STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 1, 200 ... Nimbly employing the metaphor of a traffic
jam, the new Coalition for Legislative Reform gave "citations" to legislators they
say are blocking the flow of democracy.
The coalition, which consists of six progressive groups such as MassPIRG and NOW
plus the League of Women Voters and the more conservative Citizens for Limited
Taxation, is outraged by last week's House rules debate where lawmakers
overwhelmingly voted to remove term limits for the speaker.
Critics charge that without term limits, Speaker Thomas Finneran's already firm
grip on the House agenda is tightening, with no end in sight.
Good government activist Ken White presented the entire GOP membership of the
House with congratulatory green traffic tickets. White was pleased that they aided
democracy by "voting as a bloc to support term limits." Pointing to a poster of a
traffic jam, White said, "Our goal is to open avenues for legislative action
-- a four-lane highway."
In addition to the 24 Republicans who received the awards, 15 Democratic lawmakers
were recognized for supporting term limits. Those legislators, including Reps.
Ruth Balser of Newton, Paul Demakis of Boston, Carol Donovan of Natick, Patricia
Jehlen of Somerville, Ellen Story of Amherst and Thomas McGee Jr. of Lynn, have
frequently criticized Finneran, both from policy and procedural standpoints.
Rep. Doug Petersen (D-Marblehead) was singled out by the coalition and presented
with a mock street sign by tax-cut proponent Barbara Anderson for "taking the high
road" and "refusing to turn his back" on the clean elections law. Finneran
stripped Petersen's Natural Resources Committee chairmanship and appointed him
vice-chairman of the Taxation Committee. Petersen says he is being punished for
his unwillingness to bow to the efforts supported by the Democratic House majority
to change the law.
Accepting the award, Petersen said that he didn't consider himself "a hero." He
said his decision to support clean elections was "a matter of conscience ... and
for that to be heroic speaks volumes." Petersen said he "hoped others don't have
to suffer the turmoil that I had to suffer."
Secretary of Administration and Finance Stephen Crosby also received an award for
pushing for a reduction in "outside sections" to the annual budget. The coalition
hopes that the budget process will deal more strictly with fiscal matters and that
unrelated policy matters will be considered separately.
the Potted Plant Award
In addition to their general call for "greater
representative democracy" on Beacon Hill, the coalition appeared
unified in their opposition to Speaker Finneran, whom they consider the
main obstructer of legislative action.
White also held up a small plant and said it was for
Rep. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), who White said led the charge to
overturn term limits. White said that Candaras, in addition to claiming
members of the House are not "potted plants," also
overestimated Finneran's importance in the House.
The Telegram & Gazette
Friday, February 2, 2001
Area legislators are 'ticketed' on term limits
By Shaun Sutner
Telegram & Gazette Staff
BOSTON-- Two Central Massachusetts legislators were among those criticized at a
Statehouse ceremony yesterday for speaking in favor of abolishing term limits for the office of
speaker of the House of Representatives, while the entire House Republican delegation was commended for its support for term limits.
The awards and condemnations were from an unlikely new alliance of liberal and conservative groups called the Coalition for Legislative Reform, which has vowed to act as a “traffic cop” on Beacon Hill this year to call attention to those the group believes stifle debate and legislation.
“Our goal is to ... again open all avenues for legislative action,” according to Ken White, leader of the coalition and executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, which has been pressing for reform of both legislative rules and campaign finance regulations.
State Reps. Brian Knuuttila, D-Gardner, and Harold P. Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, were among 14 Democratic House members issued “summonses” in the form of red traffic tickets to symbolize the coalition's belief that the two legislators delayed the “traffic” of proposed term-limits legislation in the Legislature.
The 14 Democrats either were co-sponsors of a measure to abolish termlimits for the speaker of the House or spoke on behalf of the idea on the House floor on Jan. 24, when it passed 111-39. Since 1985, House speakers have been limited to four two-year terms.
The 24 Republicans, all of whom voted against the so-called “Speaker-for-Life” measure that could keep three-term Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, D-Boston, in office indefinitely, received green tickets, or “certificates of approval,” from the coalition leaders.
Afterward, Mr. Knuuttila and Mr. Naughton, neither of whom was at the Statehouse press conference, appeared somewhat taken aback by the criticism.
They defended their backing of the term-limit abolition and argued that Mr. Finneran still can be removed simply by legislators voting for another speaker.
Some supporters of Mr. Finneran, including Mr. Naughton, also argue that they traded a vote to end the term limit for passage of other significant rules changes that have helped open up the legislative process.
Mr. Naughton jokingly said he had not received the “ticket” yet. In a more serious vein, he added that “these are some groups that I have a lot of respect for. But what they've done is not very well thought out.”
Mr. Knuuttila noted that he backs the Clean Elections Law, a legislative reform measure overwhelmingly passed by voters and supported by Common Cause that restricts campaign fund raising.
“This isn't the best way to continue an association with a close supporter of the Clean Elections Law,” he said.
Also receiving an award was Steven Crosby, the state secretary for Administration and Finance, for his efforts in the state budget process to reduce the number of “outside sections,” which critics say are often used to circumvent debate and to tack on items for special interests.
Special recognition was given to Rep. Douglas Petersen, D-Marblehead, who lost his chairmanship of the influential Natural Resources Committee last week, apparently because he bucked Mr. Finneran by supporting the Clean Elections Law, which limits campaign fund raising.
“I certainly don't want to be seen as a hero because I voted for a matter of conscience,” said Mr. Petersen, a former Finneran loyalist who has become something of a celebrity in recent days. “For that to be seen as heroic or taking the high road speaks volumes about this body.”
The chief sponsor of the Speaker-for-Life measure, Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham, was singled out for particular disparagement. She was given a potted plant, a reference to her remark during last week's House session that legislators were not “potted plants” to be manipulated by Mr.
The press conference was moderated by Mr. White. Barbara C.
Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, and other coalition members also spoke.
Besides Common Cause and CLT, the coalition includes Citizens for Participation in Political Action; League of Women Voters of Massachusetts; MassPIRG; American Jewish Congress; the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Alliance; Massachusetts Audubon Society; and the National Organization for Women.
Notwithstanding the seriousness of the charges against the Finneran supporters, the event had an ironic or humorous tone because of political juxtapositions.
The spectacle of a conservative leader such as Ms. Anderson commending an active environmentalist such as Mr. Petersen, and Mr. White, a liberal activist, praising Republicans whom he opposes on most issues, drew some smiles from those in attendance.
The irony was not lost on the GOP members present, including the state Republican Party chairman, Rep. Brian M. Cresta, from Wakefield, and several Central Massachusetts representatives.
“When Republicans and extremely liberal Democrats are on the same side of an issue you know there's got to be some merit to it,” said Rep. Paul K. Frost, R-Auburn, who got special recognition for speaking on the floor against ending the term limit. “There are times when you have to speak up and do the right thing.”
Not everyone saw the humor in the proceedings, however.
One House member who was branded with a red ticket, Rep. Michael E. Festa, D-Melrose, stood in the crowd as coalition members castigated those who voted to repeal the 16-year-old term limit.
“I'm a good liberal,” he lamented. “I'm being savaged.”
BOSTON -— A coalition of government watchdog groups handed out faux citations to 14 lawmakers yesterday, saying they "turned their backs on representative government"
last week by voting to abolish a term limit for House Speaker Thomas
Members of the newly formed Coalition for Legislative Reform called a midday press conference inside the State House trying to shame at least a few House Democrats for their 111 to 39 vote, seen by some as a power-grab orchestrated by
Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, Rep. Peter Koutoujian, D-Newton, Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, and Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, were among those singled out for a public tongue-lashing and the citations which resemble parking tickets.
All four lawmakers took to the House floor to argue passionately against the term limit, or were prime sponsors of the bill critics say made Finneran a virtual "speaker for life."
"The voters of Massachusetts are not being adequately represented in the State House, and that is why we are here
today," said Eric Weltman, a coalition member and director of the public policy group
The coalition, made up of nine independent watchdog groups from across the political spectrum, also awarded a sickly looking houseplant to Rep. Gale Candaras for her especially vigorous opposition to the term limit on the House floor.
During her speech, Candaras, D-Wilbraham, claimed that bond analysts and Wall Street investors would be unhappy if Finneran had to step down as speaker. She also criticized those who would imply that rank-and-file members of the House were blindly doing the speaker’s bidding by abolishing the term limit.
"We are not potted plants," Candaras said.
Barbara Anderson, front-woman for the small-government group
Citizens for Limited Taxation, said the coalition will now periodically give out a potted plant award to lawmakers who go along with efforts to curtail the democratic process.
Lawmakers singled out for criticism shrugged off the "citations" yesterday.
"Barbara Anderson? She used to like me," Parente said. "They should pay attention to my votes on the budget and my thrift over the years, and the work I have done for cities and towns through the committee on local affairs. But I guess that is not important to them."
Members of the reform coalition, which includes the election-reform group Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the American Jewish Congress, banded together just last month to begin a public campaign against anti-Democratic practices in government.
So far the group has had a full plate.
Finneran and his loyal House followers drew heavy fire last week over the term limits issue, and are about to wade into another storm of controversy over their efforts to rewrite the state’s new Clean Elections Law.
House members this week began talking openly of their disdain for the voter-approved law, which would give taxpayer dollars to political candidates who agree to strict limits on spending and campaign contributions.
Proposals to raise those limits, make it tougher to qualify for state campaign aid
-- or even exempt the Legislature entirely -- are now circulating on Beacon Hill.
Members expect to vote in sweeping changes before the law goes into effect this spring. However, they also have the power to delay the law for another year. Lawmakers already made one such delay this summer.
Supporters of the law claim Finneran has vowed stiff retribution against lawmakers who resist the move.
The reform coalition handed out a special "High Street" award yesterday to one lawmaker who claims to be an early victim of the dispute, Rep. Douglas Petersen, D-Marblehead.
Petersen voted with Finneran on the term limits issue, but ran afoul of the Speaker days later when he said he would not go along with planned changes on Clean Elections.
Petersen claimed Finneran’s lieutenants in the House threatened to strip him of legislative clout if he would not endorse plans to gut the law.
After Petersen refused, Finneran removed him from his position as chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources & and cut his salary.
After receiving the award yesterday, Petersen blasted the centralization of power into Finneran’s hands in the House, and called for an end to revenge-oriented attacks on members who simply vote their conscience.
"I’m certainly sorry that it had to reach this point," Petersen said. "I hope the rest of my colleagues never have to suffer what I have suffered."
Finneran has publicly denied he demoted Petersen over a Clean Elections dispute.