[I don’t have time to follow up right now but rely on commenters to flesh this out – post a link to the decision, etc. Or I will do so later tonight.. Now back to work on an appeal on briefing run and a couple of emergencies.
Front Page Posts
Taking Beacon Hill by surprise, House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives last Wednesday, to take a position at the corporate lobbying firm ML Strategies in September.
Dempsey, a conservative Democrat who has overseen the drafting of several austerity budgets, was widely viewed as next in line for Speaker of the House. He also played a leading role last session in weakening the solar incentive bill and the omnibus energy bill, and sided with the big business group AIM on the Equal Pay bill, Noncompetes, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
One of ML Strategies’ clients is Wynn Casinos–perhaps a reason for a last minute addition to the FY18 budget allowing casinos to serve drinks until 4 a.m. Needless to say, Progressives in Massachusetts will not be missing him.
A New Way on Ways & Means?
Ways & Means is by far the most powerful committee. Any legislation that involves public money must go through both the W&M in both the House and Senate. In that space, W&M can—and sometimes does—change legislation, with zero transparency or democracy. Any policies that require funding can be rendered ineffective by W&M’s level of funding for it, too.
These Ways and Means Committees are not required under the Legislature’s rules to report out any bill that is referred there. Therefore the Committees are frequently graveyards.
And, yeah, Ways and Means Committees write the budget. As they say, whoever holds the purse strings holds the power.
Over the weekend, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez (D-Mission Hill) was named the next chair of the committee. Sanchez represents one of the most progressive districts in the state. What does this mean for the committee?
In our scorecards for the last two legislative sessions (188th, 189th), Sanchez fared modestly better than Dempsey and Speaker DeLeo. Each case, the difference was a result of Sanchez standing up for the rights of undocumented residents. And unlike Dempsey, Sanchez is a co-sponsor of the Safe Communities Act.
However, beyond those votes, Sanchez has a history of voting in lockstep with the Speaker, right or wrong. And his name is missing on the list of co-sponsors of key bills this session–from the $15 minimum wage to paid family and medical leave to single payer health care to ending mandatory minimum sentences. And under his chairmanship of the Health Care Financing Committee, the House has not taken the necessary steps to improve the quality and reduce the cost of care. Last session, Sanchez as the House chair sent single-payer legislation to study.
How will Sanchez be as the new chairman of this most powerful committee? Will there be a new spirit of transparency, collaboration in this new tenure? We’ll find out.
With his ascension to this powerful position, the role of progressive organizers within his district–like the great activists at JP Progressives–becomes even more important to the state as a whole.
Stepping Stones and Musical Chairs
As noted above, the Ways & Means Chairmanship is often seen as a stepping stone to the Speaker’s office. Although the House has abolished term limits for the Speaker, DeLeo may ultimately choose to retire. And it’s important to make sure that the next Speaker has a progressive vision for the state.
A strong coalition can be built, as noted by Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan):
Now is the time for the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, the Women’s Caucus to be strong and united in our selection of the next speaker of the House. We should not do this individually; we should do this together so our voices are heard.
We couldn’t agree more. If the Progressive Caucus is to exist in more than name, then it should take on a more assertive role in shaping the direction of the State House.
Apparently, Speaker DeLeo doesn’t agree. In the committee shakeup that followed Sanchez’s promotion, DeLeo stripped Holmes of his vice chairmanship of the Joint Committee of Housing. Two years ago, DeLeo stripped Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) of a vice chairmanship after Hecht spoke out against abolishing term limits.
The centralization of power in the Speaker’s office has been a hurdle to the progressive legislation that would make Massachusetts live up to its liberal reputation.
If DeLeo stays at the helm for another four to five years, progressive legislators need a plan to push the Speaker for a bolder legislative agenda to invest in our schools and infrastructure, reduce inequality, reform our broken criminal justice system, model a transition to clean energy, protect and expand the rights of marginalized populations, and on and on. And if they don’t have a plan, then activists need to make them.
Four to five years is a long time. For persons suffering under injustice and insecurity, two is a long time, too.
But progressives, both inside and outside the State House, need to think long-term as well. The caucuses described by Rep. Holmes could place their support for the Next Speaker behind one person, and dramatically alter the future of progressive legislation. While the very rapid ascension of Sanchez to W/M chair puts him on an important stepping stone towards speakership, it is not by any means a fait accompli, and certainly the rank and file have the option of exercising their power for larger progressive goals.
This would take discipline, focus, and an ability to put the Common Good ahead of individual legislators’ narrow self interests—which too often are reduced to fears of conservatives’ wrath, and almost never liberals’ disappointments. It would be a glorious thing to see; there are moments of stepping up and changing the narrative—this is one of those for House Progressives (and every caucus whose aims have been stepped over for austerity budgets and corporate comforts).
At the very least, or, less inspiringly, come up with a key set of issue priorities, expectations, and rules reforms that the leading contenders for the next Speaker of the House would commit to.
Given that the House has already sought to water down or stop even very modest progressive policies in recent years, the stakes could not be higher.
It’s not about the money,” Rosenberg said.
-Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst)
There’s someone who doesn’t love a high speed train.
Or more precisely, the idea of a high speed train.
As Masslive reports, this is the third time in three years that Senator Eric Lesser’s proposal for a study (a study, mind you, not a plan) has been spiked.
Not for lack of support.
The study proposal has garnered support across the state, at different levels of government, and between parties. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Reps Seth Moulton, Richard Neal, and Jim McGovern have all endorsed Lesser’s proposal. So have the entire state senate (38-0) and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
But the study was killed in the committee that reconciled the house and senate versions of the state budget.
Last year, it was Governor Charlie Baker, lobbied by Peter Pan bus magnate Peter “Pickles” Picknelly, who killed it. As Masslive notes, “Tensions with public rail are not new for Peter Pan. His father, Peter L. Picknelly, criticized Congress for “wasting money” to subsidize Amtrak rail service in 1972.” Buses, particularly those emblazoned with the boy who never grew up, provide the only mass transit from Western Massachusetts to Boston.
Picknelly claims he didn’t lobby against the proposal this year, though he admits to speaking with Sen. Donald Humason (R-Westfield) about it. Humason, however, voted to fund the proposal and joined Lesser on a “whistle stop tour,” taking a commuter rail from Boston to Framingham and then driving the rest of the way to Springfield’s Union Station, with stops along the way in Worcester and Palmer, to highlight the need for high speed rail. Reading Pickles’ lobbying denials, however, sound a bit like Donald Trump’s claims that he has no business with Russia.
The proposal was killed in the secretive conference committee negotiating the house and senate versions of the bill. This much we know. The questions of who killed it and why remain.
Conference committee members aren’t talking, but Senate President Stan Rosenberg says the killing of the feasibility study was not because of a funding issue, noting the study would have been a small part of the $40.2 billion budget. “We have to get to the bottom of why we’re having problems getting this study done,” he said.
Picknelly’s denials to the contrary, smart money is betting he’s the provided the motivation for killing the study. But someone in the house was carrying water for him.
Does anyone know if ML Strategies consults for Peter Pan Bus Lines?
If John McCain were able to show up and vote today, he’d be voting for a policy that would kill 26,000 Americans every year:
Whatever his past heroism may have been, he is bad for America now. When you express sympathy for him, you insult his victims. It’s common for politicians engaging in this ritual to claim it’s about putting the person over ideology. But if that were true, they’d have no time to engage in politics because they’d be posting individual sympathy messages for all of the 2.6 million Americans who die every year (or at least the thousands of mostly forgotten war heroes, if that’s what makes McCain special). But they don’t. They accord McCain special respect because he’s a US Senator. Not because he’s a dying person. Not because he’s a dying war hero. Because he’s a dying US Senator. Since that’s what sets him apart from the thousands of other war heroes who die anonymously every year, it’s his Senate record that he should be judged by before we decide whether to praise him.
“Placing the person over politics” is an ideology, even if you have absorbed it so fully you can’t see it. It’s the ideology of bipartisanship uber alles. The ideology that playing nice with your fellow politicians is more important than the welfare of the American people.
Credit where credit is due. Yes, McCain is a brave man, and yes, I’m sure he means well with most of his votes. It’s just that his moral universe is too constricted, and he’s only able to consider the needs of people a lot like himself. But you know what other brave Americans meant well while advocating a murderous cause?
Confederate soldiers. So when I see a politician praise McCain in the coming days, I will view it the way I would view a display of the Confederate flag. Perhaps appropriate in a history museum or if you’re a relative or close friend of Senator McCain, but in any other circumstance it’s a slap in the face to millions of Americans, no matter what his intentions may have been.
Mitch McConnell wants to embarrass the moderate women senators who refuse to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan? Okay Mitch. Keep torturing these thoughtful leaders.
The Democratic Party will welcome them with open arms.
Just read in the newspapers that the H2B Visa situation needs tweaking in order to provide labor for businesses on the Cape & Islands because the wealthy class wants cheaper labor and since the “free market” will not meet their needs, they want “the government” to intervene.
Excuse me but…..WHY?
Massachusetts citizens can drop a few hundred grand – or millions – on a vacation home, but can’t afford to pay the citizens of Massachusetts a wage that is bargained for in fairness between working class citizens and the elite of The Commonwealth? Senator John Kerry (D) is selling his old digs on Nantucket for $25 MILLION and buying a place on the Vineyard….but our working class citizens must compete with “shipped in” labor to serve him and his ilk?
Why can’t the wealthy and well-to-do simply PAY a fairly and freely negotiated wage with the labor class of the commonwealth so that our wide and widening wealth disparity can be addressed honestly and in fairly?
And Justice for All?