Animal House:
Pols boozed, slept through budget spending spree

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.

The Boston Globe
Apr. 20, 2000
On the House floor, silence is not always golden
By Frank Phillips

The state of the state can't be made any more clear than the reports in both Boston dailies this morning [below]. The all-night spending bacchanal celebrated last week by "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" is irrefutable proof that we have a state government run amok, utterly out-of-control, accountable to nobody but the supreme leader of the pols, House Speaker Thomas Finneran.

The abject contempt in which the Bacon Hill Cabal holds their constituents has moved from obscene to outright frightening.

These pols' fearless arrogance toward both us citizens and our government has become so flagrant that Boston's two major daily newspapers have on the same day tripped over what we've known and have been shouting from the rooftops for years.

Remember when those in "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" insisted that they deserved pay raises because they were "full-time professionals" -- that higher salaries were necessary to attract and keep "the best and the brightest"?

Is there anybody left who thinks we got our money's worth?

As with everything else these bandits promise, we taxpayers got mugged again.

Just think, thanks to their constitutionally-protected and guaranteed automatic pay raises, next year we'll be shelling out an additional $3,000 or so a year to each of them for their perfidy. And there's not a darn thing we can do about it any more.

"Professional legislators"?

"The best and the brightest"?

Give me a break.

CFord-Sig2.gif (4854 bytes)

Chip Ford


The Boston Herald
Thursday, April 20, 2000

Animal House:
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 criminal justice."

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 reform.

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 chamber.

"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 on."

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 floor.

"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
Globe Staff

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, nobody hollered.

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 year.

Only one lawmaker, Christopher Hodgkins, a Democratic veteran from Lee and the only outspoken opponent to Finneran, tried to block the leadership's move.

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 majority."

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 report.


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 doesn’t want it to happen. The members are even easier to control than usual, in the middle of the night.

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