Friday, January 26, 2001
Reactions to Speaker-for-Life coronation
The Boston Globe
Friday, January 26, 2001
Finneran still stoking his passion for battle
By Tina Cassidy
One day after loyal House members voted to remove his
eight-year term limit, thereby raising the prospect of continuing his iron-fisted control well into the new
millennium, a buoyant Speaker Thomas M. Finneran compared his own strong will to Winston Churchill's.
The possibility of an economic downturn, he said, gets his
"This separates the adults from the juveniles now," Finneran
said, bouncing in his leather chair during an interview in his State House office. "They said Churchill was like that. Peace?
Yeah, OK, great. That's what we're here for. But it isn't the type of stimulation that got him
And it's not what excites Finneran, either, he explained.
Battles -- like the one that catapulted him from Ways and
Means chairman to speaker in 1996, and Wednesday's fight that eliminated his term limit -- are another story.
Asked if he could say when he might step down, Finneran
simply said, "I can't.
"Here's why. When I first came up here, I really thought
that I'd probably serve two or three terms and move on and develop a law practice or teach. The challenge of this job, the
stimulation of this job, is something that really surpasses anything I've done in the private
Finneran said he loves being at the center of the action.
"It's like a high-wire act that has meaning beyond your own
slip and fall," he said. "And when you fall in love with the challenge of it, it's hard to say when that enthusiasm might
Term-limit supporters aren't impressed, however. They say
Finneran's love of power is exactly the malady that the limits were supposed to cure.
"It seems to me that if term limits were good enough for
George Washington ... then certainly it should be good enough for Tom Finneran," said
Barbara Anderson, a longtime proponent of term limits. "Letting people with that kind of power stay in
power is an assault on representative democracy."
Finneran, who recused himself from the term-limit debate
because he said he did not want to appear intimidating to the members, said dissatisfaction with term limits started
simmering last year, when House members realized that Finneran could be forced to give up the
speakership before completing four two-year terms. He had taken over in the middle of a
term, in April 1996.
Finneran succeeded Charles F. Flaherty Jr., who was forced
to resign after pleading guilty to income tax evasion. Members last year altered the rule to allow a speaker to stay to the
end of an election cycle. But that limited extension was apparently not enough, and members
voted 111 to 39 to remove term limits altogether Wednesday.
"It doesn't make sense to prevent, to constrain ourselves
from selecting one of our own," Finneran said. "Speakers come and speakers go and if any speaker wears out his welcome,
phhhhttt, toss him."
Limits were first imposed on the speakership in 1985, after
George Keverian succeeded in ending Thomas McGee's 10-year rule. Keverian ran for speaker on a platform of rules
reform because many members thought McGee had stayed too long and had amassed too
The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, January 25, 2001
Finneran's one-man rule
In the face of growing criticism of his heavy-handed control
of the legislative process, House Speaker Tom Finneran this week moved to tighten even further his hold on the reins of
power -- and a sheepish majority of House members consented.
The Massachusetts Legislature has for years been caught in a
vicious spiral of decreasing democracy. Under Finneran's watch, power has gradually flowed from previously powerful committee
chairmen to the Speaker. Legislation crafted in committee is diverted to panels -- chiefly Ways & Means, but also Rules,
Third Reading and Steering & Policy -- that keep any bills that don't have Finneran's blessing from
reaching the floor.
Under Finneran's reign, the only way to be sure a bill gets
to the floor for a vote is to tie it to the budget. Hence, the abuse of "outside sections" on the budget to enact legislation
that has nothing to do state spending. More than 1,000 outside sections were grafted to the last two budgets and signed into
law, often with no hearings, no debate, and no roll call vote.
Through such tactics, along with "informal sessions," when
controversial bills aren't supposed to be considered but often are, and procedures that leave House members, the press and the
public unaware of what's being voted on, Finneran has created a House in which the only vote that counts is his.
These undemocratic practices stifle legislative activity --
out of more than 5,000 bills filed last year, fewer than 200 were enacted into law -- and turn elected representatives into
bit players. Their increasing irrelevance may have something to do with the lack of interest in running for the Legislature.
Competition in last year's legislative races fell to an all-time low.
A coalition of organizations that rarely agree -- including
Common Cause, Citizens for Limited Taxation, MassPIRG and the League of Women Voters -- has come together to declare that
everyone is hurt when legislative rules stifle public debate and emasculate elected representatives. The coalition of
public interest lobbying groups is pushing for reforms to make the legislative process more transparent,
accountable and credible. We applaud their efforts.
But Finneran greeted their call with his own "reforms" which
do little to improve the legislative process. Late-night sessions like last year's " Animal House" fiasco will be harder
to pull off, budget amendments will be taken up in order and a committee will study bringing the House's information
technology up to speed, an area the Senate moved far more productively on in adopting its rules last week.
Finneran added insult to undemocratic injury yesterday by
having the House eliminate the term limits that would have forced him from the speaker's chair in December 2004. We don't
generally endorse term limits when they restrict the voters' ability to vote for the candidate of their choice. But limits
on the terms of committee chairs and legislative officers are a useful hedge against the self-reinforcing concentration of
Few politicians have been as effective as Finneran at
concentrating his power. He has used the carrot of leadership posts -- and the hefty raises that come with them -- and a big
stick: Those who don't pass his loyalty tests are rewarded with dingy offices, trivial committee assignments and the knowledge
that their most important legislative initiatives will never make it to the floor for a vote.
This year, Finneran held off naming members of his leadership team until after yesterday's loyalty test.
Speaker Finneran's carrot and stick did the trick, again demonstrating that without serious legislative
reform, only term limits can save the Massachusetts House of Representatives from one-man
The Telegram & Gazette
Thursday, January 25, 2001
Speaker for life?
Defying reformers' suggestions for making the conduct of
legislative business more open and less concentrated in the leadership, Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday offered a
rules package that instead would make the process far less transparent and further centralize power.
A complaisant House, with visions of lucrative committee
chairmanships dancing in their heads, did Mr. Finneran one better last night -- altering rules in order to allow him to
become "speaker for life."
Yesterday's rules changes further concentrate power in a few
leadership positions and exacerbate the disenfranchisement of rank-and-file members and, more important, their constituents.
The House action was an in-your-face repudiation of calls
for reform, including Gov. Paul Cellucci's call for strict limits on state budget "outside sections" -- add-ons typically
railroaded through with minimal study or debate.
It also was a slap in the face to the Coalition for Legislative Reform, led by Common Cause of
Massachusetts, which proposed a variety of reforms: rigorous enforcement of the
House's own rules, more rational scheduling of budget deliberations and outside monitoring of the process, among
Such suggestions were largely ignored. House members even
rubber-stamped a regressive change that allows House members to cast votes for absent colleagues -- encouraging absenteeism
while undermining legislative accountability.
Responding to critics, Mr. Finneran said his rules package
would not change House operations that much.
Indeed, it probably will maintain the status quo, more or
less. However, that is an indictment of what the House has done, not a defense.
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