Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beacon Hill is worse than broken

I hear candidates for state representative all saying the same thing: “Beacon Hill is broken.”

It’s pretty hard to argue with that, except in this sense. I think it’s worse than broken. I think the democratic process has been jettisoned for a dictatorial form of control.

No, Beacon Hill is not just broken. It has been hijacked by a string of power-hungry individuals who have been marched out of the Statehouse under indictment, or the threat of it. Flaherty, Finneran and DiMasi, the three most recent former speakers of the house, were all indicted on federal charges and two of them (so far) were convicted.

Here are a few observations from “insiders” who agree with the general assessment that the state’s House of Representatives is dysfunctional:

“A representative form of government is supposed to give us all a voice at the table so the interests of our constituents are adequately represented, but when all power is put in the hands of one person, it corrupts that process and opens the door to abuse.”

“A Speaker now determines everything in the Massachusetts House… When in his favor, he may give members good office space, additional staff or, more importantly, allow budget amendments to pass.”

“Bills no longer reach the floor for debate and a vote because the committee believes they have merit. Bills get debated because a Speaker wants them to reach the floor for any number of reasons.”

“It's almost unheard of for a Speaker to lose a vote on the floor of the House. Consequently, it gives lobbyists more power because they know that if they get the Speaker behind a bill, it will pass.”

“At times, members who disagree with a Speaker will cast their vote with him unless their district is directly affected by the legislation. Why risk losing favor with leadership? As a result, there is very little public deliberation of most legislation.”

“A Speaker also controls a $47 million House budget. Members never know how the money is being spent or where it is being spent.”

These quotes come from a letter written by twelve current Democrat state representatives. See the entire letter by clicking here. Their proposals to address the consolidation of power and history of corruption are:

1. Ensure that Home Rule Petitions can be discharged from the Rules Committee in a timely fashion;

2. Make the state budget process in the House more transparent, and make the House operating budget specifics accessible to all members;

3. Provide a leadership election and committee appointment process that distributes more power to the members and less power to the

4. Provide legislators with greater control of the operating budgets for their offices; and

5. Eliminate or narrow legislative exemptions to the open meeting law, public records law, and purchasing standards.
These all seem like good ideas, but they do not address the proverbial elephant in the room.

The real problem is that there is no balance in the legislature. The minority party has become a “super-minority” party, with just 16 of 160 representatives. Just as we’ve seen in Washington where one party rule (either Republican or Democrat) leads to abuse of power and runaway spending, the problem on Beacon Hill is the same, except on steroids.

The only way to restore responsible, transparent government that focuses on serving the people of Massachusetts is to achieve a reasonable balance between the majority and minority parties.

I’m not so Pollyannaish as to think that we’ll have an 80/80 balanced legislature come January, but let’s imagine how such a balance would affect the behavior of the speaker of the house.

Go ahead and imagine that for a minute. I’ll hold on…

Okay, after that mental exercise, I think most of us would agree that the speaker’s abuses of power would quickly cease out of fear of losing his position. Legislators would have to work for the people of Massachusetts rather than to advance their own personal agendas.

Oh, and by the way, those five suggestions from the mutinous dozen Democrat legislators would be easily implemented.

When you make your way to the polls on November 2nd, think about your role in providing a more level playing field on Beacon Hill and how important this shift would be for you and your district.

Copyright 2010 Randy Hunt

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