So there it was, the last week of the 2010
legislative session, a time nearly all political activists are
standing by expecting legislative mischief. For most of my
anti-political career, I didn't go on vacation until the legislators
But this year, the Legislature seemed to be focused on the casino
gambling issue, which it's been discussing only since sometime in
the Weld administration. It reminded me of the sort of thing people
do to appear busy when they don't know what to do about the really
Say you need to clean out the garage, but this requires big
decisions, like do you finally get rid of the exercise bike and old
aquarium tank. So instead of starting the garage project, you find
you must polish the brass umbrella stand in the hallway, or Google
new recipes that use fresh-market produce.
The recession continues, the state budget is in deficit and cities
and towns are complaining about the need for more control over
employee benefits; so the Legislature, not knowing what to do about
these things, gets itself bogged down in the continuing debate over
gambling, taking only a moment out to repeal the Electoral College
I wasn't on vacation, but the two other Citizens for Limited
Taxation (CLT) staffers were gone: Chip Faulkner was attending a
conference in Kentucky with Americans for Tax Reform; and Chip Ford
was taking his annual sailing vacation before the August hurricane
season. Every year he heads up or down the coast in his little red
sailboat which is rigged so he can comfortably sail it alone; this
year he decided to take it through the Cape Cod Canal for the first
"Chip Ahoy" is a 22-footer that he found eight years ago in a
barnyard and lovingly restored, while paying the Massachusetts sales
tax and the annual excise, unlike Sen. Kerry — who finally paid his
fair share only after he got caught trying to shelter his 76-foot
yacht in yacht-tax-free Rhode Island.
Soon after Chip left, I heard from Christen Varley of the Boston Tea
Party about a proposed constitutional amendment attacking the
initiative petition process, that was on the agenda of the
Constitutional Convention (ConCon) scheduled for last Thursday, July
There have been several anti-petition amendments over the years
filed with the Election Laws Committee, where they get an
"ought-not-to-pass" report after activists across the political
spectrum testify against them. So I wasn't worried, especially since
the Legislature really didn't have time to get bogged down in a long
debate in the ConCon last week as the legislative session was
ending. Varley, however, was not reassured.
I soon received a memo she wrote for the Coalition for Marriage and
Families, which noted the language of the amendment: "The rights to
freedom and equality; the right of each individual to be protected
by society in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property ..."
cannot be the subject of an initiative petition. She warned that "if
approved, this broad, undefined language would guarantee that
virtually no initiative petition could pass muster, since all laws
or public policy proposals have some impact on life, liberty or
Clearly it would block petitions on tax cuts or illegal immigration.
Then I discovered that the amendment was coming out of the Judiciary
Committee, not Election Laws, with a "favorable" report.
The warning bells went off: Some anti-initiative petition
legislators were trying to sneak something past initiative
activists. I found out later this has become a new tactic on Beacon
Hill: Filing bills in unexpected committees so no one will notice
them and testify against them at the hearing.
Alone, I am able to contact CLT activists and the media, but I
couldn't quickly reach the 200 legislators who were about to go into
the ConCon to vote on this amendment.
Technology to the rescue! This vacation Chip Ford set up a Wi-Fi
connection on his laptop, on the boat, with his home computer; he
sent the legislators' e-mail addresses to me and I let them know we
had been alerted to the planned ambush. I called the House and
Senate minority leaders, Brad Jones and Rich Tisei, who prepared to
do battle. The North Shore Tea Party also sent out an alert.
Once spotted, the legislative leadership decided not to have a
ConCon last week after all, and the "constitutional crisis" was
Later that day I got a call from Chip to tell me his boat was about
to sink in Buzzards Bay, where a strong canal current and southwest
winds were causing eight-foot waves that kept him from reading his
wet charts with salt-encrusted glasses. He called to say goodbye,
which I would have taken more seriously if he hadn't added that,
darn, he was too embattled to get his camera out to capture the
I called his friend Wally on the Cape, who read from his own dry
charts to Chip on his cellphone, guiding him to safe harbor. Another
crisis averted. Another day in the life.