CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION  &  GOVERNMENT

 

CLT Update
Thursday, January 25, 2001

Imperious Maximus crowned Speaker-for-Life
by "Finneran's little lambs"


Before we get to the latest Beacon Hill disgust, our congratulations and appreciation today go out to one of CLT's longest and strongest supporters, Howard Foley, executive director of the Mass. High Tech Council. Howard will be honored tonight at a banquet to celebrate his retirement.

The State House News Service recently reported: "Foley founded the council 24 years ago and will be succeeded by Christopher Anderson. Taking Anderson's spot as vice president will be Cort Boulanger, who has most recently served as spokesman for the Executive Office of Administration and Finance. Dinner speakers include Gov. Cellucci, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charles Baker, and University of Massachusetts President William Bulger."

Barbara, Chip Faulkner and I will be there to wish our longtime ally well in his retirement.


The Boston Herald
Thursday, January 25, 2001

A salute to Howard Foley
A Boston Herald editorial

Howard Foley, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, is retiring. He is being honored tonight at a farewell dinner of this vital business organization he founded almost 24 years ago.

Foley, an alumnus of Notre Dame University and IBM Corp., and the council have been in the thick of almost every policy discussion ever since. They were strong supporters of Proposition 2 in 1980 that limited the local property tax and its growth, helped light the spark that blazed as the Education Reform Act and were key players in reforming workers' compensation, to name only three. Just as important were some follies like the graduated state income tax that they helped prevent.

One reason Massachusetts remains one of the nation's premier incubators of high-technology businesses is the work the High Technology Council and its far-seeing, energetic chief do. He is going to be missed, and the public life of the commonwealth will be a little dimmer with his departure.


There was a very long period after Tom Finneran maneuvered himself into his position as House speaker that only Barbara and CLT spoke out about him and how he'd taken in the media with his new image. For years nobody in the media really paid much attention to our viewpoint, though they kept coming back when they wanted an opposing view -- "balance" to a story. Unlike so many others, we were not cowed by Finneran's growing power; we were able to recognize reality and willing to speak the truth.

The concentration of power and loss of true representative government in the House is now undeniable ... to all but "Finneran's little lambs," who tow the line to power and kneel to kiss the ring.

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Thursday, January 25, 2001

King Tom: Finneran crowned 'Speaker for Life'
by David R. Guarino and Karen E. Crummy 

Less than a day after House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran distanced himself from a move making him "speaker for life," his loyal lieutenants adorned him in a near-imperial cloak by abolishing the eight-year limit on his term.

Passed under the guise of cleaning House after last year's partying and phantom voting scandals, the move to lift term limits left Republicans and liberals reeling from the fear that "King Tom" had just been coronated to rule Beacon Hill.

"This is a sure sign of Speaker Finneran's desire to control the institution," said House Minority Leader Francis L. Marini (R-Hanson), scoffing at Finneran's claimed disinterest.

"To think these people would do anything without his OK is laughable. He obviously changed his mind."

Government watchdog groups contended that the vote is but the latest in a string of Beacon Hill power grabs.

"Too much power concentrated in too few hands diminishes representative democracy," said Ken White, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts.

The Mattapan Democrat, elected speaker in 1995 after the resignation of Speaker Charles Flaherty over tax and fund-raising troubles, was due to be term-limited off the rostrum after the 2004 term.

If he's elected speaker by House members after then, Finneran's Beacon Hill clout would rise to the rarified levels of former Senate President William Bulger and former House speakers Thomas McGee and Leverett Saltonstall.

Indeed, officials said, he'd be only the fifth speaker to serve more than eight years in the commonwealth's history.

Last night's 111-39 vote led by Finneran loyalists came even after the speaker dismissed speculation that he had any interest in becoming "speaker for life."

Finneran went out of his way to stay off the House floor throughout the contentious debate, voting only present. The speaker swore, just hours before, that he wasn't lobbying members to grant near-unending power.

"This is not about me," Finneran said. "I've consciously stayed away from the (House) floor just so that there's no semblance of pressure."

But some lawmakers said that the move to end term limits had everything to do with the speaker, who has been criticized in the past for ruling the State House with an iron fist.

The House vote to lift the term limit rule came amid annual rules debate, when members were planning to institute broad reforms sought in the wake of last year's "Animal House" scandal. Even as Finneran denied speculation that he wanted the limit abolished to consolidate power, his lieutenants marched onto the House floor to propose lifting the eight-year ban.

Loyalists, forced into the vote even as Finneran considers their futures on still-undecided committee slots, said government should be more like the business world -- where experience counts.

"This is not about us but the people we serve. With more experience, we do better," state Rep. Marie Parente (D-Milford), a longtime Finneran ally.

But even some of Finneran's detractors rallied around the speaker, saying lawmakers, like voters, shouldn't be denied the right to vote for the best candidate.

"We want a House more open and subjugated to more debate and this includes the ability to make independent decisions," said Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Boston).

Sources said the vote came at a tough time for Finneran supporters and detractors. The band of liberal "progressives" in the House was battling back threats that reforms after the "Animal House" scandal would be gutted in the rules debate.

The liberals were warned that Finneran's team might move to gut the reforms, proposing to legalize "pairing" of votes that would allow members to vote even if they're not in the State House. Plans were also being made to give the powerful Ways and Means Committee the right to draft its own legislation, a move that would consolidate extreme financial power with the speaker.

Those changes were dropped after the term limit was lifted, though not in a quid pro quo, the progressive Democrats said.

"There was no deal. There certainly were negotiations but there was no deal," said state Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington).

Some of Finneran's critics and even his allies warned that too much could be made of the lifted limit. They said McGee, who swore he'd serve only eight years and changed his mind, was then summarily dumped in 1985's last great speaker fight -- the same fight that brought the term limit.

Finneran is still a lifetime away from "speaker for life" status.

"Just because somebody wants it, it doesn't mean he'll get it," one Finneran ally said. "A lot could change around here in four years."


The Boston Herald
Thursday, January 25, 2001

Finneran's power play
A Boston Herald editorial

When he became speaker of the Massachusetts House in 1996, Rep. Tom Finneran (D-Mattapan) did so under a rule limiting a member to eight years in the speaker's chair, a rule that had covered his two predecessors. The House has now abolished the speaker's term limit, further concentrating power in a post that quite possibly had too much already.

It was too cute. Abolition was not part of the rules changes brought forward by Finneran himself, but was an amendment from the floor. Now Finneran can reply to critics, "The members did it, not me." Nobody who knows anything about Beacon Hill believes the members would have done it if Finneran hadn't wanted it.

The abolitionists claimed that a term limit is "anti-democratic." Yet experience leads to many rules modifying strict majority rule, as the work of the Electoral College recently demonstrated. The president is limited to two terms. The U.S. House now limits terms of its speaker and committee chairmen.

Recent Massachusetts experience teaches that the longer a speaker serves in this position of enormous discretion, the more set in his ways and likely to believe in his own infallibility he becomes, and it takes a bitter palace coup to dislodge him. A reasonable term limit preserves the necessary collegiality of the body and permits new blood to circulate, bringing in fresh views. The House and the commonwealth will be sorry the limit was dropped.


The Boston Herald
Thursday, January 25, 2001

Backsliding on Mass. House reform
by Wayne Woodlief

Give a little, get a lot. That's House Speaker Tom Finneran's motto after he was crowned virtual speaker for life yesterday.

Despite a spirited debate, Finneran's flunkies pushed through a new rule eliminating the current eight-year term limit on House speakers. The vote was 111-39.

That means that when Finneran, who became speaker in 1996, finishes his eighth year in the job in 2004, he won't have to step aside and let new blood take the reins (and maybe -- just maybe -- allow members to think and vote more for themselves).

Nope, King Tom will be able to go on. And on. And on.

Not a bad deal Finneran got, after giving in on a couple of other rules changes, as the House rank and file actually stood up to him -- just a bit, mind you.

A majority of the House approved a rules change to force the Steering and Policy Committee -- which has been the graveyard for many bills in the past -- to report out bills on which it hasn't acted for 30 days, or explain publicly why it had not acted.

That means there's a better chance now to pass some bills even if Finneran or other barons of the House despise them.

Rep. Jim Marzilli (D-Arlington) was delighted with that small but significant step for democracy, even though it was Rep. Francis Marini (R-Hanson), the House minority leader, who introduced it yesterday using language Marzilli championed in vain last year.

Objections from the rank and file also forced the House leadership to withdraw a proposal -- offered just the day before by Finneran -- to give the House Ways and Means Committee broad new power.

The proposed new rule would have required that any new spending amendments to the budget proposed on the floor be offset by a proposal for an equal cut somewhere else.

Finneran tried to sell it as good fiscal discipline. "That makes everybody a quasi-chairman of Ways and Means. They have to show responsibility," he said, with a straight face. This time, the rank and file didn't buy it. They knew most members are neither chairs or Ways and Means Committee members, and would have virtually no influence over the budget if their amendment wings were clipped.

For a moment, a growing number of members seemed concerned about the perception of them as Finneran's little lambs, following him in lock step, to the detriment of the citizens who elect members to represent them -- not the speaker's will.

Finneran ended up taking some bad practices that made the House the laughingstock of the nation last year, proposing a few rules to "correct" them under the label of "reform" -- and wound up with his power increased, the House more under his thumb than ever.

Though the membership did some good things yesterday, the House didn't shake the public scorn it acquired last spring. That followed its gawd-awful "Animal House" antics when the House jammed the state budget through in an all-night session as some members boozed it up, slept at their desks and even voted for absent colleagues (one on a plane when the roll call was held). This is how it tried to change the image:

The membership -- with only a handful of change-minded legislators dissenting -- voted for rules that make it easier for the speaker to kill bills he loathes, to limit debate and schedule roll calls so rapidly on poorly documented bills that many members often don't know what they're voting on.

The House rejected a new rule that would have permitted a legislator to vote for another member who's absent. He would have had to pair with that member; in other words, make sure he or she is on the opposite side of an issue and publicly announce it for the voting record.

In a burst of common sense, the House still officially disapproves such "phantom voting."

Finneran had favored the idea of pairing votes, apparently as a convenience to members who were busy doing his bidding in committees during roll call votes. But that never has beat heeding the old-fashioned notion that your constituents sent you there to vote on their behalf in person.

You could tell that to King Tom, but what does he care?


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml


Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page