Staying Awake in the House Chamber

Look, I haven't pulled an all-nighter, as we used to call them in college, sincesince, well, probably since college. And that was more than three decades ago! Unless, of course, you count the House of Representatives budget debates for the past five years.

I guess I'm just not a party animal anymore. No more purple passion parties. No togas. No watching the sun come up over the reservoir. No typing all night to turn a paper in by morning, either. No, I like to sleep.

So, frankly, I was stone cold sober, present in the House Chamber, and awake for all 70 hours of the budget debates week before last. I voted for myself each and every roll call, too. So, if you're looking for a sinner, if you've read and believe the Boston Herald or Globe reports, you'll have to go farther a field than your Representative.

Full disclosure time. I did sleep for about 25 minutes, at my desk, in the House chamber. From about 5 to 5:30 a.m.Friday morning, at the end of the last, 24-hour session (which started at 10 a.m. Thursday). Representative Walter DeFilippi woke me up, because he thought I was dead. When I sleep, I sleep. I don't move. If I decide to take a catnap again, I'll leave a mirror on my desk so he can be sure I'm breathing. Forgive me the 25-minute lapse.

More disclosure. I was present when members yelled "toga, toga," to taunt a member at the podium. Reports of this incident have been vastly exaggerated.

Working all night is not a good thing. A dumb way to spend $21-plus-Billion. Those of us who stayed in the chamber, awake, sober and voting for ourselves, couldn't even track all of the action.

We had 1,440 amendments to the budget, which in itself was 578 pages long. We all had brief summaries of each amendment, but amendments were amended, changed, substituted, withdrawn, rejected and accepted, in rapid succession. Then, there would be long periods, hours sometimes, when nothing happened. We just sat, waiting, for the next vote.

Now, if you think I got confused, think about the poor House clerk and his staff. Two weeks later, they're still trying to straighten out everything that happened. As I write this, it's been a dozen days since we finished the process, and we still don't have the journal, votes and information on all we did. And no one has yet determined just how much money we voted to spend.

What happened? How did the House get into such disarray? There are a lot of theories, ranging from criticism of the Speaker's skills in managing the members, to a lack of a viable two-party system, to lethargy or, in the alternative, confusion.

So, why things happened is still up in the air. And the Speaker has appointed a panel to make suggestions how to avoid mass confusion in the years to come.

For starters, I suggest, that we strictly adhere to House rules that forbid sessions after 10 p.m.

I suggest that members be issued electronic cards, which must be swiped like a credit card before a member can vote in the chamber.

And I suggest that the Speaker allow more legislation to come to the floor during the year so that Representatives don't feel compelled to try to get their bills approved through the budget process.

Now, there were reports that some members were, well, less than sober. If so, I didn't see it. They stayed in their own offices. Yes, there was a party in the Great Hall in the State House-a benefit sponsored by the Ad Club of Boston. A wine tasting, actually, with tiny portions of wine (and some good food) served. I went, I enjoyed, and I would do so again. It was a respectable event.

More full disclosure: I am enjoying my Sam Adams baseball hat, and my opera CD, gifts to partygoers.

The Boston papers also reported that one Representative passed out and had his leg shaved. I'm not about to personally check, I'll tell you that, and he has denied it, so we'll never know. And, frankly, I don't care.

Yes, some members were absent for roll calls and House court officers cast votes for some members. I cast my own, and didn't miss a vote. I even knew what the votes were for. And I know, as do you, that members who are not present should not be able to have votes recorded. (This is the most serious problem, as I see it.)

Some amendments, many amendments, in fact the majority of amendments, were either accepted or rejected without roll calls-the campaign finance reform issue, for example. And, while I would have supported the changes publicly, I wasn't given the opportunity to even know what the changes were during the budget process. This is not right. And, I will take the whole campaign finance reform issue up in another column.

It was a long week, and one which I don't care to repeat for awhile. By next year, I am hopeful, the House will have made some changes to avoid another debacle.

In the meantime, I've received dispensation from the infamous Barbara Anderson, head of Citizens for Limited Taxation, who, I think, is still a woman looking for a new cause to keep CLT alive and a paycheck coming in. (Forgive me, Barbara. You've done some good stuff in the past, but nothing noteworthy of late.)

Barbara says that I'm "innocent of the havoc that followed during the all-night session" because I actually voted to stop meeting at 10 p.m., as required by House rules. Only 23 other Republicans and five Democrats joined me in opposing the all-nighter.

Barbara says the rest of the members, "two Republicans and the rest of the Democrats should be held responsible for their decision to pass a $22-billion budget in a state of general unconsciousness." (Okay, right, she does exaggerate a bit.)

As I said, I'm just not a party animal. You'll forgive me, I hope.

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