and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
December #1

There were fireworks in heaven
when Marblehead's Jim Hourihan died
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Wednesday, December 1, 2004

We heard them here on earth as thunder, not usually common during Thanksgiving week. Some of us who knew Jim as "Boom Boom" because of his fund-raising for the Marblehead fireworks display can easily imagine the celebration when, at age 80, he reached his heavenly reward. And looking back on his life, we go "Ooh!" and "Aah!"

He was an MIT graduate, World War II Navy veteran, businessman, family man, sailor, and enthusiastic traveler. But most important to me, Jim was my taxpayer mentor, the chairman of the Marblehead Finance Committee when the selectmen appointed me to that body in 1978. 

They tried to choose a cross-section of political philosophies, but under Jim's leadership, liberals and conservatives became a "better government" team. We worked on a new project each year to make town government work championing the appointment, rather than election, of the town treasurer; pushing for an equipment purchase schedule; and of course engaging in a constant struggle to get cooperation from the School Department.

When Jim wanted to deal with a controversial item at Town Meeting, he would don his tri-corner colonial hat and wade into battle. My first year on the committee, knowing very little about the inner workings of town government, I just voted with him on everything; later I would find the confidence to occasionally disagree. Usually on these occasions I was wrong.

Long after I left the Finance Committee to focus on statewide taxpayer activism, I turned to Jim, either in person or in my mind, for advice on what to do and how to do it. As a member of Citizens for Limited Taxation, he was always supportive. I still have the speed memo he sent me during the Prop 2 campaign: "Keep up the good work ... some of us appreciate it." There were days that this message on my bulletin board was the only thing that kept me going.

For years, Jim played the role of unpaid town manager, the commander in charge of fiscal responsibility. Eventually the School Committee got a new Board of Selectmen to refuse to reappoint him on the grounds that he had become too powerful a figure at Town Meeting. So a bunch of us activists got together and ran him for selectman. 

The high point of the campaign was the Memorial Day parade, of which he somehow got himself named marshal, allowing him to lead the offending selectman through town to the cheers of his supporters. At the next election, he won a seat and served as selectman with those who had rejected him for FinCom chairman. Of all the campaigns I've been part of, that one was the most fun.

As I get older, however, local politics is less amusing, and fighting overrides, over and over, gets old too. This year we are filing a bill to limit override elections to one a year. Its theme is, "What part of NO don't they understand?" The bill also would create an "underride" provision for all communities, allowing 10 percent of registered voters to place a question on the local ballot to cut property taxes.

After Proposition 2 passed, many local taxpayer groups disbanded, thinking that the problem had been solved. But to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "eternal vigilance is the price of affordable property taxes." Since then new groups have formed. With any luck, they will all find a local official like Jim Hourihan to help their community live within a budget, and appreciate their efforts.

Because Jim was active in his local Catholic Church, at his wake I dropped a Mass card in the basket next to his coffin. I keep a supply on hand from the Benedictine Association of St. Mary's in my Pennsylvania hometown. Though I'm no longer Catholic, I remain attached to the culture of my family and childhood. During the next day's funeral Mass, I said the prayers and sang the hymns, though I did not take Holy Communion that is reserved for practicing members of the church I left over 40 years ago.

I'd been taught that when the pope speaks as the representative of God on earth, belief is mandatory. A Protestant friend told me that since I didn't believe some of these basic tenets of the Catholic faith I was, by definition, a Protestant too. 

That made sense to me. Then I decided I didn't agree with the Protestant churches either, so I went my own way. My personal religion allows for the comfort of imagining Jim Hourihan presiding over heavenly fireworks during all future thunderstorms, but it does not allow me to run for office as a Catholic, lead a Catholic choir, teach a class on Catholic doctrine, or be buried from a Catholic church.

So I don't understand the controversy about priests who don't let abortion or gay marriage advocates present themselves publicly as Catholics. People who disagree with the pope can protest and leave, as I did, and still get to have a Christmas tree and attend the funeral Mass of a friend. Or they can stay active in the church for cultural reasons, and keep their disagreement to themselves.

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.