and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September 2004 #4

Voters decide whether Legislature
can continue to defy their will
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 23, 2004

Please save this column. I am making a prediction.

If I'm right, I'll look like a political pundit sans peer. So magnet my words to the refrigerator. I'm proud to be an optimist!

My prediction: This is the year that Massachusetts voters will rise up and throw off the yoke of business as usual on Beacon Hill. Though they will keep the few incumbents who respect them, they will defeat many of those who don't.

Gov. Romney has 125 Republicans running for the state Legislature. There are also independents, Libertarians and Green-Rainbows.

You should know that I am not an objective observer. Seventy-eight candidates have been endorsed by Citizens for Limited Taxation's 2 PAC, which was created to protect Proposition 2 and is now used for general pro-taxpayer support. This year it likes 11 incumbents with good voting records on taxpayer issues and 55 challengers, plus 12 candidates for open seats. All these non-incumbents have taken the Taxpayer Protection Pledge and support the voter-mandated income tax rollback.

Though a PAC-supported Democratic challenger lost his primary, three other Democrats beat incumbents, so overall the fall reform campaign is off to a good start. Sure, one of the incumbents who lost was under indictment, but this could not have been counted on to defeat him in the past.

There are other issues besides taxes, but even the tax issue is really about respect for the voters on ballot questions more than it is about money. 

In November 2000, 59 percent of the voters told legislators to return the income tax rate to its traditional 5 percent by 2003. The Legislature froze the rate at 5.3 percent and refuses to defrost it, even though the state is running a surplus this year.

The Legislature just passed a supplemental budget filled with pork to use up the surplus funds. But this too is a process issue as much as a taxpayer issue.

The city of Peabody is upset because Gov. Romney vetoed its flood prevention funds on the grounds that he couldn't get enough information. The funds were tossed into a supplemental budget by the Democratic leadership after the Legislature had gone home for the summer/fall/probably the year. There was no hearing, no debate; the budget was passed on a voice vote in an informal session with only a few legislators present to rubber-stamp all last-minute, tax-eating expenditures, pork or legitimate. The governor had only 10 days to sort it all out, and refused to be rushed, so he vetoed those items for which he didn't have sufficient data.

On a properly run Beacon Hill, Peabody legislators would have placed these funds in a bill that would be openly discussed with the governor's staff and all of us privy to the debate. Legislators from other communities would have a chance to present the arguments for projects in their own communities and priorities could be set. Instead, the Democratic leadership controlled the supplemental budget and most of our representatives weren't even there for the vote.

Many of them were campaigning instead. Private-sector challengers are running against incumbents who have nothing else to do but voter outreach for three full months. They have superior name recognition and the incumbent's ability to raise funds on top of the paychecks and perquisites of their office that they get even when the Legislature isn't in formal session.

Those citizens who must work full time and use their free hours to run for office deserve our applause and I hope our support. Unless there is a disputed issue about which a voter feels very strongly, and must therefore support a Democratic incumbent instead of a challenger, why not vote for change, reform, and a viable two-party system?

The stakes are high. True democracy on Beacon Hill is as dead as the poor little squirrel in the middle of the road. But unlike the crushed critter, democracy can be revived. This may be our only chance to do it. If, despite all of Romney's efforts, all Democratic incumbents are re-elected, who of any party will want to run in 2006?

The candidates I know are working hard, holding events, going door to door and standing out. They are preparing for debates and editorial board meetings. They must get contributions from family and friends to pay for the fliers and campaign signs.

The governor says he would be happy with just one victory. I think this is taking the "downplaying expectations" game too far. We need enough victories to scare the remaining incumbents into fearing the voters again because on Beacon Hill fear is the only road to respect.

Let's go for the gold, Gov! You need eight new senators to sustain a veto and I predict at least 20 of your state rep. candidates have a good chance to win.

In my ideal world, citizens pay attention, demand accountability and believe in representative democracy, not control by a few Boston legislative leaders. 

They are angered when their vote on ballot questions is ignored, and willing to give a chance to political newcomers. 

In just a few weeks, my world will become real or a viable commonwealth of Massachusetts will remain a fantasy.

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.