and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
July #3

Legislative trickery at work on gay marriage debate
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 20, 2006

This column is only for readers with strong stomachs, people who can look a rat in the face without flinching, who can handle outrage and disgust. You must be able to face the fact that you are paying for a state government that isn't interested in your opinion, that takes your vote for granted, that laughs at your silly pretensions about democracy.

If you prefer to believe that state government resembles what you learned in civics class, that politicians work for you, state reps represent you, that your hard-earned tax dollars are well-spent, this column is not for you. Poor soul, until this week you probably also believed that the Boston tunnels were safe because the government is in charge of the project.

Of course, if you are such a person, you probably don't read my column, and there's a good chance you don't read newspapers at all: which means I should stop talking to you, since you aren't there!

Everyone else must be catching on by now, after a week in which the Legislature ignored two initiative petitions signed in total by almost 300,000 Massachusetts voters - and though it seems unrelated, after the first death attributed to politics-as-usual on the Central Artery project.

The bottom-line hard truth is, the system doesn't work. It's one of the most expensive in the nation, and that's not counting the $16 billion Big Digaster; but we don't get our money's worth. If state government were a car, we'd get a refund through the Lemon Law. If it were a spouse, we'd get an annulment or divorce. If it were a meal, we'd upchuck.

The state constitution requires - not suggests, not hopes for, requires - an up or down vote on any initiative petition for a constitutional amendment. Last week, there were two such petitions: one to expand access to health care, and the other to ban gay marriage. The activists on both sides of the political spectrum who supported them worked very hard for several years, played by the rules, fulfilled all the requirements.

The constitution requires two votes on each issue. The health care initiative got its first vote in 2004 and, if 50 legislators had supported it this year, would have been on the November ballot. Instead, a majority of legislators sent it to a "study." Senate President Travaglini tried to tell the liberals that this would only delay their issue, but when pressed, admitted that it is dead for now. Petitioners would have to start over, collecting signatures again, to try for the 2010 ballot.

The "defense of marriage" activists, who were looking for their first vote, also watched in dismay as the constitutional convention adjourned until Nov. 9. They were told they will get their vote then; this is probably a lie. Even if it's not, the truth isn't much better: Rep. Doug Petersen, D-Marblehead, who voted to adjourn, was quoted in this newspaper explaining that "It was the judgment of people on the (convention) floor that many members might vote differently if they didn't have an election looming in their own backyard."

Swell. My alleged representative thinks its OK that his fellow legislators who have opponents this year are cowards who don't want their constituents to know how they would vote on gay marriage. Now, pay attention, because this is where you "get it."

Some of the legislators who voted NOT to adjourn are those who have opponents, and didn't want to look like cowards. So they were "allowed" to vote against adjournment, while "safe" legislators, like Petersen and Berry, who have no opponents, voted to adjourn. This legislative trick requires careful head-counting to get the desired result.

My alleged representative also said "I feel very strongly that it's an inappropriate issue to put before the citizens." No, Petersen, what's inappropriate is your lack of respect for your constituents who signed the petition, and your violation of the oath you took to uphold the state constitution, if the vote doesn't take place before the end of the year. What you "feel" is irrelevant. I feel that you, Berry, and most legislators are a disgrace, but that's irrelevant too.

Many liberal legislators, like Petersen, voted to take up the health care petition, but when they lost their bid for a fair vote, chose to do unto others what had been unfairly done unto them. To their credit, the House Republicans voted to take up both issues, consistently showing respect for the voters.

Helpfully to what health care advocates call the "Democracy Demolition crew," media attention was diverted last week to the Big Digaster, a project that the Legislature washed its hands of except to block Governor Romney's attempts to take control. Bechtel must have thought it died and went to heaven, getting a public works project in Massachusetts, land of high tolerance for taxes, cowardly, incompetent or corrupt politicians, union "don't kill the job" culture: the perfect storm of Big Business, Big Government, Big Labor.

And on the other side: little taxpayers, little citizens, and little voters who let it all go wrong, again and again.

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.