Guest columnist Michael Seward: Area legislators let us down on transparency

Thursday, July 22, 2021

What are the region’s representatives doing on Beacon Hill? If we are to look at their votes in the most recent Massachusetts House of Representatives rules bill, Reps. Natalie Blais, Dan Carey, Mindy Domb, Lindsay Sabadosa and Susannah Whipps don’t think we should know.

All five representatives — four Democrats, one unenrolled — voted down measures to increase committee vote transparency, while none of them mentioned anything about their votes on their respective Facebook pages; all five voted against term limits for the Massachusetts Speaker of the House, a position where three of the previous four speakers were convicted of felonies; and all five voted against requiring 48 hours to review bills before voting on them.

How our elected officials vote on proposed legislation in a committee is our right as voters, but these legislators who represent our region indicated they think Massachusetts lawmakers are above such scrutiny. The Boston Globe has noted where the commonwealth stands with regard to transparency in numerous articles. “Massachusetts is the only state where the judicial branch, Legislature, and governor’s office all claim exemptions from public record’s laws,” The Globe reported in an article about how lawmakers were debating transparency rules out of public view. Really.

The reported justifications behind keeping voters in the dark are that it creates too much work, constituents don’t understand the legislative process, and it would intimidate those who would give testimony in support or against certain bills. None of these are acceptable justifications for keeping voters in the dark about what their elected officials are doing or not doing.

In their infinite wisdom, all five representatives voted down term limits for speaker of the House. Three of the past four speakers have been convicted of federal charges. Charles Flaherty (1991-1996) plead guilty to tax evasion, Thomas Finneran (1996-2004) avoided jail time by pleading guilty to obstruction of justice after he lied to prosecutors in a legislative redistricting case, and Salvatore DiMasi (2004—2009) did time in prison for his abuse of power, and he still thinks he should a lobbyist.

History has demonstrated that lawmakers often don’t choose wisely when deciding who shall be speaker. Reasonable people can disagree with term limits, but let it be known that those who represent the region on Beacon Hill don’t support them for such a powerful job with such a history of abuse of power. But let’s not pretend rejecting transparency measures for themselves isn’t an abuse of power by area representatives, because it is.

And if we want legislators from our region to take their time considering legislation, 48 hours is too long for our region’s lawmakers. They don’t think it is prudent to take the time to comb over legislation they are asked to support or reject. Rushing things always leads to mistakes. Rushing legislation leads to catastrophic consequences for those they represent. And these lawmakers represent us. So much for a deliberative body, just give them a rubber stamp.

The House rules bill passed without the above stated amendments with 129 lawmakers voting in favor, 29 against. The vast majority of Democrats did as they were told by the Massachusetts Democratic Party machine that told them what to do for their party, not for those they serve. But that is nothing new. We should all demand better.

Michael Seward lives in Shelburne.