One sad Story
Amherst lawmaker does bidding of speaker, not her constituents
To understand the withered state of democracy in the Massachusetts House of Representatives look no further than the eye-popping comments this week of state Rep. Ellen Story.
In years past, the liberal Amherst lawmaker was part of the small band of Democratic reformers willing to stand up to House leaders and battle efforts that further concentrate power in the speaker’s office and reduce rank-and-file members to mere bystanders in the business of the Legislature. But as the House prepared to debate whether to introduce slot machines and casinos in Massachusetts, one of the most consequential votes many lawmakers will ever cast, Story made the remarkable admission that she had been bought and paid for.
Recounting to reporters a phone conversation with Speaker Robert DeLeo, who called to ask how she planned to vote on his prized bill, Story said she told the speaker she’d vote however he wanted her to. “I’ve always been opposed [to casinos and slots], but if you need my vote, I’m there,” Story said she told DeLeo, according to the State House News Service. DeLeo has made the introduction of slot machines and casinos the signature effort of his tenure at the helm of the House.
Story went on to suggest that there could be consequences for those voting against the speaker’s bill, especially those in his “inner circle,” a group in which she includes herself as a member of by virtue of her position as one of DeLeo’s four “floor division leaders.” These are make-work positions created in 1997 by then-Speaker Tom Finneran in a move widely seen as a further effort to consolidate power by creating more positions controlled by the speaker that carry added salary stipends.
If the bill was destined to pass anyway, why not vote your conscience? Of course, some might have the nerve to argue that, when it comes to big issues that will affect life in the Commonwealth for decades to come, lawmakers should vote their conscience no matter how the vote totals are shaping up.Back in 2001, Story was one of only 15 brave Democrats to vote in favor of retaining an eight-year term limit for the House Speaker, the one check that had been in place against untrammeled rule by the speaker. During that showdown, her House colleague Ruth Balser scoffed at the idea that members must fall in line behind the speaker or pay a steep price. “People tell me I’m naïve, but where’s the evidence that you have to roll over?” Balser told the Boston Globe. More importantly, she added, “And if you roll over, what’s the point of being here?”
Some of Story’s constituents must be eager to ask her that very question.