and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
March  2004 #4

Only a few Bay State pols tell it like it really is
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Monday, March 29, 2004

I've watched the St. Patrick's Day breakfast on television almost every year, and this year's got the biggest laugh I've heard. The giant ho-ho came in the middle of a funny story that was reported inaccurately by the Boston papers as questionable and possibly anti-gay.

State Auditor Joe DeNucci, instead of relying on traditional jokes or written notes, told the true tale of the mistake he made at an earlier event. He was kidding about not really belonging at an Irish celebration, along with Mayor Menino and Governor Romney. Then, seeing gay senator Jarrett Barrios pointing to himself, he assumed that Barrios was referring to his sexual orientation, and said he could have his own celebration when he was allowed to get married.

Too late he realized that Barrios, in fact, was noting only that he is Cuban. Flustered, DeNucci started digging himself a hole that culminated in the prediction that, should Barrios marry his partner, it would require a coin flip to see who got to wear the gown. The breakfast host and other guests either were, or pretended to be, horrified.

As he told the true story about his earlier gaffe, Joe made it even funnier by constantly apologizing if he sounded unsympathetic to gays, but finally asked, "How can you get into trouble for telling the truth?" 

This was the line that made the room filled with politicians roar with spontaneous laughter.

How can a politician get in trouble for telling the truth? Don't even bother to count the ways; it's not a big problem on Beacon Hill.

Anyhow, the story ended with Sen. Barrios visiting the state auditor's office and asking him to be his maid of honor. Joe wasn't sure. "What," he asked, "would I have to wear?"

Sometimes you just gotta love them. Having been a political activist for almost a quarter of a century, I've become very fond of a very few.

The first was Edward J. King, who was governor between 1979 and 1982 during the creation and early implementation of Proposition 2. He seemed to take a childlike pleasure in being governor, and I found it easy to picture him as a young man in Catholic grade school, sitting straight with his hands on top of the desk and always telling the truth to shame the devil. Once he wore a clown's nose to amuse a group of visiting children; I thought this was charming, but his opponents used it savagely and he lost to Mike Dukakis in the next election. 

King later became a successful entrepreneur, and when I saw him over the years he still seemed to be enjoying himself.

Some people, I suspect, really belong in the private sector, and those former politicians, like Bill Weld, are more likely to be on my "fondness" list. And of course we hope for more private-sector types to step forward and run for office, making the commonwealth a better place with their temporary service. Certainly another private-sector person turned public servant, our present Gov. Mitt Romney, needs good people to be running for the Legislature this year to advance his reform agenda.

This week we attended a function for Sharon Randall, a nurse and a lawyer, who is starting her campaign for state representative in the 8th Essex District. It was good to see people who are newly involved in politics because someone they know in the private sector is running.

But every now and then, one runs into a career politician to love. My longtime favorite is Mike Ruane, Salem's state representative for 15 terms, who proudly states his occupation as "legislator." Ah, this is what God had in mind when he created government - an honest, decent, hardworking man, devoted to his community and his constituents, wanting nothing more than to validate the concept of representative democracy.

I first met Mike when I was delivering a Statehouse memo opposing an attempt to change Proposition 2. I was rushing from office to office, but was made to stop when I reached his shared space; he had some concerns about my issue, and demanded that I sit right down and address them.

We argued, laughed and became friends - and having his questions answered, he became a supporter of Prop 2 over the difficult early years of its existence. All I had to do was convince him that higher property taxes would hurt "his people," and I had his vote.

Rep. Ruane seemed to have no interest in "moving up," even as far as state senator. He was too busy being a representative. He was the one House member you could count on to actually read the state budget, analyze the numbers, ask intelligent questions at the hearings, and then take to the House floor to tell other legislators, and the people, what was really going on. 

Sometimes more powerful politicians didn't want to hear it, but he said it anyhow.

Mike is retiring this year, but the lesson for new young legislators is clear: He always told the truth, occasionally got in trouble for it, and still got himself re-elected for 30 years.

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