Speaker Backs Down;
Plans Search for "Phantom Voters"

This year's budget debate was under the gun, in part because so many lawmakers were trying to finish up to go away for April vacation or this week's holidays.

The (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune
Apr. 21, 2000
Politicians: Animal House did not reign

The "Animal House" all-night debacle on Bacon Hill was brought on because "so many lawmakers were trying to finish up to go away for April vacation..."

Okay, "The Best Legislature Money Can Buy" -- a "full-time" job they assert -- is over-paid and never tires of picking our pockets to further stuff their own. That's one thing; just the usual self-serving greed on Bacon Hill.

But they can't even stick around long enough to do the single most important job we pay them to do -- responsibly oversee a $22 billion state budget?

They not only rush it through in the middle of the night, but corruptly cast votes that belong to those who allegedly represent some of us -- but who are not present? This is nothing less than obscene.

We foot the bill while getting back only what Imperious Maximus -- House Speaker Thomas Finneran -- deigns to return and so commands his Animal House lackeys.

It's intriguing to watch Imperious Maximus work his spin control contortions. He cavalierly denied the 1989 legislative promise that the income tax increase would be only "temporary" was ever made - until we stuck the proof in his face, wouldn't back down, and established the truth. Now he's denied the "Animal House" and the "phantom voting" ... until the Boston Herald's evidence also became irrefutable.

Denials, cover-ups, and going on the offense until you're caught red-handed: That's how it's done in Washington. That's how it's now being done on Bacon Hill too.

Next we'll probably hear from Speaker Finneran that "it all depends on what the definition of 'phantom vote' is."

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Chip Ford

The Boston Herald
Saturday, April 22, 2000

Backing down:
Speaker vows probe of 'phantom' votes cast in House

by Cosmo Macero Jr. and Ellen J. Silberman

A day after angrily insisting his House was in order, Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday backed down and called for a special panel to probe phantom voting and "inappropriate behavior" during a rowdy all-night budget session.

Finneran's abrupt change in stance - he had blasted news reports of an "Animal House" atmosphere on Thursday -- came just hours after the Herald reported that Rep. Kevin J. Murphy (D-Lowell) was on a plane to South Carolina as votes were being cast in his name.

"I am determined ... to improve both the substance and the image of our budget process," Finneran said in a prepared statement. "It is incumbent on me to insure that neither fatigue nor horseplay create an atmosphere of laxity regarding the rules of the House."

In the wake of Herald reports that House members partied, drank and slept their way through the April 13 budget marathon, Finneran also said he will consider banning all-night sessions -- at which critical legislation and costly amendments have been gaveled through with no debate or discussion.

But some critics quickly noted that Finneran himself allowed members to blow past a House-imposed 10 p.m. deadline for debate.

Earlier in the day, Gov. Paul Cellucci had called on the House to launch an internal probe into the phantom voting scandal.

"It's inappropriate for people not to be present ... and having their votes recorded. That's a pretty serious thing," Cellucci said. "I trust that the speaker will investigate this.... The House should be able to internally handle that."

Cellucci added that it "really disturbs" him that House members passed "major policy initiatives like gutting the clean elections law (and) reducing regulations on lobbyists.

"Not only are they not debated, not only did they not have a public hearing, they didn't even take a roll call," the governor said. "The voters don't know where the legislators stand. That's not right."

Murphy told the Herald this week that he was baffled to learn that votes were cast in his name at 7:30 a.m., 9:04 a.m. and 9:42 a.m. Friday -- long after he had departed the State House for a vacation in Hilton Head, S.C.

But Murphy also reportedly cast votes for other House members last week in their absence -- raising further questions about the credibility of House proceedings. He was not available for comment last night.

Sources say dozens of House members were asleep or otherwise occupied late at night on April 13, as court officers and colleagues pressed their voting buttons on several roll calls.

The rampant proxy voting, a clear violation of House rules, came as some members partied and drank in State House offices and enjoyed beer, wine and food samples at a privately sponsored event.

"Certainly we can all be upset about the partying. The question isn't were (House members) partying. The question is why?" said Rep. Christopher Hodgkins (D-Lee), a frequent critic of Finneran. "All the legislators might as well give the speaker their votes by proxy. He calls the shots. He's the one who suspended the (10 p.m.) rules."

Hodgkins blasted Finneran for acting like a "school principal" yesterday, by calling for the internal probe and demanding "a high standard of conduct," after acting like "the fraternity president" on Thursday, when he defended House members' conduct.

Indeed, the tone for the week may have been set on April 10, sources say, when Finneran authorized an early dinner break so that "one member (could meet) an obligation outside the building."

Sources said that obligation was a political fund-raiser for Rep. Thomas J. O'Brien (D-Kingston), which was well attended by House members who consumed free alcohol at the event.

O'Brien was out of town yesterday and could not be reached.

"Are House members going to act responsibly ... are they going to allow this kind of process to continue?" asked Ken White, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts. "Are they going to allow committees to remain so inactive? Are they going to allow leadership to control how they vote?"

While Finneran plans to appoint a special committee to probe House rules violations, Republican critics yesterday said that doesn't go far enough.

"Who knows, maybe a court officer cast a vote on the death penalty which failed by one vote in 1997," said GOP Executive Director John Brockelman. "Speaker Finneran should come clean and identify every phantom vote cast during the budget process last week."

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