In the House, Democratic Principles Matter Less than Democratic Incumbents

One might have thought, in this blue state and in this year of the woman, that the activities of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus would not come under criticism from the highest-ranking female leader in the House of Representatives.

One would be wrong. Here’s the story.

The Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, founded in 1971, is a non-partisan organization committed to increasing the number of women elected to public office who support a woman’s right to choose.

The Caucus recently announced a number of candidate endorsements — female members of both the Democratic and Republican parties.  Six of the endorsed candidates are challenging incumbent Democratic members of the House.

The Speaker pro Tempore of the House, Representative Patricia Haddad, apparently regarded these challenges to incumbent Democrats as an affront. She sent a private email to her fellow House Democrats on behalf of her colleagues in the Caucus of Women Legislators (a similarly-named group consisting of female members of both parties in the House and Senate) to clear up any confusion between the two Caucuses, to express support for the six challenged Democratic incumbents, to assure them that “the women of the House would never work against a colleague,” and to announce that, because of its endorsements, she would not be accepting the backing of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus.

Five of the six challenged House incumbents are male. The one female incumbent is Colleen Garry, who has been a steadfast opponent of abortion during her 24-year tenure in the House. This position, presumably, was the basis for the endorsement of her pro-choice challenger, Sabrina Heisey.

The day after Representative Haddad’s rather peevish email, the House passed a bill repealing a number of archaic statutes that might be used (perhaps by an unfriendly federal government) to call into question a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.  Representative Haddad’s leadership on the issue was lauded on the House floor, and the bill passed easily, 138 to 9. Two Democrats voted no – one of them was Colleen Garry.

Well, that extra revenue is disappearing fast

Last week we learned that Massachusetts is going to have about $1.2 billion more state tax revenues this fiscal year than the $27.5 billion amount that lawmakers forecast in January.

Good news to be sure, but there’s a broad consensus that much of this extra money comes from sources like capital gains taxes that are subject to extreme fluctuations.  And some of the surplus is already spoken for, to shore up accounts that have been underfunded or to be deposited into the state’s rainy-day account.  The $1.2 billion is really more like $200 million – and there are certainly no guarantees that we’ll see another surplus next year.

But neither those cautionary notes nor the fact that there’s much legislative work left to do and only 23 days remaining have stopped House leadership from making a priority of saying yes to Governor Baker’s request for more and bigger tax credits for business. Permanent ones, too.

A bill being teed up for a vote in the House on Tuesday would give the Baker administration authority to spend $20 million dollars more, each year, every year, to soup up the current economic development incentive program to include (in their words) “extraordinary economic development opportunities,” in which businesses promise to expand within the state or relocate from outside the state and to meet a target of 200 to 400 new jobs. The discretion of the administration to designate such extraordinary development opportunities would be total, while the enforceability of the promise by a business to meet the jobs target would be nil. What’s not (for businesses) to like? So there goes $20 million of the so-called windfall for this year.

But wait, there’s more. The recently-enacted “grand bargain” bill provides for a minimum wage increase and a sales tax holiday for retailers, both to start next year.  Does anything happen this year?  Nobody’s talking about a minimum wage increase in the next six months, but the Speaker’s now looking favorably on a sales tax holiday this August. That’s another $25 million. And guess what – the Governor definitely approves.

 

Ever wonder what it would take…

for the most right-wing members of our House of Representatives to argue passionately for millions more in state funding for mental health services and for the right of all persons, regardless of their income, to have access to legal counsel?

The answer: propose a bill giving family members who are concerned that a loved one is posing a risk of bodily injury to himself, herself or others the option to ask the court to take that person’s guns away for a time.

 

(Only) Now — Mass Fiscal Founder and Congressional Candidate Rick Green Says We Need to Invest in Transportation

Rick Green, the only Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat in the Third Congressional district, sat down with the editorial board of the Lowell Sun last week to talk about his credentials and his priorities.

The first priority he mentioned? Infrastructure, especially transportation infrastructure. Massachusetts, Green reported with alarm, now “ranks 50th out of 50 states in terms of functionally obsolete bridges.”

What didn’t come up?  How the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an organization he founded, has contributed to our cellar-dwelling position.

Green established Mass Fiscal, as it’s known, six years ago, taking over the corporate charter of Empower Massachusetts, a voter-suppression group, and he served as its board chair until recently.  The self-described “non-partisan government watchdog group committed to holding the line against taxes,” Mass Fiscal has, in each electoral cycle, targeted 20 or so Democratic legislators and waged direct-mail campaigns against them, using inflammatory and factually-challenged accusations with nativist overtones, along the lines of: did you know that your lawmaker favors spending your tax dollars on immigrants who are in this country illegally rather than veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation?

In the 2014 election, Mass Fiscal also supported the ballot question to repeal a law designed to raise transportation revenues by indexing our state’s gasoline tax to inflation. They supported the repeal — not because our transportation infrastructure was in fine shape without any additional funds — but only to impugn lawmakers for trying to raise taxes indirectly (and to add that “some politicians who voted for the increase also receive taxpayer funded reimbursements for their trips to the Statehouse in Boston”).  The repeal succeeded, leading Michael Widmer, then-president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, to predict that lawmakers would soon need to “make a series of very tough choices because they’re going to find out quickly enough they don’t have enough money to fund basic maintenance of roads and bridges, never mind expansion.”

Sure enough, when the House passed its annual road-funding bill earlier this month, Transportation Committee chair William Straus, observed: “There’s no question when it comes to transportation needs and the status of the roads and bridges of the Commonwealth, the need is greater than our resources. There are greater unmet needs but the resources are finite in order to take care of municipal roads and bridges and those of the Commonwealth.”

So when candidate and Mass Fiscal founder Rick Green points to transportation infrastructure as a big problem that our lawmakers have failed to solve, he sounds a little bit like the boy who, having murdered his parents, calls on the court for mercy — owing to his being an orphan.

The Cannabis Commission Forsakes Its Mission Statement

The Cannabis Control Commission promised in its mission statement “to encourage and enable full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”

That promise was evidently not on the minds of the three (of five) commission members who voted yesterday for the categorical exclusion from the new industry of any person with a trafficking conviction for any drug other than marijuana.

Their defenses of the new ban regrettably echoed a persistent myth about the war on drugs: that the only persons prosecuted and convicted of trafficking are drug kingpins with trunks full of contraband in their Cadillacs.

Commissioner Britte McBride asserted unconvincingly that trafficking “is different than simple possession, it’s different even than distribution. This is really talking about quantity and significant quantity…”

Her fellow Commissioner Jennifer Flanagan joined in: “I think there is a very large difference between someone who had been arrested for possession and someone who has been actively trafficking in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Let’s review.  First, here’s a 19-gram packet of salad dressing mix.

GoodSeasons

This is one gram more than is necessary to bring a trafficking prosecution that carries a mandatory minimum state prison sentence.

Second,  as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court has said, in a recent year more than half of the persons convicted in Massachusetts of drug distribution offenses and three-quarters of those convicted of drug trafficking offenses that carrying a mandatory minimum term are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

So how is it that again the categorical exclusion of persons convicted of trafficking will not undermine the goals of the mission statement?  Dissenting Commissioners Steven Hoffman and Shaleen Title put up a good fight on this point, arguing that the ban would create new obstacles for ex-prisoners instead of helping their reentry.

One marginally hopeful signal from yesterday’s meeting was the comment of Commissioner Kay Doyle (who cast the deciding vote in favor of the ban) that she would be in favor of reviewing it as the industry develops.

It’s not too soon to start that review.  If you’re going to tomorrow’s Marijuana Summit, take a minute to thank Commissioner Title for her vote against the ban. And if you have time to contact the Commission before its next meetings (March 6 and 7) to correct the misconceptions displayed in yesterday’s vote, please do.  You might also suggest that the Commission invest in some copies of The New Jim Crow.

Here’s a sample text you can borrow or modify: “Please do NOT categorically exclude persons who have trafficking convictions from participating in the new marijuana industry. It is ill-informed and directly contrary to the promise in your mission statement to ensure full participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have previously been disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition.”

 

On Tuesday, Charlie Baker Won’t Be Able to “Target Trump Without Saying His Name”

The wind beneath Charlie Baker’s wings blew again on Tuesday evening, as lawmakers received his State of the Commonwealth address with standing ovations too numerous to mention.

The Governor’s poll numbers appear to operate in inverse relation to those of the President — the more appalled we are by latter, the more appreciative we are of the former.  (Michael Jonas made a similar observation in Commonwealth yesterday.) And the contrast between the two speaks for itself, loudly, without any need for the Governor to mar his dignity (or his modesty) by stooping to invoke the President’s disrepute. An anodyne reference or two by Baker to “bipartisanship” can do the trick. As the Globe put it yesterday, “Baker targets Trump, without saying his name.”

BakerTargetsTrump

This Trump-Baker polarity has caused us to overlook important connections between them, like the fact that the Governor’s complex fundraising apparatus funnels money to the Republican National Committee, which it’s using to help maintain a Congressional majority for the President’s odious policies.

Next week may bring a new challenge to the Governor’s power to burnish his own popularity by appearing to transcend the detested Trump brand.

On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the immigration bill the Governor filed in August in response to a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court. That decision, which held that no authority exists to allow Massachusetts law enforcement officials to detain persons who are wanted only because of civil immigration violations, has barred police in the state from assisting with the President’s deportation agenda by holding such persons until ICE can come pick them up.

The Governor says that his bill would provide statutory authority for law enforcement officials to cooperate with ICE, but would not require them to do so. (Whether that statutory authority would pass state constitutional muster is an issue the SJC has not decided.) In advocating for the bill, Baker noted a history of state cooperation with federal immigration officials in apprehending dangerous criminals, a history to which he’d like to return.

But that’s just it — it’s history, no longer operative.  ICE is now under President Trump’s direction, and it’s very busy carrying out some of his most hateful policies. If that fact was not obvious when the Governor filed his bill in August, the “Operation Safe City” raids the following month, in which ICE specifically targeted Massachusetts, made it unmistakable.

Cooperating with ICE now means condoning raids and deportations without regard to the criminality of the persons being deported. It means endorsing a racist show of force being wielded for its own sake, contemptuously ripping apart families and our social fabric.

At the Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, the Governor won’t be able to conduct business as usual — targeting Trump without saying his name.  His administration will be standing with the President — openly supporting the authority of police departments to choose to become part of Trump’s xenophobic deportation machine. And if his bill were to become law, he’d be the one to enlist our State Police in Trump’s cause.

(The Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 30, starting at 1:00 P.M. in Room A-2.)

Thoughts on First Hearing of a Possible Deval Patrick Presidential Candidacy

Two policy ideas that many of us would regard as inhumane:

The first: a restrictive policy on access to emergency shelter for homeless families with kids, under which many families must first prove that they have slept in a place not meant for human habitation, like a hospital emergency room, a train station or a car in order to be granted shelter.

The second: a proposal to count federal disability payments as income in deciding eligibility for cash welfare grants. This proposal would, for example, take away a $400 monthly welfare grant to a grandmother and her 13-year-old granddaughter who cannot walk or talk because of cerebral palsy because the granddaughter receives $750 per month in federal disability payments.

The first of these is currently our state’s policy. The second is not. It has been stopped — twice — by the Legislature, which may stop it again this year. You might not be surprised to learn that Governor Baker supports both ideas, but you might be surprised to learn that Governor Patrick did too — in fact, his administration originated them.