and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


The Salem Evening News
Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Swift proves she's just another politician
with Amirault decision

by Barbara Anderson

Fifty states in the union, and I had to pick this one.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Massachusetts was the birthplace of the American Revolution, John Adams, Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty. Where else would a freedom-lover find more inspiration?

I'd read Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, and made their books part of my personal traveling library and my way of thinking.

Having grown up in Pennsylvania, I was accustomed to the change of seasons, and thrilled by my new access to the sea. Massachusetts was perfect, except for one little thing: Its politics.

I arrived in time for forced busing, state construction scandals, and the first Dukakis administration with its "temporary" surtax and increased sales tax. I discovered the unusual tax called an auto excise, and property taxes that wouldn't quit.

And despite the high tax burden, the services seemed no better and often worse than in other states where I'd lived.

Over the years we Massachusetts voters limited the property tax, got rid of that surtax, and after the passage of another Dukakis "temporary" income tax hike, elected two "no-new-taxes" Republican governors. Weld was always interesting, Cellucci a solid ally during an income tax rollback ballot campaign. But then, like Weld, he abandoned us in the middle of his term and we were left with the third string.

Gamely, we plodded on. Governor Swift was at least keeping her "no new taxes" pledge and defending the voters' choice on Clean Elections. Knowing from experience what happens when one party controls both the Legislature and the governor's office, we found good things to say about Swift and pointed out, as "amateur hour" turned into "amateur months", that it is hard to find good help in a party whose members often prefer the private sector.

My fellow activist, Chip Faulkner, always the optimist, assured me that despite the present low numbers in the polls and the low favorability rating, Jane Swift could still win an election held late in the fall. But that was before her refusal to commute the sentence of Gerald Amirault.

Amirault is the last remaining victim of the nationwide day care hysteria of the mid-1980s, during which small children were pressured by social workers to fantasize secret rooms, clowns, and bizarre ceremonies at day care centers. In several states, day care providers went to jail, but all were eventually released when the hysteria died down -- except here in Massachusetts.

Here, the home of the 17th century Salem witch trials, prosecutors and the Supreme Judicial Court defended what a Superior Court Justice later called "a substantial miscarriage of justice."

Gerald's mother and sister were finally set free in 1998, but Gerald had a different trial judge and is spending his 16th year in jail. As I researched a column on the issue, it became clear to me that not only were the Amiraults innocent, no crime had even been committed at the Fells Acres Daycare Center -- just as no witches had never consorted with the devil in Salem Village.

After a full review of the case last year, the state parole board unanimously recommended commutation of Gerald's sentence; a majority cited "real and substantial doubt" about the justice of the original conviction.

But instead of acting in a timely manner, Jane Swift sat on the recommendation for months, spending taxpayer dollars to have her "legal team" do another review, only to decide finally against commuting his sentence last week.

During the waiting period, real pedophiles were in the news. The governor denies that her decision was politically motivated, thereby insulting our intelligence as well as my sense of justice.

If you don't have good political instincts inside you, if you don't have a lot of smart adults around you, if you don't have a big, well-run party apparatus behind you, and if you don't have a sharp and credible running mate beside you, then you at least need the courage to do the right thing and inspire admiration.

You also need all the friends you can get. Jane Swift just lost a few more.

Despite my shock and dismay at her decision to keep Gerald Amirault in jail, I might have had to stand by the governor as part of my job to keep the tax burden from rising. But it is clear now that Jane Swift cannot be elected without riding on a savvy running mate's coattails.

She has committed to vetoing any legislative attempt to raise taxes. But this will get us only through this year, and then the Democrats will own the commonwealth. Been there, done that, don't wanna do that again.

It's time to find us a new "no-new-taxes" candidate for November, and maybe, come January, to find justice at last for an innocent man.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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