and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
January 2002 #1

Thereís hope ahead:
Despite yearís travails,
reason for optimism as we begin 2002

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Thursday, January 3, 2002

So hereís the Roman god Janus, looking backward and forward again.

Did you know that his temple doors were open during war and closed during peace? My World Book encyclopedia doesnít say why, but we can suppose that the Romans were like some of us: more inclined to go to church and pray during times of danger and trauma.

Looking backward as a nation, we see danger and trauma enough. But we also see a renewal of spirit that gives us reason to look forward with optimism to 2002. The temple doors should stay open, however, in eternal vigilance. On the state level, the administration and Legislature did work together to do something right this year. By insisting on MCAS as a condition for huge increases in education spending, and continuing to support charter schools, they created some accountability and competition in the system.

But in general, we can look back with disgust at the behavior of most of our alleged representatives. In January 1996, Tom Birmingham was elected senate president with this pledge: "The cynics, the naysayers, the meanspirited we will always have with us -- those who disparage government itself and demean those is public service. As your presiding officer ... I will shout it from the rooftops that ours is a noble and honorable calling".

Six years later, almost everyone has become a cynic about the Legislature, and even generous-spirited yay-sayers are shouting their dismay at its laziness and foolish priorities from the rooftops. Good job, President Birmingham, Speaker Finneran, and all the little nobles. Your kind of governing has disparaged itself beyond our wildest expectations. Now an optimist can celebrate the new civic awareness that will perhaps lead to citizen action in the new year.

Meanwhile, Governor Swift has been filling the role of Beacon Hill grown-up by urging the children to get their budget homework done and then resetting some of their mean-spirited priorities. By defending the will of the voters on the income tax rollback and clean elections law, she did her part to battle cynicism toward state government.

I still donít understand why she and her two predecessors have insisted on owning the Big Dig project and defending unfair toll distribution to pay for it: this fiscal disaster began so far back that even a god like Janus needs binoculars. Heís looking at you, Mike Dukakis: weíre still paying for your administrationís mismanagement, though the income tax rate will be back to normal soon -- unless, of course, Libertarian Carla Howell succeeds in repealing it altogether this coming year. There will also be a long overdue ballot discussion on bilingual education.

Optimistically, at the very least, voters might think twice about putting Democrats in charge of the entire state government when itís time to vote for governor in November.

On the negative side for Governor Swift: why is Gerald Amirault still in jail? She could have done a commutation during the traditional good-will holiday season, but instead let him spend his 16th Christmas away from his family.

They tell me she is taking time to hear both sides and make a wise, non-political decision. Well, I took time to thoroughly research the Fells Acre daycare case too, but it didnít take me half a year to figure out that the Amiraults were innocent. Governor Swift doesnít have to make a determination of guilt or innocence; all she has to do is follow the July recommendation of her advisory board and announce that Gerald has served enough time. The era of daycare hysteria is behind us; I hope justice lies ahead soon.

Being cynical about politics is not the same as being cynical about life in general. Looking back at my own year, I could focus on pain and trauma: a car accident in February, surgery in October, and the stress of moving mother into a nursing home in August and saying goodbye in December.

Instead, Iím just happy I survived the accident and the surgery. Iím glad that mother has escaped the nursing home, for she was ready to move on. Iím grateful for my partner Chip and all those who cared for me and for her. And any year that brings me twin grandchildren has to go into the ledger as one of the best of my life.

With Janus, we look back and see the unchangeable reality of what was. We celebrate the obviously good, explore what good has come from bad, and determine what we have learned and how we have grown. Then we look forward to what we can make of 2002. Happy New Year to us all.

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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