and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
November #4

Strategic chaos reigns
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, November 10, 2005

It was a dark and stormy night during the last week in October, and my mood matched the weather.

I drove through the wind and the rain to have dinner with the Peabody Lions Club. I had been their guest speaker before, the first time during the Proposition 21/2 campaign a quarter-century ago. They were accustomed to hearing me lay out a problem, then tell them about the latest ballot campaign to address it.

This time I began as expected, giving my presentation about legislative misbehavior. Then I stopped for questions.

The men stared at me. "Where's the solution part?" one of them asked.

I explained that the solution used to be an initiative petition. But the Legislature no longer honors the will of the people as expressed in ballot questions. The people approve an income-tax rollback or Clean Elections initiative, and the Legislature simply repeals or freezes them. So much for Plan A.

So last fall, Gov. Mitt Romney ran challengers to legislators who disrespect the voters. The incumbents all won. So much for Plan B.

But somewhere out there lurked a Plan C. Though voters have been letting their alleged representatives get away with bad votes on tax issues and fairly obscure "good government" issues, I thought we could still count on their attention to citizen demands on emotional issues, like the recent outrage against repeat drunken-driving offenders.

Then, despite clear public support for Melanie's Bill, a legislative conference committee, comprised of many "part-time" defense attorneys, removed the strongest anti-drunken-driving provision that had already been accepted by both the House and Senate. The gutted bill was rushed through as several key legislators left for a vacation in Portugal and Spain.

A member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, I was so angry that I wrote new lyrics to the tune of "The Rain in Spain" from "My Fair Lady":

The pols in Spain vacation in the plain;
Their drunken clients drive and kill and maim.....
But they don't care, children beware!
Of the pain, of the pain...
Oh where are those blasted pols?
In Spain, In Spain!
A slew of bills are waiting for a vote
On the Hill, on the Hill.
No time to work, just time to play
Until, until....
The foolish voters finally have their fill
And fire the Demmie donkeys from the Hill.

Then I went to give my speech and told my disappointed audience that there is no Plan C, and I had no idea what to do next. The pols had finally figured out that they can do whatever they want, regardless of the wishes of their constituents, and still get re-elected.

Well, the next day the sun returned and it was feeling like a lovely autumn.

Newspapers like this one informed the public about both the vote on Melanie's Bill and the legislative holiday in the midst of the busiest time on Beacon Hill. Angry citizens responded.

One vacationing pol rushed home. The others scrambled to justify their behavior, hoping that their constituents would believe that they work hard the other 50 weeks of the year when we all know that they have the entire month of August off and even now are planning to leave for a six-week "holiday break" in mid-November.

Legislative leaders quickly back-tracked, restored the missing provision from Melanie's Bill, and passed what is now the toughest drunken-driving bill in the nation. Citizens felt empowered.

So it's time for Controversial Issue No. 2 illegal immigration.

The bill to give taxpayer-subsidized, in-state tuition to illegal immigrants began moving. The same talk shows that had sprung into action against drunken driving began a "what part of 'illegal' don't you understand?" campaign.

On WRKO, John DePetro held the first debate between two possible candidates for governor, Attorney General Tom Reilly and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey. Incredibly, the state's primary law enforcement officer doesn't understand the "illegal" part, and Healey handed him his fuzzy-thinking head. It was great talk radio, just like the old days.

Citizens are again responding, and it may be possible to sustain Gov. Romney's promised veto of the bill. My despair is lifted, and I found myself wishing that this week's election was the statewide kind for state representatives. An impressive win on Plan B would breathe life into Plan A!

Except: A bill to kill Plan A, the initiative petition process, has just passed the Senate and is heading for the House as I write this. With just a few days left in the fall legislative session, strange things will be happening on Beacon Hill all at once. This is deliberate; the legislative leadership knows that citizens can't keep track of all the frenzied last-minute activity.

Legislative leaders still want to allow a capital gains tax that is retroactive to January 2002. This would cost roughly 13,000 surprised taxpayers an average of $650 apiece. Race-track lobbyists are all over the Statehouse, trying to get permission for slot machines at the tracks. Senior tax relief is still floating around.

Strange combinations come out of conference committees. No one has time to read the final bills they are passing. Hearings are still being held on more bills. Strategic chaos reigns, in the autumn political haze.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.