By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE. There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
The big news on Beacon Hill last week was the announcement that Massachusetts was a loser in the latest U.S. census sweepstakes. The Bay State is going to lose one of its 10 Democratic congressional seats in 2012 — reducing the state’s Washington delegation from ten to nine.
At least one incumbent member of the state’s delegation will not be taking his or her oath of office in 2013. Someone has to be the odd man or woman out. Speculation was rampant on Beacon Hill about possible scenarios.
Who might retire? Who might give up their seat and run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Scott Brown? Or will all 10 representatives run for re-election — meaning that one must lose?
One of the keys to this story, as it plays out, is how the state Legislature redraws the lines to create nine instead of 10 districts. Rep. Michael Moran, D-Boston and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, co-chairs of the Election Laws Committee, will lead the effort. The final plan is subject to approval by the full House and Senate.
With the Democrats in charge on Beacon Hill, observers say there will likely not be any districts that favor a Republican candidate’s chance of winning a congressional seat.
During the 2009 session, GOP state legislators attempted to create a non-partisan, independent, non-legislative seven-member redistricting commission that would draw up the new districts. This new commission would have replaced the one crafted by Democrats — 28 legislators that include 23 Democrats and five Republicans. The Republican proposal failed in the House and Senate.
Here’s how local legislators voted on the dueling special commissions:
SEVEN-MEMBER “INDEPENDENT” REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
House, 23-133, Senate 7-28, voted mostly along party lines and rejected a Republican-sponsored proposal that would require the Legislature to establish a seven-member non-legislative, independent redistricting commission to draw Massachusetts congressional districts every ten years. The commission would then submit the plan to the Legislature for an up or down vote. Only nine Democrats joined the GOP and voted in favor of the GOP proposal that would replace a Democratic-sponsored plan under which the Legislature itself would draw the districts as it has done for many years.
The GOP proposal requires the independent commission to follow specific rules including ensuring that districts are compact and contiguous and are not drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of a racial minority, political party or any individual candidate. The commission also would be required to attempt to follow other guidelines including preventing a city or town from being divided into more than one district.
Commission members would include a college dean or professor of law, political science or government appointed by the governor; a retired judge appointed by the attorney general; and an expert in civil-rights law appointed by the secretary of state. The other four members would be chosen by the original three members from a list of candidates nominated by the House speaker, House minority leader, Senate president and Senate minority leader.
Supporters of the independent commission say it has been endorsed by Gov. Deval Patrick, former Govs. Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause. They argued that the Legislature is not impartial and often gerrymanders districts to protect incumbents. They said this antiquated, partisan system allows the majority party to control the process and permits “legislators to choose their voters.”
Some opponents of the independent commission said it would be comprised of unaccountable, unelected and unknown members who are not responsible to voters. They argued that elected, accountable members of the Legislature should be responsible for this important and tricky job of redistricting. Others argued they support the independent commission but that it would take a constitutional amendment to establish it because the state constitution gives the redistricting power to the Legislature.
Supporters of the independent commission countered that a constitutional amendment is not necessary. They argued the Legislature would still have the final power to approve or reject a plan proposed by the commission.
(A “Yes” vote is for the seven-member non-legislative redistricting commission. A “No” vote is against it.)
NO: Rep. Jennifer Benson; Sen. James Eldridge; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan; Sen. Steven Panagiotakos
YES: Rep. Robert Hargraves
28-MEMBER LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
House, 132-20, (no Senate roll call), approved the Democratic-sponsored bill establishing a redistricting commission comprised of 28 legislators that would include 23 Democrats and five Republicans. Only four Democrats joined the GOP and voted against the commission. The 28-member commission was generally opposed by representatives who had earlier supported the seven-member independent commission. The 28-member commission was generally supported by representatives who had earlier opposed the GOP’s proposal for a seven-member independent commission.
(A “Yes” vote is for the 28-member commission comprised of only legislators. A “No” vote is against it.)
YES: Rep. Jennifer Benson
NO: Rep. Robert Hargraves
ALSO UP ON BEACON HILL
GETTING READY FOR COLLEGE (H 5120) — The House approved and sent to the Senate a proposal creating a five-member advisory committee to study the development and implementation of a six-year career planning program to be coordinated by school guidance counselors for all students in grades 6 to 12. Supporters said this program would ensure that students begin to talk about and plan their future education and careers at a younger age and help ensure they are ready for college or a career when they graduate high school. They note that many students don’t discuss their post-high school plans with guidance counselors until they are already juniors in high school.
TAX INCENTIVES IN EXCHANGE FOR JOBS — The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center Board voted to award tax incentive worth $23.9 million to life sciences companies in Massachusetts in exchange for creating 1,000 jobs that will each last five years. The state would be allowed to recover tax incentives if the job requirements are not met. Center spokesman Angus McQuilken estimates payroll taxes from the 1,000 jobs would provide sufficient revenue in a little over five years to cover the cost of the tax incentives.
Supporters say these incentives would also make Massachusetts the world leader in the ongoing search for cures for diseases including cancer, diabetes, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
WATER QUALITY (H 5112) — The House gave initial approval to a bill giving a committee to monitor water quality of the lower basin of the Charles River another 20 months to issue its report. The Charles River Water Quality Commission, established in 2008 by the Legislature, is charged with finding ways to improve the quality of the water and make it safe for swimming. The original report was due March 1, 2010. The bill extends the deadline to Nov. 1, 2011.
POOLING OF TIPS (H 4814) — The House has approved an amendment to a controversial bill allowing some shift supervisors at fast food restaurants to share in the tips received by the other employees. Current law does not allow these supervisors to share gratuities. The measure excluded supervisors with the power to fire and hire from sharing in the tips. The governor removed the exclusion. The measure now goes to the Senate.
QUOTABLE QUOTES — “Every party needs a pooper edition.”
This week, Beacon Hill Roll Call publishes excerpts from an unusual farewell speech given on the House floor by outgoing Rep. Matthew Patrick, D-Falmouth. Most farewell speeches are either funny, touching, boring and/or too long.
Patrick’s speech was dead serious as he described the House as “deeply wounded in the public eye” with a reputation at an all-time low.
Patrick was defeated in his bid for re-election to a sixth term and will leave the House in January.
Here are excerpts from Patrick’s tradition-breaking speech:
“I consider my 10 years here well spent. I have made lifelong friends and I will miss you all — well almost all of you. That is why I wanted to take this time to talk about how you can make this a better — more democratic — Legislature.
The unwritten understanding here in the House is to never speak badly of the institution. We don’t want to damage its standing with the public by being openly critical of it. But we must face facts.
The Massachusetts House is now deeply wounded in the public eye. Its reputation is at an all-time low. The institution has suffered three major broadsides in the ten years that I have been in office. Now is the time to make a change.
We all know how it works here. The atmosphere is very seductive and you undergo total immersion. You are flattered to be called ‘representative’ but later realize it is because everyone recognizes you as a new rep, but doesn’t remember your name yet. Even so it is great for your ego.
You have never been in another Legislature so you have no reference point. You learn quickly that if you play your cards right, vote the right way and keep your criticisms to yourself, you have the chance of becoming a chairperson of a committee. As such you will be able to have more influence over the process.
Sometime later –it may be your second or third term — you find yourself not participating in debates, not even listening because you and everyone else know what the outcome will be. It’s preordained.
You continue to play the game until one day you find out that some lobbyists have more influence than you and you ask yourself, ‘is this right?’ Or you find out that your bill has been sidelined by someone, quietly without any explanation.
Or you are asked to vote in favor of something that you oppose. Should you mount opposition to the issue you will be marked as an agitator and, in any event, you know your effort will be futile. Your reasons for opposition will not even be considered or deliberated upon because all of your colleagues know it is hopeless and you have no chance of winning.
I want to be clear. I don’t blame anyone for this. It’s a system that has evolved over the decades and it is all we know.
Now I realize that the Cognos and Probation Department scandals have not been adjudicated yet and all those involved with those cases may be exonerated in the end, but the fact remains that the public’s perception is all that matters. These scandals are destroying the image of this institution and our own reputations as lawmakers.
Having more critical eyes on legislation will make abuses less likely to occur in the future. Our chairs should be more autonomous to ensure that the House has an internal check-and-balance system. If every member is aware of what is happening then these kinds of abuses will be less likely to occur in the future.
Now is the time to make this change. The model has already been established in other legislatures. The membership should elect a committee on committees who will appoint members to each committee based on their experience, expertise, seniority and requests. The newly appointed members of each committee will later meet to elect a chair and vice chair.
That’s it. I want to thank my aide Peggy Konner who has been with me the whole 10 years and knows more about how this place works than I do. I wish you all happy holidays, luck and a productive future for the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Thank you and farewell.”
During the week of Dec. 20-24, the House met for two hours and six minutes while the Senate met for 34 minutes.
Bob Katzen welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org