The Boston Herald
Thursday, April 20, 2000
Pols boozed, slept through budget spending spree
by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Ellen J. Silberman
House lawmakers partied, drank and slept their way
through an unprecedented spending spree last week, quaffing beer and wine and napping for
long stretches between amendments that added nearly $200 million to the state budget.
"These are not
mature adults here to begin with," said Barbara Anderson of Citizens fo Limited
Taxation, a frequent critic of the Legislature. "These are people living with the
fact that they are useless. Once they make the decision to be nothing but what the speaker
tells them to be, it's not a great leap to drown themselves in drink."
But one House Democrat, appalled by the rapid-fire
passage of costly amendments and major legislation during the April 13 session, said:
'There certainly was no reason for anyone to remain sober, because there was nothing for
us to contribute."
According to sources, state reps and staff members
celebrated in at least three House offices, including the Committee on Criminal Justice
and Committee on Taxation headquarters.
Meanwhile, as dozens of House members were alternately
dozing off and partying outside the chamber, only a skeleton crew kept vigil on the House
floor, as leaders gaveled through dozens of amendments with no debate.
"People (were) sleeping in the chamber, slumped
over in their chairs," said one House Republican.
At the same time, a benefit beer, wine and food
tasting party in the Great Hall at the State House was held over a full hour longer than
planned. About a half-dozen vendors had enough beer and wine samples on hand to serve 200
people each, according to event organizers.
"There was a lot of commotion," said another
House Democrat. "And afterwards, (reps and staff members) went to the office of
The House revelry coincided with an all-night budget
session, in which lawmakers rifled through amendments that added tens of millions to the
bottom line, while also undoing lobbying regulations and torpedoing campaign finance
Some members even joked on the House floor about the
session's "toga" party atmosphere, while House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran later
quipped that the session might be confused with a "keg party."
State Rep. Stephen Tobin (D-Quincy), chair of the
Criminal Justice Committee, denied that his office was host to a major blowout. But he
acknowledged that during the all-night session he spent most of the time in the House
"I wasn't in the office," Tobin said.
Still, several House members said lawmakers spent time
drinking in the offices that Tobin shares with freshman Rep. Anthony Petruccelli (D-East
Boston), sources said.
"I wouldn't call it a party," said
Petrucelli, who admitted to having "a couple" of glasses of wine at the tasting
party and falling asleep for two hours in his office. "People were in other offices
as well, I would imagine. This is my first budget. I saw nothing wrong with what was going
But Petrucelli yesterday found himself fending off
rampant rumors about the night's activities, including one that his leg was shaved as a
prank while he was asleep.
The lawmaker denied that -- or anything else untoward
-- happened. "I'm a responsible drinker," Petruccelli said. "I slept for a
couple of hours, but nothing happened."
Near midnight, the revelry spilled over onto the floor
of the House as Rep. Paul Casey (D-Wincester) offered an unusually impassioned speech
about the state's new toughest-in-the-nation handgun regulations.
"Are we going to settle in the pits and doldrums
of mediocrity, or are we going to take a stand and become No. 1? Let me ask you -- are you
leaders or followers?" an excited Casey asked.
"Leaders," the members answered from the
"Yes! We lead!" Casey shouted as the members
broke into an excited chant of "Toga! Toga! Toga!"
At the rostrum, Assistant Majority Whip Salvatore F.
DiMasi (D-Boston) struggled to resume control.
"Will the House please come to order?" he
shouted banging the gavel.
"No!" the restive members shouted back.
The outburst offered a marked contrast to the docile
mood through most of the 24-hour session. While lawmakers were relaxing in their offices,
attendance on the House floor was sparse, with only about 50 of the 158 current House
members inside the chamber at any one time.
And many of the lawmakers who tried to keep the
all-night vigil failed.
"People (were) sleeping in chamber, slumped over
in their chairs," said one Republican.
The skeleton crew was masked by the fact that the
television cameras are prohibited from panning the near-empty chamber.
Sources said the half-dozen roll calls taken after
midnight, which showed 158 members present and voting, were a fiction.
"Those roll calls, nobody was voting for
themselves," said one Democrat, explaining that court officers and other members were
casting ballots for lawmakers who were sleeping or partying outside the chamber.
Sources said so many legislators were sleeping in the
members' lounge that you could hear the snores as you walked by.
The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 20, 2000
On the House floor, silence is not always golden
By Frank Phillips
When Democratic House leaders tried in the 1980s to
pull off sneaky legislative moves in the wee hours, Republican Royall H. Switzler would
rise to his feet and holler, his voice shaking the chamber.
"Misterrrrr Speakerrrr," Switzler would roar
as he attempted to halt the dealing in smoke-filled backrooms, touching off another
raucous battle on the House floor. He and his colleagues usually lost but at least they
gained some attention.
But last week, when House leaders moved to quietly
eviscerate voter-approved campaign finance reforms and the state's tough lobbying laws,
With the exception of one lone voice, there was a
silence in the chamber -- a silence of the lambs.
The ease with which House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran
and his leadership team use the budget process to try to dismantle the Clean Elections Law
and lobbying regulations is seen as a blow to reforms enacted in recent years to curb
special interest influence and abuses.
But, perhaps more importantly, the tepid and docile
reactions from House rank-and-file members, even those elected as reformers and
independent-leaning Republicans, marks a far more significant trend: namely, a decade-long
decline of serious debate, opposition, and sense of outrage on Beacon Hill.
Even under some of the legendary speakers who ruled
with an iron fist and scoffed at rules reform, various coalitions of GOP members,
including then-representatives Paul Cellucci and Andrew Natsios, and dissident Democrats
loudly exposed some of leadership-driven attempts to skirt the process.
They were most often brushed aside, but they always
were able to kick up a storm and once in while they rallied enough support to break the
leadership's grip. Few were ever marginalized or compromised.
Indeed, what happened Friday morning may reflect a
full retreat from the Watergate-inspired demands by the news media and the public for open
government, public dialogue, and accountability by public officials.
"It's a sad state of events," said Switzler,
whose bellicosity and conservative ideology were as welcomed by many of his colleagues as
a fingernail on a blackboard.
The House moves rewrote the Clean Elections Law, which
voters approved in 1998 and provides public financing for campaigns, to halt its
implementation until further study of its impact is undertaken.
The other measure would allow lawmakers to accept free
meals from special interests without reporting them, as long as their share of the meal
did not exceed $35.
Switzler's contempt for his successors, who sat
quietly as the budget amendments were attached to the spending plan, is clear.
"Nobody up there has a clue," he said.
That was evident Friday morning as the House was
completing its marathon sessions on its proposed $21.9 billion spending plan for next
Only one lawmaker, Christopher Hodgkins, a Democratic
veteran from Lee and the only outspoken opponent to Finneran, tried to block the
Hodgkins, who fought some of the early wars against
his own Democratic leadership in the early 1980s, echoed Switzler's lament.
"We have legislators that have no institutional
memory. They act like a school of fish, like lemmings," Hodgkins said. "They
don't understand the power of one."
The lack of opposition is often attributed to
Finneran's authoritarian style. Indeed, his strong will, sharp intellect, and ideological
zeal brings an unusual force to his leadership and can overwhelm most opponents.
But the decline of opposition has other roots.
The electorate is sedated by good economic times, and
politics and public policy issues are increasingly less important in people's lives.
That has freed legislators from many of the pressures
that haunted their predecessors.
That too has also led to fewer strong and politically
savvy leaders within the rank and file. The prestige of serving as state representative or
even a state senator has sharply declined as old urban neighborhoods and other communities
look less and less to Beacon Hill.
The trend for the past decade is toward accommodation,
an attitude reflected in the current House Republican leadership. Francis L. Marini, the
minority leader from Hanson, resists any suggestion that he should play the opposition
role that Switzler, Cellucci, and Natsios did in the 1970s and 1980s.
"Our job is not be Royall Switzler," Marini
said. "My function is to try to advance those issues that our caucus cares about,
which I do within an institution that is controlled lock, stock and barrel by the
Some Democrats with reputations as advocates for
liberal and good-government causes also see their roles differently.
They offer their reasons for accommodation in
matter-of-fact ways, mostly off the record, fearing their pet local projects would be
killed by House leaders in retaliation.
"I think that any legislator will feel cautious
about speaking up on an issue when they've already obtained something else through the
budget process that they hold near and dear," added Representative Jarrett Barrios, a
freshman Democrat from Cambridge, who said he personally did not feel threatened.
Others felt that battling Finneran was unproductive.
"One of the realities that has certainly set in
my mind is that there is no credible alternative to Tom Finneran as the speaker at the
moment," said Representative Jay Kaufman, a Democrat from Lexington. "That
leaves those of us with an independent bent of mind to try to work with him as best we
can. I'm not drawn to acting out."
That is just the opening for Switzler, whose penchant
for righteous lectures can still try a listener's patience, even 14 years after his
legislative career ended. The former GOP lawmaker had a word of advice.
"The vigilance and the opposition has got to be
constant from people who care more about the integrity of the democratic process than
about their backsides, and their pet projects, and their reelections," Switzler said.
Michael Crowley of the Globe Staff contributed to this
Thursday, April 20, 2000
Who is responsible for irresponsible all-night session
For any local reporters who are hearing that
"their" state representative was not one of the drinking revelers or sleeping
sluggards during the all-night session on April 13th, this is important to recall:
There is a House rule, Rule 1A, created during the
reform years, that the House can not stay in session after 10 PM. It is understood by
everyone that our "representatives" cannot control themselves or make
intelligent decisions when they are tired, so the decision was made many years ago to end
each day's session at bedtime.
The decision to stay in session is a required roll
call vote, and it was taken at 9:58 PM on Thursday the 13th. It is available in the House
Clerk's office, and this is what it shows:
All Republicans except Carol
Cleven (Chelmsford) and Shaun Kelly (Dalton) voted to end the session at
10 PM. All Democrats except Chris Hodgins (Lee), Frank Hynes
(Marshfield), Louis Kafka (Sharon), Kay Khan (Newton) and George Rogers (New Bed ford) voted
to stay in session.
So, 25 Republicans and five Democrats are innocent of
the havoc that followed during the all-night session. Two Republicans and the rest of the
Democrats should be held responsible for their decision to pass a $22 billion budget in a
state of general unconsciousness.
And please do not forget: none of this happens if
Speaker Finneran doesnt want it to happen. The members are even easier to control
than usual, in the middle of the night.
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