CLT Update
Friday, January 26, 2001

Reactions to Speaker-for-Life coronation

The Boston Globe
Friday, January 26, 2001

Finneran still stoking his passion for battle
By Tina Cassidy
Globe Staff

One day after loyal House members voted to remove his eight-year term limit, thereby raising the prospect of continuing his iron-fisted control well into the new millennium, a buoyant Speaker Thomas M. Finneran compared his own strong will to Winston Churchill's.

The possibility of an economic downturn, he said, gets his blood racing.

"This separates the adults from the juveniles now," Finneran said, bouncing in his leather chair during an interview in his State House office. "They said Churchill was like that. Peace? Yeah, OK, great. That's what we're here for. But it isn't the type of stimulation that got him going."

And it's not what excites Finneran, either, he explained.

Battles -- like the one that catapulted him from Ways and Means chairman to speaker in 1996, and Wednesday's fight that eliminated his term limit -- are another story.

Asked if he could say when he might step down, Finneran simply said, "I can't.

"Here's why. When I first came up here, I really thought that I'd probably serve two or three terms and move on and develop a law practice or teach. The challenge of this job, the stimulation of this job, is something that really surpasses anything I've done in the private sector."

Finneran said he loves being at the center of the action.

"It's like a high-wire act that has meaning beyond your own slip and fall," he said. "And when you fall in love with the challenge of it, it's hard to say when that enthusiasm might wane."

Term-limit supporters aren't impressed, however. They say Finneran's love of power is exactly the malady that the limits were supposed to cure.

"It seems to me that if term limits were good enough for George Washington ... then certainly it should be good enough for Tom Finneran," said Barbara Anderson, a longtime proponent of term limits. "Letting people with that kind of power stay in power is an assault on representative democracy."

Finneran, who recused himself from the term-limit debate because he said he did not want to appear intimidating to the members, said dissatisfaction with term limits started simmering last year, when House members realized that Finneran could be forced to give up the speakership before completing four two-year terms. He had taken over in the middle of a term, in April 1996.

Finneran succeeded Charles F. Flaherty Jr., who was forced to resign after pleading guilty to income tax evasion. Members last year altered the rule to allow a speaker to stay to the end of an election cycle. But that limited extension was apparently not enough, and members voted 111 to 39 to remove term limits altogether Wednesday.

"It doesn't make sense to prevent, to constrain ourselves from selecting one of our own," Finneran said. "Speakers come and speakers go and if any speaker wears out his welcome, phhhhttt, toss him."

Limits were first imposed on the speakership in 1985, after George Keverian succeeded in ending Thomas McGee's 10-year rule. Keverian ran for speaker on a platform of rules reform because many members thought McGee had stayed too long and had amassed too much power....

The MetroWest Daily News
Thursday, January 25, 2001

Finneran's one-man rule

In the face of growing criticism of his heavy-handed control of the legislative process, House Speaker Tom Finneran this week moved to tighten even further his hold on the reins of power -- and a sheepish majority of House members consented.

The Massachusetts Legislature has for years been caught in a vicious spiral of decreasing democracy. Under Finneran's watch, power has gradually flowed from previously powerful committee chairmen to the Speaker. Legislation crafted in committee is diverted to panels -- chiefly Ways & Means, but also Rules, Third Reading and Steering & Policy -- that keep any bills that don't have Finneran's blessing from reaching the floor.

Under Finneran's reign, the only way to be sure a bill gets to the floor for a vote is to tie it to the budget. Hence, the abuse of "outside sections" on the budget to enact legislation that has nothing to do state spending. More than 1,000 outside sections were grafted to the last two budgets and signed into law, often with no hearings, no debate, and no roll call vote.

Through such tactics, along with "informal sessions," when controversial bills aren't supposed to be considered but often are, and procedures that leave House members, the press and the public unaware of what's being voted on, Finneran has created a House in which the only vote that counts is his.

These undemocratic practices stifle legislative activity -- out of more than 5,000 bills filed last year, fewer than 200 were enacted into law -- and turn elected representatives into bit players. Their increasing irrelevance may have something to do with the lack of interest in running for the Legislature. Competition in last year's legislative races fell to an all-time low.

A coalition of organizations that rarely agree -- including Common Cause, Citizens for Limited Taxation, MassPIRG and the League of Women Voters -- has come together to declare that everyone is hurt when legislative rules stifle public debate and emasculate elected representatives. The coalition of public interest lobbying groups is pushing for reforms to make the legislative process more transparent, accountable and credible. We applaud their efforts.

But Finneran greeted their call with his own "reforms" which do little to improve the legislative process. Late-night sessions like last year's " Animal House" fiasco will be harder to pull off, budget amendments will be taken up in order and a committee will study bringing the House's information technology up to speed, an area the Senate moved far more productively on in adopting its rules last week.

Finneran added insult to undemocratic injury yesterday by having the House eliminate the term limits that would have forced him from the speaker's chair in December 2004. We don't generally endorse term limits when they restrict the voters' ability to vote for the candidate of their choice. But limits on the terms of committee chairs and legislative officers are a useful hedge against the self-reinforcing concentration of power.

Few politicians have been as effective as Finneran at concentrating his power. He has used the carrot of leadership posts -- and the hefty raises that come with them -- and a big stick: Those who don't pass his loyalty tests are rewarded with dingy offices, trivial committee assignments and the knowledge that their most important legislative initiatives will never make it to the floor for a vote.

This year, Finneran held off naming members of his leadership team until after yesterday's loyalty test. Speaker Finneran's carrot and stick did the trick, again demonstrating that without serious legislative reform, only term limits can save the Massachusetts House of Representatives from one-man rule.

The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Thursday, January 25, 2001

Speaker for life?

Defying reformers' suggestions for making the conduct of legislative business more open and less concentrated in the leadership, Speaker Thomas M. Finneran yesterday offered a rules package that instead would make the process far less transparent and further centralize power.

A complaisant House, with visions of lucrative committee chairmanships dancing in their heads, did Mr. Finneran one better last night -- altering rules in order to allow him to become "speaker for life."

Yesterday's rules changes further concentrate power in a few leadership positions and exacerbate the disenfranchisement of rank-and-file members and, more important, their constituents.

The House action was an in-your-face repudiation of calls for reform, including Gov. Paul Cellucci's call for strict limits on state budget "outside sections" -- add-ons typically railroaded through with minimal study or debate.

It also was a slap in the face to the Coalition for Legislative Reform, led by Common Cause of Massachusetts, which proposed a variety of reforms: rigorous enforcement of the House's own rules, more rational scheduling of budget deliberations and outside monitoring of the process, among others.

Such suggestions were largely ignored. House members even rubber-stamped a regressive change that allows House members to cast votes for absent colleagues -- encouraging absenteeism while undermining legislative accountability.

Responding to critics, Mr. Finneran said his rules package would not change House operations that much.

Indeed, it probably will maintain the status quo, more or less. However, that is an indictment of what the House has done, not a defense.

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to:

Return to CLT Updates page

Return to CLT home page