We heard them here on earth as thunder, not usually
common during Thanksgiving week. Some of us who knew Jim as "Boom
Boom" because of his fund-raising for the Marblehead fireworks
display can easily imagine the celebration when, at age 80, he reached
his heavenly reward. And looking back on his life, we go
"Ooh!" and "Aah!"
He was an MIT graduate, World War II Navy veteran, businessman, family
man, sailor, and enthusiastic traveler. But most important to me, Jim
was my taxpayer mentor, the chairman of the Marblehead Finance
Committee when the selectmen appointed me to that body in 1978.
They tried to choose a cross-section of political philosophies, but
under Jim's leadership, liberals and conservatives became a
"better government" team. We worked on a new project each
year to make town government work — championing the appointment,
rather than election, of the town treasurer; pushing for an equipment
purchase schedule; and of course engaging in a constant struggle to
get cooperation from the School Department.
When Jim wanted to deal with a controversial item at Town Meeting, he
would don his tri-corner colonial hat and wade into battle. My first
year on the committee, knowing very little about the inner workings of
town government, I just voted with him on everything; later I would
find the confidence to occasionally disagree. Usually on these
occasions I was wrong.
Long after I left the Finance Committee to focus on statewide taxpayer
activism, I turned to Jim, either in person or in my mind, for advice
on what to do and how to do it. As a member of Citizens for Limited
Taxation, he was always supportive. I still have the speed memo he
sent me during the Prop 2½ campaign: "Keep up the good work ...
some of us appreciate it." There were days that this message on
my bulletin board was the only thing that kept me going.
For years, Jim played the role of unpaid town manager, the commander
in charge of fiscal responsibility. Eventually the School Committee
got a new Board of Selectmen to refuse to reappoint him on the grounds
that he had become too powerful a figure at Town Meeting. So a bunch
of us activists got together and ran him for selectman.
The high point of the campaign was the Memorial Day parade, of which
he somehow got himself named marshal, allowing him to lead the
offending selectman through town to the cheers of his supporters. At
the next election, he won a seat and served as selectman with those
who had rejected him for FinCom chairman. Of all the campaigns I've
been part of, that one was the most fun.
As I get older, however, local politics is less amusing, and fighting
overrides, over and over, gets old too. This year we are filing a bill
to limit override elections to one a year. Its theme is, "What
part of NO don't they understand?" The bill also would create an
"underride" provision for all communities, allowing 10
percent of registered voters to place a question on the local ballot
to cut property taxes.
After Proposition 2½ passed, many local taxpayer groups disbanded,
thinking that the problem had been solved. But to paraphrase Thomas
Jefferson, "eternal vigilance is the price of affordable property
taxes." Since then new groups have formed. With any luck, they
will all find a local official like Jim Hourihan to help their
community live within a budget, and appreciate their efforts.
Because Jim was active in his local Catholic Church, at his wake I
dropped a Mass card in the basket next to his coffin. I keep a supply
on hand from the Benedictine Association of St. Mary's in my
Pennsylvania hometown. Though I'm no longer Catholic, I remain
attached to the culture of my family and childhood. During the next
day's funeral Mass, I said the prayers and sang the hymns, though I
did not take Holy Communion — that is reserved for practicing
members of the church I left over 40 years ago.
I'd been taught that when the pope speaks as the representative of God
on earth, belief is mandatory. A Protestant friend told me that since
I didn't believe some of these basic tenets of the Catholic faith I
was, by definition, a Protestant too.
That made sense to me. Then I decided I didn't agree with the
Protestant churches either, so I went my own way. My personal religion
allows for the comfort of imagining Jim Hourihan presiding over
heavenly fireworks during all future thunderstorms, but it does not
allow me to run for office as a Catholic, lead a Catholic choir, teach
a class on Catholic doctrine, or be buried from a Catholic church.
So I don't understand the controversy about priests who don't let
abortion or gay marriage advocates present themselves publicly as
Catholics. People who disagree with the pope can protest and leave, as
I did, and still get to have a Christmas tree and attend the funeral
Mass of a friend. Or they can stay active in the church for cultural
reasons, and keep their disagreement to themselves.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.