Limited Taxation
Post Office Box 408     Peabody, Massachusetts   01960     (508) 384-0100

Barbara's Column
November 2001 #5

Time for another rank-and-file revolt on Beacon Hill

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Friday, November 30, 2001

It's time for a Beacon Hill revolution.

Word leaked last week from the Senate Democratic caucus that some members had reached maximum tolerance for being made to look like fools by their leadership.

With the budget five months late, Senator Tom Birmingham seemed to be letting his quest for the governorship get in the way of the commonwealth's quest for a timely, democratic budget process. I've heard that one Democrat demanded Birmingham resign as Senate president, though news stories refer to it as a hint, not a demand. Either way, it's a start.

The suggestor is said to be Sen. Bob Havern of Arlington, who was once in the House, which has a history of revolution.

Then the plot thickened when Sen. Richard Moore, also a former House member, announced his intention to run for Senate president when Birmingham steps down.

Not that Moore is a revolutionary by nature. He was part of Speaker Tom McGee's leadership team during the Great Revolt of 1984, when Reps. Charlie Flaherty and George Keverian decided that the autocratic McGee had twisted one arm too many and the House was ripe for revolution. They moved to oust McGee to make Keverian speaker, leading to months of delicious legislative chaos.

At the time, Citizens for Limited Taxation was part of a legislative rules reform coalition, just as we are now, and thought that revolution in general was a great idea. It sends a message to future leaders not to get too full of themselves and their power.

Still, lobbyists have sense enough to stay out of a leadership fight, and I was almost no exception.

From the point of view of taxpayers, none of the potential speakership candidates were worth supporting so I didn't care who won. But one day I was on a talk show in western Massachusetts and decided to tell the fun story of my first meeting with Keverian a few years earlier, soon after the passage of Proposition 2˝.

Majority Leader Jack Murphy of Peabody told me he'd arranged a meeting for me with Keverian about tax issues, and assured me that I'd find him delightful to talk with. Then he left me alone with him, and for 20 minutes George sat and stared at me without saying a word.

I don't mind politicians yelling at me, but when given the silent treatment, I tend to babble to fill the silence. I realized that Murphy had set me up, so when I ran out of babble, I left.

This was the story I told out west to make fun of my own naiveté and to illustrate why I wasn't buying Keverian's reputation as a delightful fellow to meet. I figured, who will hear me way out here?

A few days later Dick Moore's aide, Michael Capuano (now a congressman) dropped by my office with a column reproducing that story word for word from a tape. It was titled, "Why I support Tom McGee for Speaker." They wanted me to sign it and submit it to a major metropolitan newspaper.

I told Michael that if I ever saw that column in print with my name on it, I would sue. Laughing, he said it was worth a try.

Anyhow, Keverian won and was actually a good speaker, allowing genuine democracy in the House until he left to run for higher office and Flaherty took over. That was basically the end of the democracy, though things got worse when Flaherty was succeeded by Tom Finneran.

The moral of this story: Don't give too much power to people named Tom.

No, I was just kidding. The moral is that a little revolution every few years is a good thing. Let's hope the senators make their move.

Run, Dick, run!

Now if I could just convince Doug Petersen, D-Marblehead, to lead a revolt in the House, all the autocratically-inclined leaders might learn a necessary lesson about the abuse of power in a representative democracy.

Why am I picking on my own state representative? Because he's there, that's why. He has to take my phone calls because I'm a constituent.

Also, he has potential. Back when Charlie Flaherty was in charge of the House, Petersen was so outraged over a particular abuse of power that he told a local reporter that he was considering running against him for speaker.

I was so proud of him. Eventually, I called to congratulate him on his initiative. By then, he'd regretted his outburst, and told me that he really hadn't meant it and wished that the story hadn't been printed on the front page of our town's weekly newspaper.

"Gee", I replied, "I guess I shouldn't have just made copies and distributed them to the Statehouse press, then." There was silence, followed by a quiet moan.

So after the next Democratic Caucus, the media was waiting outside the caucus room for my state representative, hoping for an announcement of a challenge. It didn't happen then, but maybe it could happen now, while Petersen is still angry about the state budget debacle and the killing of Clean Elections, and the public is primed for revolution.

Run, Doug, run!

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.

Return to Barbara's Columns page                     Return to CLT Updates page