.
Also, the Legislature
has through Thursday to override vetoes Gov. Deval Patrick made to
the fiscal year 2015 budget (H 4242), including $16.1 million in
As a good citizen, you
must be feeling anxious about the fate of bills designating
volleyball as the official recreational and team sport of the
Commonwealth, and designating Ms. G of the Mass. Audubon Society
Inc. as the state’s official groundhog. And it does seem past time
to pass the bills to reform public housing authorities, after the
former executive director of the Chelsea Housing Authority was
discovered to be hiding a $360,000 salary and rigging the inspection
process. (Thanks to the State House News Service for keeping track
of all these bills, or this entire week would be one
incomprehensible “bad government” blur.)
I’m of course
interested in the date of the annual sales tax holiday, which they
never get around to telling merchants until the last minute. But
mostly I have to watch the campaign finance reform bill, known as
“The Super PAC Disclosure Bill”, which for some reason has a
provision beginning the destruction of the initiative petition
process, an obsession of Sen. Stan Rosenberg. In the past his
obsession was merely annoying, but now that he is about to become
Senate president, with power over all legislators’ bills, it is
becoming a serious threat to our citizens’ direct democracy.
The House version of
the bill doesn’t say anything about initiative petitions, which have
nothing to do with Super PACS, but the Senate version added language
giving a future hostile governor space in the Secretary of State’s
voter information booklet to attack an initiative petition he/she
doesn’t like. If Rosenberg is successful in getting this, he will
continue to attack direct democracy in future last-minute sessions,
which reflect badly on representative democracy.
All of this stuff will
come pouring out in this last week, at all hours, to be negotiated
with other bills, voted on in haste, perhaps repented in leisure,
but how else should it be done? One bill at a time, over the
two-year session, with honest, transparent debate and intelligent
final decision-making? That’s no fun.
While putting off
action on all these bills, what have our legislators been doing?
Some have probably been watching, perhaps with anxiety, the trial of
former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and his two top aides on
racketeering charges, which is what I guess prosecutors call abuse
Patronage itself was
described to me by my mentor, Gordon Nelson, chairman of the
Republican State Committee back when I started political activity,
as sensibly hiring one’s friends instead of one’s enemies or
strangers. Those were innocent times, when I guess it was assumed
that said friends were actually qualified for the job and that other
qualified, yet not-connected people, could also be chosen for
responsible positions. Thirty years later, we see a putative
“Patronage Czar” getting a hugely-inflated Probation Department
budget with enormous power, while doing favors for legislators. And
I understand his surprise when he was found guilty of
racketeering/whatever, because Beacon Hill has reached a point where
no one sees anything wrong with any of this, and no one can explain
why there are so many scandals caused by incompetent managers and
The ongoing discussions
about campaign finance and patronage can today be simplified with
this simple sentence: Government corrupts, and Big Government
There is so much
taxpayer money creating this giant government entity that no one can
keep track of it all, never mind sort out the intended results from
the unintended consequences. Both qualified and unqualified people
want their piece of it.
weren’t indicted for their parts in recommending their
however-qualified constituents to the Probation Department, it’s
generally thought that unelected officials considered it a
“behooves” to serve elected officials who funded their departments.
Powerless Republicans are asking whether powerful Democrats tried to
stop the job-rigging scandal.
The answer is “of
course not”, and the only solution is small government, which has
fewer jobs to rig, less money to tempt, less power to share with
friends. Candidates aren’t as likely to raise and spend large
amounts for campaigns to get elected to small government.
Capitalists can’t count on cronies to give them special treatment at
the expense of other businesses.
Small government can
get its limited job done in a timely manner, instead of waiting
until the last minute hoping that the public isn’t paying attention
in late July. And yet, here we are!