I’d like to point out to the rest of the state how the state’s constitution is being used to promote misinformation against Democrats.
Last week, an article appeared on Masslive.com, allegedly the largest newspaper website in the state, based in Springfield. The headline was this:
It outlined how State Rep. Sarah Peake filed a bill to ban the sale and distribution of helium balloons. (Masslive corrected its blatantly incorrect headline, but not until two days later). No quote from Peake was included – the only quote was a bizarre one from the person who runs Springfield’s Parade of the Big Balloons, saying “a ban would impact the upcoming Parade of the Big Balloons following Thanksgiving, but that the show would go on.”
Of course, the reaction was predictable. Complete outrage over “those DemocRATS”, who were against freedom, trying to pry balloons out of everyone’s hands. The post garnered hundreds of comments, almost unanimously against the ban, but also railing on Democrats.
Turns out though, that Peake filed the bill because she was constitutionally required to do so. Someone read the article and called her office in outrage, and was told by a staffer that she filed it on behalf of a third-grade class. Massachusetts is the only state in the union where citizens are granted the Right to Free Petition, whereby they are allowed to file pieces of legislation for consideration. The article on Masslive did not report that this particular bill was citizen sponsored.
So here we are, a week later, and readers today are greeted with this click-bait headline:
Again, the outrage was predictable. Hundreds of comments decrying the proposed bill, and screaming about Democrats. And again, someone called the state legislator in outrage (“Daniel Hunt, a Democrat representing Suffolk’s 13th district”), and was told that the bill was also filed on behalf of a constituent.
This article is a bit more puzzling though. Again, the journalist did not contact Rep. Hunt for comment, but the article did reference the MassGOP Twitter feed, which mockingly tied this bill to “Democrats”.
Which leads me to wonder: could Massachusetts Republicans be weaponizing this process? At the very least, they seem to be highlighting citizen-sponsored legislation as Democratic in nature (since most districts are represented by Democrats). Might they be phoning in these tips for articles?
If the news media can’t be bothered to understand the Right to Free Petition issue – or more likely, the news media enjoys the clicks tied to the ginned-up controversy – then doesn’t this create a potentially bad situation? Wouldn’t it be possible for a challenger (or their supporter) to file a bill to, say, eliminate the penalty for pedophilia, or some other outrageous thing? The representative would be required to file it, the challenger would then send an “anonymous tip” to the press, they report it, and the incumbent takes a huge hit in credibility.
While I’m not advocating that we change the state constitution, at the very least the head of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, and perhaps someone from Robert DeLeo’s office, should pick up the phone and call the editors of Masslive and other media outlets, and let them know that they are absolutely mischaracterizing what is happening, and are perhaps being played by the Massachusetts GOP.