The Harshbarger Administration Well Never Know

“We’ll see if he’s going loony left.”
– House Speaker Thomas Finneran, Sept. 16, 1998, when asked if he would be endorsing Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, the Democratic candidate for governor.

Nov. 3, 1998: Scott Harshbarger is elected governor. Places congratulatory call to newly elected governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, the Reform Party candidate and former wrestler. Harshbarger asks for Ventura’s help in signing up Hell’s Angels bodyguards. “We’re gonna take out the fat boys, man, and it may get ugly,” Harshbarger explains.

December 1998: Governor-elect Harshbarger assembles transition team. Top mandate: Find the Paul Cellucci Debt Tax and figure out how to repeal it. Subcommittee on the Prevention of Christmas Decorations in State Office Buildings to be chairpersoned by Salem’s Amanda Hirsute, prominent Wiccan. “We’ll be looking for Solstice decorations that bring us together without offending non-Christian sensibilities,” says Hirsute. Harshbarger forbids transition staff from using conference rooms at Harvard’s Kennedy School, due to recent appointments of prominent Republicans. “That place has become a right-wing bastion,” Harshbarger contends.

Jan. 7, 1999: Inauguration. Gov. Harshbarger devotes bulk of speech to new ideas for the humane treatment of convicts. “Take it from a career crime-fighter,” Harshbarger says, “the prison system is a failure.” Proposes massive rehabilitation program using techniques of Shiatsu massage and “healing the inner child.” He adds, “My team of taxation experts continues to search for ways of repealing the Paul Cellucci Debt Tax.” A “People’s Inaugural Ball” features performances by Phish and Rage Against the Machine. Harshbarger dances the Funky Chicken.

Jan. 16, 1999: Harshbarger makes public apology for “insensitive and ill-considered” dancing at Inaugural. “No offense was intended to the sensibilities of poultry-loving Americans,” he claims.

April 15, 1999: Gov. Harshbarger announces dramatic new measures “to redistribute the wealth of this prosperous, but grossly unfair, Commonwealth.” Among the proposals: A statutory limit pegging all Massachusetts CEO salaries to the state’s median family income (currently $49,923). Longtime progressive activist Jim Braude expresses reservations: “Sure I’m for soaking the rich. But can we raise sufficient tax revenue if we limit the incomes of the wealthiest? This may not be a sufficiently well-thought-out plan.”

April 16, 1999: Gov. Harshbarger denounces “lily-livered liberals” who fail to support his wealth redistribution program.

April 30, 1999: Jim Braude teams with business-backed Committee For a Responsible Tax System and leads protest at State House against Harshbarger’s redistributionist economics. Bumper stickers read: “Stop Harshbarger now! He goes too far!”

May 1, 1999: Harshbarger, at a May Day rally, announces next phase of ed reform will be to push a radical home-schooling solution. “The public schools exist to indoctrinate future workers into accepting capitalist rule. Let’s get students out of the public schools,” he declares. Also reveals plan to use state’s $250 million yearly windfall in tobacco money to create an “integrated smoking cessation” program – beginning in the womb. State will provide tape recordings for expectant mothers that say “Joe Camel is the devil” in an endless loop. Harshbarger says, “It’s never too early to protect our children from Big Tobacco – I don’t care what it costs!”

May 31, 1999: Governor files a Fairness in Banking bill, requiring banks to pay customers who use their ATM machines a one-dollar fee for each transaction. June 1999: House Speaker Tom Finneran hospitalized after veins in neck burst in attack of apoplexy.

August 1999: Governor skips summer vacation to supervise staff project to rewrite the state constitution and Mass. General Laws in gender-neutral language. While Speaker Finneran is recovering on the Cape, governor secures passage of sweeping environmental bill instituting Swedish land-use policies and, in what newspaper columnists interpret as a swipe at Finneran, making the Great Northern Loon the official state bird.

September 1999: Gov. Harshbarger’s legislative program runs into trouble in the State House. Left wing of House Democratic caucus urges Harshbarger to return to the “rational middle-left” or risk losing the support of their nine-member voting bloc.

Meet the Author

Dave Denison

Founding Editor, CommonWealth magazine
December 1999: Gov. Harshbarger circulates copies of Y2K: It’s Already Too Late! to state information managers. In televised speech, he argues the Y2K bug presents a “potentially liberating” opportunity. “For too long, this state’s workers have been chained to depersonalizing and alienating machines. Smash your computers!” he pleads.

January 2000: Gov. Harshbarger’s State of the State speech describes a successful first year in office: “We have put Massachusetts back on the road to egalitarianism. We have redistributed the wealth and put greedy corporate executives in their place. Former prisoners are productive and free citizens again. We continue to search for ways of ending the Paul Cellucci Debt Tax. Yet there is much more work to be done…”