I haven’t read this MassINC piece yet, so if I hit on similar themes, it’s coincidental.
I remember, a long time ago when Mike Barnicle was a Globe Metro columnist, and he got frustrated with the Legislature. He said something to the effect of, “Don’t try and find a more complicated reason for it. They are stupid.”
In retrospect, that column was a warning. Barnicle no longer had the patience to do the reporting required. That kind of bitter cynicism has to be fought.
But was he right? Are they just dumb? For the moment, I am going to assume that is impossible. Many of them are lawyers, law school is hard, etc.
So let’s assume that they’re smart. Why do they suck? A few thoughts:
1. There are too many of them: 160 reps, 40 senators. The Senate number feels right, but the House number is absurd.
2. Leadership positions are too desirable. There is money tied to committee chairmanships and vice chairmanships. This means members compete for such jobs, making them more dependent on currying favor with the Speaker, who completely controls committee assignments.
3. There is NO accountability. I honestly can’t tell you if my state rep writes any legislation other than home rule petitions. How would I know? There is no coverage of the legislative calendar.
4. Historically, they dislike each other intensely. The US Senate is known for its collegial atmosphere, but the Massachusetts General Court is not. I can’t speak for right now, but whenever I have been near the Legislature, I’m always struck by the dearth of personal relationships. There are some allies, but few friends. It has the snake pit feel of a company with bad morale.
5. Thus — points 3 and 4 combined — they only do what they need to do. They pass the budget, protect a few programs their constituents like, and try to stay out of trouble. A freshman rep with ideas but no power would be ignored completely. (If one of those reps wants to tell me I’m wrong, I’m all ears.)
So there you are, (part of) the problem. I won’t pretend to have the solution, but let’s think about it.