WGBH’s Rupa Shenoy in “Beacon Hill’s Dysfunction Explained” yesterday made a start at explaining how it came to be that a few people who collectively represent only a sliver of the Commonwealth presume to rule all of us.
Plymouth and Barnstable, Senate President Therese Murray’s district, has a population of 158,894. The Nineteenth Suffolk district, House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s district, has a population of 40,445. Collectively, these two individuals represent about 200,000 people: less then three percent of the Commonwealth’s approximately 6.7 million residents and less than 20 percent, even counting voters and non-voters alike in their districts, of the 1.1 million people who affirmatively marked a ballot for Governor Patrick in 2010.
Peter Ubertaccio, director of the Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton, agrees and says that power has concentrated around the House Speaker and Senate President over the last 30 years. Chairs of legislative committees, meanwhile, have gotten weaker, he said. ”Instead of having multiple centers of power in the legislature, we tend to have now two,” Ubertaccio said.
“I suspect that very frequently from the beginning the fix is in, and that the time that it takes is simply used up with routine attempts to gather information that are never going to yield anything other than the predetermined outcome,” said David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University.
That two individuals who collectively represent less than three percent of the state, and the cabal of committee chairs around them, have this much power makes a mockery of the principle of democratic government. James Madison warned of the problem in Federalist 51:
In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified.
America’s traditional solution to monopolies of legislative power has been to vote in the rival political party. Unfortunately, Republican nationwide and in Massachusetts – foreign policies of the 1980s, social policies of the 1950s, and economic policies of the 1920s – have disqualified themselves from leadership consideration.
The best way to restore democratic government in Massachusetts is to revitalize the Democratic Party through a more cohesive and energized Progressive Caucus: the democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Naturally, the powers that be will try to resist this effort by plucking off progressive legislators with $15,000 bonuses and other treats (“assistant floor leaders, division chairmen, and a handful of committee chairs, vice chairs, and ranking minority members earn $15,000 each”). That is chump change.
Progressives are strong. With unity, discipline, and determination they can revitalize the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, respond to a dissatisfaction with state government so deep hundreds of thousands even voted for Charlie “Big Dig” Baker in 2010 in the belief that he might restore some balance to state government, and recover our democracy.