Galvin looks to grab the reformer label

With call to expand public records law, he claims to be change agent

A DINOSAUR THROWBACK from an earlier era, or reformer willing to challenge the status quo? Bill Galvin has always defied simple pigeonholing, and that trait is on full display as he ramps up his effort to win an eighth term as secretary of state. 

Galvin has long shown a willingness to go after powerful entities, using the bully pulpit of his office at times to position himself as a populist crusader on everything from health care to mortgage fees. He entered politics as a state rep from Brighton when Gerald Ford was president and captain ​​Carl Yastrzemski was leading the Red Sox to the World Series. Almost 50 years later, Galvin still plays politics like an old-school insider, but he also often manages to stay one step ahead of the pack in reading the tea lives of the moment. 

Witness his most recent splash – filing legislation to extend the state’s notoriously opaque public records law to include the governor’s office. 

“We need to start addressing the egregious situation we have,” Galvin told the Globe. ”This is the most powerful office in Massachusetts doing public business and dealing with public policy. The idea that the most powerful position in the state and its records are not subject to public scrutiny is absurd.”

Galvin’s office oversees the public records law, which transparency advocates have long decried because it, according to court rulings, exempts the governor’s office – the only state to do so – as well as the Legislature and the judiciary.

A Globe editorial praised his legislation – even while suggesting Galvin may have seen political advantage in making his “good government pitch” in the face of a Democratic primary challenge from Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston NAACP branch. 

But Galvin doesn’t appear to be just running to catch up with an insurgent reform-oriented challenger – he seems to have outpaced her on the issue.

Asked last month when she launched her campaign whether the public records law should be extended to cover the governor’s office and the Legislature, Sullivan held back on committing to such change. “I believe it’s a conversation we need to have,” she said. 

Reacting to Galvin’s bill, however, Sullivan now suggests it’s too little, too late. 

“Activists and advocates have been pushing for greater transparency for years, and while I appreciate that Secretary Galvin has put something forward now, in a contested election year, I can understand the frustrations of those who have worked on these issues for decades and are asking what took so long,” she said in a statement. Sullivan said she supports the intent of Galvin’s bill but favors “a more comprehensive approach” that would “ensure greater transparency not only in the executive branch, but in the legislative and judiciary branches as well.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Efforts to extend the reach of the law have consistently died in the Legislature. The Globe editorial suggests a less comprehensive approach might actually fare better – that a bill just covering the governor’s office might get a better reception from lawmakers than one that also includes their offices. A Berkshire Eagle editorial makes much the same point, and suggests the timing for Galvin’s bill is good because Democratic and Republican candidates for governor both support it.

Even with its more limited scope, the legislation probably faces an uphill climb. But it makes for good headlines – and fodder for debate in the looming primary showdown between Galvin and Sullivan.