Friday, January 22, 2010

Important effort - lousy timing! Or is it...?

You're a back-benching Democrat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. You do not like the way the House is managed by Speaker Robert DeLeo. You know that in a chamber that is totally and completely controlled by the Speaker and his small leadership coterie, where dissent is stifled and rebellion is virtually unheard of, you run a huge professional risk by sticking your head above the masses and raising a complaint. Still, you are fed up - and you, along with seven of your colleagues, decide to speak up.

And you pick this week. THIS WEEK!!?? When all the world is focused on one and only one political story. When the Governor's lame state of the state address creates barely a ripple in the sea of Scott Brown coverage. You pick this week to raise up your head and voice your complaints. Astounding.

Okay, after that verbose intro, here is what I'm blogging about (since God knows you did not read about it in the paper this morning):

Barely a year after he took office promising a more open, collaborative leadership style (not that the promises were all that credible at the time), Speaker DeLeo finds himself the target of an unthinkable open rebellion by a small group of eight Democratic lawmakers. From the State House News:
Eight disenfranchised House members, feeling the branch has become undemocratic and the committee process “irrelevant,” are asking colleagues to join them in efforts to reel in House Speaker Robert DeLeo, arguing the House Speaker “determines everything.”

Saying bills no longer reach the floor because of their merits as judged by committees and instead are debated only if permitted by DeLeo, the representatives say they’ll push for greater transparency in House operations and procedural changes they say will take away from the “consolidation of power” in DeLeo’s office.

“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,” the representatives wrote in an email circulated Thursday.

The email, entitled “The Larger Problem in the House,” was presented by Reps. Matthew Patrick, Thomas Stanley, Lida Harkins, William Greene Jr., Will Brownsberger, Steven D’Amico, Joseph Driscoll and John Quinn. The rank-and-file Democrats are not part of DeLeo’s leadership team...
The legislators describe a House where the committee process is “irrelevant,” where details of the House’s $47 million budget are kept secret, where members are apprehensive about voting against leadership’s wishes, where floor debate is often “meaningless,” and where lobbyists have “more power because they know that if they get the Speaker behind a bill, it will pass.”

“A Speaker now determines everything in the Massachusetts House,” the representatives wrote. “He determines which bills come to the floor for a debate, and he appoints his paid and unpaid leadership team that constitutes a majority when the Republicans take themselves out of the picture. When in his favor, he may give members good office space, additional staff or, more importantly, allow budget amendments to pass.”
The problems identified by these sudden insurgents are not new. They existed under now-indicted Speaker Sal DiMasi. They existed under each of his also-indicted predecessors. So what has changed? Why are Democrats, albeit just a tiny minority of them, speaking up now?

Hmmmm. Here's a thought. Maybe the timing of this little rebellion isn't so perplexing after all... Maybe the eight signatories to this week's legislative declaration of disenfranchisement just have better political survival instincts than their many still silent colleagues.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones responded to the insurrection with his own email, accurately pointing out that many of the reforms proposed by the tiny band of Democratic rebels have been repeatedly proposed by House Republicans over the years, only to be stifled by uniform Democratic opposition. "These votes would indicate that “THE LARGER PROBLEM IN THE MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE” is the one-party domination in the legislature the cure for which lies at the ballot box," Jones wrote.

Prior to this past Tuesday, legislative Democrats would have haughtily scoffed at Jones's invocation of the 'ballot box solution.'

Post Scott Brown, they aren't scoffing any more.

1 comment:

  1. For all the talk of ethics reform this past spring, the legislation did nothing to change the corrupting culture of Beacon Hill.

    Even Speaker DeLeo's defense speaks to the problem. He says he has met with other representatives individually or in small groups. If he was a City or Town Council President those meetings would be illegal. State government should operate under the same "open government" rules they impose on local and regional governments.

    The only way to fix the problem is to end one party domination in the House and Senate. Electing a GOP Governor is not enough.

    Brad Marston
    Candidate for State Representative
    Eighth Suffolk District


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