Jeff Jacoby column: The low caliber of Massachusetts politicians hasn't changed in since Revolutionary War times
Just to give you a sense of historical perspective on things, we thought we'd include this timely commentary from Jeff Jacoby in (of all places) the Sunday Boston Globe. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
The Bay State's low standards
No wonder so many state senators and representatives have absorbed the lesson that voter anger can be safely ignored, or appeased with a gesture. "If people don't like it," lawmaker Joan Menard suggested smugly some years ago, when the Legislature was taking heat for having voted itself an "emergency" pay raise of 55 percent, "let them be mad at us for now and let it . . . go away."
And go away it does, generally well before Election Day. Why should this time around be any different?
The Globe reported last week that "the political and ethical culture on Beacon Hill has reached its lowest point in decades" and that Massachusetts "residents are in no mood to give much respect to those who work on Beacon Hill." One state representative, Dennis Guyer of Dalton, says he is "in shock" to find drivers on the highway giving him the finger. Far from being shocked, however, other legislators simply shrug off the public's ire. "We're doing the important work that the people send us to Beacon Hill to do," says Representative David Linsky, a Natick Democrat. Adds House Speaker Robert DeLeo: "We can't let one incident wash away all the good that we have done."
For some of us, Mr. Speaker, it's a little tough to focus on "all the good" you and your colleagues have been doing when your predecessor has become the third speaker in a row to face criminal charges. Or when two state senators resign after being indicted - one for taking bribes, the other for assaulting women in public. Or when a series of news reports exposes the scams by which politicians dramatically increase publicly funded pensions for themselves and their friends. Or when your members refuse to abolish a pair of phony "holidays" whose only real purpose is to give government employees two extra paid vacation days.
Does "all the good" Beacon Hill has accomplished include the 25 percent increase in the state sales tax that both legislative chambers have voted for? Does it include the automatic pay raise lawmakers pocketed this year, even as tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents were losing their jobs? Does it include the hike in the gasoline tax that is beginning to seem like a done deal?
Last week, after months of media scrutiny, the Legislature finally voted to eliminate some of the most egregious abuses in the public pension system. For any self-respecting Massachusetts voter, it was far too little, far too late; come Election Day 2010, they have every intention of voting against Beacon Hill's fetid political culture.
But how many such voters are there? Already lawmakers are claiming credit for having taken a "monumentally important step" last week, and having "begun to restore the public's trust . . . in government." Hard to believe that anyone could swallow such self-serving codswallop. Then again, Massachusetts voters have long had pretty low standards. As Elbridge Gerry could have told you.
INTERESTING NOTE: Elbridge Gerry was no political saint himself. Later, as Governor of Massachusetts, his name became immortalized through his efforts to severely re-map the boundaries of Massachusetts legislative districts -- to protect his friends and punish his enemies at election time. The term "gerrymandering" refers to the districts that became so misshapen by Gov. Gerry that they looked like salamanders!