Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
February 2001 #1

More King George III than Winston Churchill
by Barbara Anderson

"I was a child of the House of Commons. I was brought up in my father's house to believe in Democracy." Winston Churchill.

My mind is open on the possibility of reincarnation. But the Speaker of the Massachusetts House is not the reincarnation of Winston Churchill, no matter what he thinks.

Tom Finneran was born on January 27, 1950. Winston Churchill died on January 24th, 1965. By then, the latest incarnation of whatever ancient soul resides in Finneran was just a few days shy of fifteen years old.

Still, the Speaker refers to Sir Winston with a familiarity that implies more than just academic study of his illustrious career. A year or so ago, when Finneran was hosting the David Brudnoy show on WBZ, he chose as his guest a man who is a noted expert on the British leader. As I listened, I got the clear impression that the Speaker not only admired Churchill, but identified with him.

I can see it, from his point of view. Winston Churchill was a man who stood alone and took control, when lesser men tried to bring him down or to get in the way as he saved the world.

Tom Finneran stands alone, in control of lesser men; I'll give him that.

Last week, as he celebrated the vote that killed the term limit rule which would have eventually ended his tenure, he was quoted referring again to his similarity to Churchill. But he didn't use the above quote, about democracy, which is what we're supposed to have in the Massachusetts House.

All of our representatives are supposed to be equal, giving us all equal access to power on Beacon Hill. A Speaker should preside, to keep order; not rule, to get his own way. But in the Massachusetts House of 2001, only constituents from Mattapan have representation. Most of the rest of us have either sycophants or ineffective dissenters from the Finneran monarchy.

Then there are the members of "the leadership team," who insist it's their job to vote with the leader. Ask each of them this: if you vote with the leader, who's from Boston, then Boston gets two votes. Who represents the citizens of your community on these "leadership votes"?

Setting aside the different level of historic importance, i.e., fighting the Nazis vs. competing with the Massachusetts Senate for the final word on a budget item, there could well be similarities between the Finneran and the Churchill leadership style. In both cases, we find a certain charm, a certain willingness to take on tough issues, a certain thin skin stretched tightly over a giant ego.

Given events of true historic importance, I have little doubt that the Speaker for Life would rise to the occasion and lead a valiant effort. But like Waldo Pepper, too young to fight the Red Baron, he is a man come of age at a time and in a place that calls for simple democratic leadership, not heroic measures.

It is one thing for a Churchill to take on Hitler despite some opposition in Parliament, and quite another for Finneran to remove Doug Petersen from his cherished Natural Resources Committee chairmanship because he refused to bomb a campaign finance law.

Petersen voted against the Republican effort to delay the term limits debate until the Committee assignments were made. He voted to make Finneran Speaker for Life. But when he was called by a Finneran henchman and told to vote for bad amendments to the Clean Elections law, he rebelled. He had to be punished because if he wasn't, rebellion could spread, and other legislators might stand up for the will of their constituents.

Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood) also voted to make Finneran Speaker for Life, but now he is chairman of House Ways & Means.

Here's the inside story on that assignment. There was a contest and all those who wanted the job lined up in the Speaker's office. Finneran said "jump" and whoever jumped highest won. With apologies to Mark Twain, John Rogers gets the"Celebrated jumping frog of Norfolk County" award and the chairmanship.

Doug Peterson gets the vice-chairmanship of Taxation, with the Speaker insisting that it's a promotion. Can anyone out there tell me who was the last vice-chairman of Taxation? I didn't think so. Taxation has been a dead committee for years; its recent chairman was Rogers, who did exactly what he was told to do as part of the "leadership team."

Another state rep, Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), filed the rules amendment that made Finneran "Speaker for Life." She explained her support this way: "We are not potted plants ... (Finneran) being a lame duck person makes Wall Street ... unhappy."

Wall Street cares who is Speaker of the Massachusetts House? Rep. Candaras was given the "Potted Plant" award from the Coalition for Legislative Reform this week.

The plant, the jumping frog, and a majority of elected Democrats are children of the House of Massachusetts, and they were taught by Tom Finneran to believe in obedience. Winston Churchill would not be impressed.

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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