and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
November 2002 #3

Legislators represent our interests --
as long as they don't conflict with their own

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, November 18, 2002

It was a double "gotcha."

They were on New England Cable News, a few days after the election: Two Democrat legislators, conservative Guy Glodis of Worcester and liberal Jarrett Barrios of Cambridge. Barrios stated his continuing preference for bilingual education instead of English immersion, and Glodis accused him of not respecting the will of the voters who had just passed Question 2 on the ballot.

Barrios then mentioned Glodis' opposition to the Clean Elections petition that had been passed by the voters in 1998 and never fully implemented.

It takes a consistent politician to attack another politician on support for the will of the people on ballot questions. Neither Glodis nor Barrios qualified, though the former is 2 for 3 on voter respect, supporting as he does both bilingual ed. reform and the income tax rollback initiative, while Barrios gets another "gotcha" back at himself on his vote to kill that rollback.

And now Glodis is completely off the hook as Massachusetts voters themselves supported (in 1998) and then opposed (in 2002) Clean Elections aka "taxpayer funding for political campaigns." If the voters can't make up their minds, then what is a state senator to do?

I guess the voters who reversed themselves could quote Marshall McLuhan, who admitted "I don't necessarily agree with everything I say."

Or Ralph Waldo Emerson, who insisted that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Politicians aren't the only ones who casually remove the adjective "foolish" and act inconsistently on valid issues as well.

Some editorial boards and political activists insist that the initiative process is sacred when they agree with the issue, but can sits on the curb for trash pick-up when they don't.

The Coalition for Legislative Reform, which consists of Citizens for Limited Taxation, Citizens for Participation in Political Action, Common Cause and MassPIRG, to name the principals, have a principled position that is contained in its mission statement: "Laws passed by ballot initiative must have the opportunity to prove themselves before being altered substantially."

This means that while we do not agree on the merits of all ballot questions, we do not call for repeal of the ones we don't like.

A distortion of this position can be seen in Sen. Barrios' insistence that the law reforming bilingual education, which was passed by the Legislature earlier this year in the hope of preempting English immersion, be given a chance to prove itself before Question 2 is implemented. If Barrios prevails, any future initiative can be killed by the Legislature simply by passing a weak version of the petition before the election, and then arguing to give it a chance before implementing the voters' decision -- which by the way was made despite the Legislature having recently addressed the issue.

Yes, it's possible that voters sometimes don't know what they are voting on. However, legislators from the glass House who pass multi-billion-dollar budgets without having read them shouldn't throw stones. We citizens shouldn't have to duck rocks from politicians who voted to require gun locks on antique muskets at historic reenactments, and to cut reimbursement rates to pharmacies to below cost, then insisted they hadn't known what was in those bills.

Speaker Tom Finneran is celebrating the proof of his allegation that voters in 1998 didn't know that "Clean Elections" meant "public financing of political campaigns." This from the guy who put a question on the same ballot "to prohibit legislators from voting to increase their own base salaries." when, in fact, the measure automatically adjusted legislative salaries every other year so there was no need for legislators to vote themselves a raise.

And, of course, Finneran neglected to emphasize that "base salaries" does not include per diems and office expense monies, which were hiked the next year to help legislators live with the competition created by Clean Elections. This political deal could explain the resistance to another, non-binding ballot question that was just passed by the voters in 18 House districts, including mine.

The "representatives" who were told by local voters to reject Finneran for speaker next year are saying, when asked, that they will choose him anyhow. No matter what we want, they will anoint a leader who gets them pay raises and perks, and prevents competition for their pathetic little follow-the-leader job.

When the Legislature uses the "no" vote on public financing of elections to repeal Clean Elections, do you think the law increasing legislative slush funds will vanish too? No, that would show a certain consistency, and we voters shouldn't foolishly expect to see it happen.

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

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