Democratic platform demands more legislative transparency
In a sign of one-party dominance on Beacon Hill, it’s not just Republicans complaining about the Democrats who control the state Legislature in Massachusetts – it’s other Democrats.
The Massachusetts Democratic State Committee on Saturday voted to include a line in its platform urging the Democratic-led Legislature to be more transparent.
The platform says, in a section on ethics and transparency, that Democrats will fight for the following principle: “All Committee votes in the Legislature to be made public by providing a list of those legislators voting yes and those legislators voting no.”
The section was included through an amendment sponsored by Ray Gottwald, who leads the Harwich Democratic Town Committee and previously worked in Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office. Gottwald referred questions to Democratic state senator and candidate for auditor Diana DiZoglio.
In an interview, DiZoglio said she has long pushed proposals in the Legislature to open up committee votes and also give lawmakers more time to read bills. She described it as a matter of diversity, equity, and inclusion to have more people know what is going on in the Legislature and be able to participate.
Beacon Hill Democrats have long faced criticism for ignoring the Democratic Party platform, which has become more of an ideological stance voted on by Democratic activists than a practical agenda adopted by Beacon Hill power brokers. “There’s little connection between what the party says it stands for and what actually gets done,” Bob Massie said during his unsuccessful run for party chair last year.
DiZoglio believes legislators should care what the platform says. “We are all part of the Democratic Party here in Massachusetts,” she said.
Former state representative Kathy Teahan, a Whitman Democrat who served the House from 1997 to 2007, is self-publishing a memoir that calls for more legislative transparency. Under former House speakers Tom Finneran and Sal DiMasi, Teahan said, committee votes were based on what leadership wanted, and it was rare to have any real debate or recorded opposition to a committee vote. “It was the way things were done for such a long time,” Teahan said, noting that there was little attention paid to the process of committee votes until it started to bother some progressive activists.
The issue of whether to make all committee votes public was a hot topic during the House rules debate last January, and again when representatives voted on the rules in July, as the progressive group Act on Mass urged House Speaker Ron Mariano to make all committee votes public. Previously, committee votes were generally made public upon request, but not always, and sometimes only members who voted a certain way were named.
The Senate has generally supported making the votes fully public. Under pressure, the House adopted some changes this year. For the first time, an aggregate tally of committee votes is now readily available on the Legislature’s webpage, along with the names of members voting in the negative. But if members abstain from a vote, it is not clear from that information who abstained versus supported a committee recommendation.
Rules governing joint committees remain in a conference committee and still have not been voted on, after a House and Senate disagreement. Those committees are still operating under joint rules, which say records of roll call votes must be publicly available in committee offices but are silent on online access or votes taken not by a roll call.
Incumbent underdog: After taking a drubbing in the preliminary election, Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer is facing an uphill battle in her bid to hold on to her job. She was the first Black woman popularly elected to a mayor’s post in state history, but she was soundly defeated by a more than 2-1 margin in the preliminary by 76-year-old former city councilor Charlie Sisitsky.
— What went wrong for Spicer depends on whom you ask. The problems have either been the result of self-inflicted wounds from a novice politician who resisted calls for greater communication and collaboration with other officials, or the product of the determined efforts of Framingham’s “old guard” to trip up the city’s new leader right out of the gate.
— There may be disagreement on the cause, but there is no denying relations between Spicer and the city council hit a low last year when text messages sent by Spicer surfaced in response to a public records request. In the messages, Spicer referred to some of the city councilors as “assholes” and called them “the most disgusting human beings I’ve ever met.” Read more.
Supervised consumption sites: The concept seems straightforward: Don’t let those with drug problems struggle to survive on the streets; let them take their drugs under medical supervision where they can get help. The concept has had some success abroad, but it’s a political minefield in the US. We look at the flashpoints in the debate, including the different attitudes of political leaders. Gov. Charlie Baker, for example, is opposed, while House Speaker Ron Mariano indicated he is looking to learn more and willing to try just about anything to deal with the opioid crisis. Read more.
Mandate machinations: Officials from the State Police union say dozens of members are resigning rather than deal with Gov. Charlie Baker’s tough vaccine mandate, but the governor doesn’t seem overly concerned. The Republican governor is all-in on the vaccine mandate for state workers. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
The ombudsman just recently hired to oversee COVID mitigation efforts at Massachusetts prisons is fired after he turned out to be the EMT accused in a 2012 lawsuit of falsifying records related to a patient death. (WBUR)
The nonprofit Preservation Worcester released its list of most endangered properties – and said there was good news. (Telegram & Gazette)
Lots of criticism from addiction and public health experts greets Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins’s idea to use an empty building at the South Bay House of Correction facility as a treatment center for those living on the streets around Mass. Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard. (Boston Globe)
Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, in the latest tell-all book from the Trump administration, writes, “Casual dishonesty filtered through the White House as if it were in the air conditioning system. (Washington Post)
Boston Federal Reserve president Eric Rosengren announced he is stepping down nine months before the bank’s mandatory age 65 retirement to focus on a serious kidney condition for which he is now qualified to receive a transplant. Rosengren and his Dallas Fed counterpart, who also announced he’s retiring, were the focus of recent scrutiny over stock trading actions. (Wall Street Journal) Globe columnist Larry Edelman says it’s “a damn shame Rosengren has to leave under a cloud,” calling him a complete “standup guy.”
University of Massachusetts president Marty Meehan decried a threatening email sent recently to a number of Black student groups at the university’s Amherst campus. (Boston Globe)
The Massachusetts school mask mandate is extended another month. (GBH)
A horrible scene of screams and blood unfolded from Sunday’s escalator malfunction at Back Bay Station that sent nine people to the hospital. (Boston Globe)
Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy, says FirstLight Power is offering the state a lousy deal in return for rights to use water from the river for its pumped storage hydro project. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
The country saw a big spike in murders amid the pandemic, but Boston dodged that bullet. (Boston Herald)
The Supreme Judicial Court overturns the 2016 murder conviction of Cara Lee Rintala on the grounds that a witness for the prosecution lacked the expertise to say paint was used in an attempt to cover up the crime. Rintala allegedly beat and strangled her wife in 2010. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Two inmates featured in a Globe Spotlight report on conditions at the Souza-Baranowski state prison have filed a federal lawsuit against more than 30 state and prison officials, alleging they conspired to punish prisoners with violence following an outbreak at the facility. (Boston Globe)A staffer at the Great Barrington-based Brookside School for girls with behavioral and psychiatric issues is accused of rape. (Berkshire Eagle)
The union representing State Police officers says “dozens” of troopers plan to quit over Gov. Charlie Baker’s vaccine mandate, but a spokesman for the department says only one has given definitive notification that he plans to do so. (Boston Globe)