and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
June 2003 #1

In the wilds of Beacon Hill,
it's the average citizen who's lost in the mist

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, June 6, 2003

Finally, I know what I was when I grew up!

I could never quite put a career title to it. Usually, when I filled in a form, I'd put "taxpayer activist," which seemed somehow vague. If only I had followed my first career choice and become a nun. Then I could write "Sister Barbara" under "Name" and no one would even ask what my occupation was.

But when I was in second grade, my Uncle Buck told me that I would have to take a vow of obedience so I might as well forget it. I decided to be a cowgirl instead. My girlfriend, Anne, and I would go out west, get horses, and ride around looking for jobs on the range. Her mother said the range is mostly fenced in now and then teased us about trotting along Route 66, leading our pack mules.

Airline stewardess and reporter were also considered. But instead I got married, then somehow fell into my current occupation, whatever it is. Well, I was a guest on WBZ the other evening, and Joe Sciacca, the guest host, introduced me as an anthropologist. He said I study politicians and report on their behavior.

Shades of Jane Goodall! I always admired her, and wished I had thought to go to Africa, live in a tent, and observe chimpanzees. Now I realize that I did something of the sort, right here in Massachusetts.

We know now, thanks to Goodall's research and to the mapping of the genome, that chimpanzees are our closest relatives. Well, politicians are very close relatives too. As far as I know, no scientists have yet compared the genes of homo sapiens to the genes of homo politico, but when they do, they will probably find that only a few megabytes of DNA separate us from each other.

Until then, we must rely on behavioral observation to prove that we are similar, and I, the anthropologist, shall provide it. Let's start with the state budget.

Humans say "no new taxes" and politicians understand the language well enough to grasp that concept. The DNA difference, however, makes homo politico often see taxes as fees. He can, however, be trained to change his perception.

When citizens and many editorial boards objected to the Senate Ways & Means Committee's proposed homeowner's insurance tax, the committee withdrew the proposal before debate on the budget began.

I'm not sure if homo politico yet comprehends the recent Superior Court decision on last year's prescription drug fee, that it's really a tax and must be refunded to the pharmacies by the government. But I do think he is capable of learning from the mistake.

Homo sapiens thinks that homo politico should honor the voters' decision on initiative ballot questions, and determine controversial, non-budget issues separately from the budget debate, with roll call votes.

The Senate politicians, however, just voted to repeal the voter-approved Clean Elections law and water down the voter-approved bilingual education law. They threw everything from smoking bans to weakening of MCAS into the budget. And here is the part where I can prove they are a different species from us: The Clean Elections repeal was done on a voice vote: not even one senator, whether supporter or opponent of that law, asked for a roll call.

This is not, necessarily, because they are all cowards by nature. It is because they see themselves as part of a closed community that must defend itself against other species, especially ours.

Voice votes are a kind of camouflage; we can't really see them when they aren't on the record.

Homo sapiens, at least those of the species who inhabit the United States, like the democratic process. Homo politico, both the House and Senate branches, voted to give their respective leaders the power to spend taxpayer dollars on their own authority. They currently have under consideration a bill which, if signed into law by the governor, will allow those leaders to award pay raises to favored, obedient legislators anytime they want without further discussion or the governor's signature.

The Honorable Alan Simpson, former U.S. senator from Wyoming, a man known for his humor and blunt talk, was the keynote speaker at the Pioneer Institute Better Government Competition Awards dinner, which I attended on Tuesday.

One of the award recipients was Rep. Harriett Stanley, D-West Newbury, whose winning project was on "Re-Engineering Medicaid."

Rep. Stanley was the noted House chairman of the Health Care Committee until she supported Clean Elections and was one of eight Democrats to vote against raising income taxes last year. Though Speaker Tom Finneran won the vote, he punished her by removing her from her position.

Former-Senator Simpson found room in his speech to commend her for her health care expertise, then noted Speaker Finneran's "petty, punitive and puerile behavior."

So as you can see, homo politico, like home sapiens, has both good guys and bad guys. But from now on, when someone asks me why I don't run for office, I'll point out that no one ever asked Jane Goodall why she didn't become a chimpanzee.

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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