Another try at clipping the wings of Bay State Legislature's leadership
Democracy in the Massachusetts Legislature is almost as thin as within the army of a banana republic. Those who fail to show unswerving allegience to the top brass - or leadership as it is officially known - don't get very far and frequently pay dearly for their attempted independence.Skip to next paragraph
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Punishment for those ignoring the marching orders of the Senate president and House speaker may not be as common as some critics of Legislature would have it appear. But the fact remains that the leadership in both chambers uses intimidation of one kind or other - as it has over the years - to get the support it wants.
Clearly the problem is much deeper than the reign of Senate President William M. Bulger (D) of Boston and House Speaker Thomas W. McGee (D) of Lynn. They are only taking full advantage of the clout vested in them by legislative rules. It is simply a case of too much power in the hands of too few.
Impressive political timidity on the part of many state legislators makes it unrealistic to expect them to lift a finger to bring changes, even if they might strengthen their lawmaking role.
Without support from inside the Legislature, those bent on a less-tightly controlled power structure emphasizing merit rather than other considerations may have little choice but to turn the matter over to voters.
That is what the current rules change initiative petition drive is all about.
While prospects for collecting the required 61,805 voter signatures before the Nov. 23 deadline seem bright, it is uncertain whether the reform plan will reach the November 1984 ballot. Much to the delight of Messrs. Bulger and McGee, state Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti has questioned whether the matter is appropriate for the initiative route.
The issue will likely be resolved later this fall by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court is scheduled to hear the matter in November. Pending its ruling, the court is permitting boosters of the rules change to circulate their petitions. At issue before the state high court is not the merits of the proposed legislative reform, but whether under the state constitution it is an issue only lawmakers themselves can decide.
The initiative's advocates - including Citizens for Participation in Political Action, Common Cause, Citizens for Limited Taxation, the League of Women Voters, the Republican State Committee, Americans for Democratic Action, and others - say they are simply seeking a law, something clearly within the bounds of the initiative process.
Leaders of the drive, whose immediate goal is getting 100,000 signatures, have to be a bit apprehensive concerning the high court decision. Outwardly, however, they are confident. They cite a 1978 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling involving an initiative proposal on another subject. At that time the justices held that any measure voters could file individually could properly be the subject for an initiative petition.
If the current proposal makes the ballot, few doubt it would be approved: The electorate often holds the state legislature in none-too-high esteem. This despite the fact voters may be perfectly content with their individual senators and representatives.