In conversations with progressive activists and legislators since the revenue debacle (the tax package had dramatically less revenue than we need, and was not progressive), it has become clear to us at Progressive Massachusetts that at least five things need to happen moving forward to bring about substantial progressive change here in Massachusetts. We must:
- Elect more progressives to the legislature
- Activate more consistent, timely and effective lobbying by a larger number of citizen activists
- Build a more cohesive and disciplined progressive caucus in both the House and the Senate
- Change the rules of the Legislature – resulting in less power concentrated with leadership
- Elect progressive leadership in both Houses (including the next Speaker and Senate President)
Over the next few months I hope to generate meaningful conversation on each of these challenges on this blog but I actually want to start with the last item – the one that possibly seems the least in our control, the most arcane inside the building kind of process issue – because it actually makes the biggest difference with our current structure and contributed most directly to the failure of the revenue issue.
And it’s timely. Sometime between now and January 2015, we will have a new Senate President. Some of the candidates being mentioned to replace Therese Murray – Stephen Brewer, Richard Moore, Stan Rosenberg, Tom McGee – have very different voting records both last term and this. And the most progressive leaders – Sonia Chang-Diaz, Jamie Eldridge, Pat Jehlen – aren’t even being mentioned.
It would be great to get at least one really progressive candidate in play but may be more realistic to work on progressives to vote as a block for the best candidate available – and that candidate is not likely to be Stephen Brewer or Richard Moore. Alternatively, progressives could stick together and demand very concrete concessions – particularly around rules reform – from the available candidates. This was the opportunity the House had – and didn’t take – when it came time to replace Sal DiMasi. You guys know how this works – it’s like what you see on every cop show when there are two suspects. You put them in separate rooms and offer the “deal” to the one who gives you what you want.
One of the reasons Senator Brewer may have a powerful influence over even some progressive legislators is because he has been and continues to be Ways and Means Chair. This means Senators could have a concern about future funding for their districts – or owe favors for past funding. But that’s not what it means to be progressive. Sure, we love when our Senator gets a park protected or some affordable housing built or our favorite community center funded or some great individual program gets some extra money. But we need social, economic and environmental justice for every part of the Commonwealth. We need progressive policy like new revenue that allows all our communities and residents to thrive.
As an example of that, look at the recent Senate budget deliberations. When the Senate budget debate began, it included $36.8 billion in spending. Two days later, that was increased by only $47 million – clearly not making much of an impact on the priorities that we care about, and yet some legislators trumpet these increases as if they will have a dramatic impact on their constituents.
What can you do? Call your Senator. Have a candid conversation about who they are supporting for Senate President. Get them to vote for a true progressive candidate. Get them to vote for someone who will commit, in advance, to major rules reform, new revenue and progressive policies like earned sick time and a raise in the minimum wage.