I first met Colman Herman, the author of this issue’s cover story on the Massachusetts Public Records Law, years ago when I was a Boston Globe reporter. He had asked Attorney General Thomas Reilly to enforce the state’s item pricing law. When Reilly did nothing, Herman sought to enforce the law on his own with a lawsuit in small claims court and, later, class action suits that generated millions of dollars in settlements for charities. (None of the money went to Herman.)
Like many who take on government officials, Herman has tried to use the state’s Public Records Law to even the playing field. Listening to his stories, I was struck by how ineffective the law often was. Eventually, I asked him to write a piece about the law for CommonWealth.
He spent several months sending out public records requests via signature confirmation mail and then waiting to see what came back. The results were disturbing. A number of officials ignored the requests, and very few complied fully with the law. His research also showed how the Legis-lature, the judiciary, and even the governor view themselves as exempt from the Public Records Law.
Something is out of whack here. It’s common sense that a judge’s case notes or communications with clerks should be off limits, but why should a court’s budgetary information be shielded? The same goes for the Legislature and the governor’s office. You should be able to find out how government officials are spending tax dollars no matter what branch of government it is.
Senate minority leader Richard Tisei, in his article on the ballot question that would repeal the state income tax, says he sympathizes with those who want to vote yes but urges them to vote no. He says Question 1 “would go too far and is even beyond what I can reasonably support.”
Tisei instead urges voters to elect more Republicans. He says a two-party system in Massachusetts would add the checks and balances currently lacking on Beacon Hill, where the House of Representatives has 141 Democrats and 19 Republicans and the Senate has 35 Democrats and five Republicans. The Democrat/Republican split in the House is the most lopsided in the nation.
The problem with Tisei’s reasoning is that there aren’t many Republicans to vote for in Massachusetts. In his State of the States column, Robert David Sullivan, CommonWealth’s managing editor, scrutinized election data from every state in the nation and discovered that in the upcoming election cycle Massachusetts has a larger percentage of House seats that are uncontested than any other state in the nation.
According to Sullivan’s research, 83 percent of the House races in Massachusetts are uncontested. Most often it’s a Democrat facing no Republican opposition, but in 11 instances the Republican faces no Democratic challenger. Only 17 percent of the races, for 27 of the 160 seats, feature a Republican running against a Democrat.
Bill Cosby — Bay State resident and proud UMass graduate — has been causing a stir.It started with a speech castigating lower-income blacks for not seizing on the opportunities created by the civil rights movement, and it’s continued as he has barnstormed the country with a powerful message to black audiences: They must take charge of their children, their families, and their communities. Cosby and Harvard professor Alvin Poussaint zero in on these issues and more in their Conversation with executive editor Michael Jonas.
They decry the scandalous dropout rate among black high school students and say many in the black community have forgotten that education is the key to escaping poverty and, often, escaping jail. CommonWealth has provided in-depth coverage of education issues, most recently with our special issue on the subject earlier this year. Cosby and Poussaint offer vivid testimony that education reform and school improvements can only do so much.