I’m No Potted Plant!

No, I’m not a potted plant.

In fact, I got a green ticket of approval, a pat on the back for "upholding accountability in a representative democracy."

It was given to me at the bottom of the Grand Staircase in the State House last week by the Coalition for Legislative Reform. That’s a ragtag group of diverse interests including the ultra-liberal MassPirg and the conservative Citizens for Limited Taxation.

They gave out green tickets to Representatives who stood up for changes in the rules that govern how the House operates, and red to Representatives who blocked changes.

One Representative was given the dread Potted Plant award. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham) was given the award for remarks she made during the debate about removing the term limits for the Speaker of the House.

She made the motion to eliminate term limits for the Speaker, who formerly was limited to four terms or eight years.

In the paper she was quoted as saying, "I don’t think we’re going to sit idly by like potted plants while inappropriate amounts of power accrue to the speaker."

What she officially said during debate, according to the State House News Service was this:

"We are not potted plants. We are here to do the people’s business and that very much includes the notion that we vote for the best person for the job at any given time. I think there are individuals who are extraordinarily talented. They come to the job with vision. When you have an individual like that you should be able to keep that person."

Her motion prevailed, with only 34 of us voting against it. We were the ones getting the good green tickets.

Now, Tom Finneran (D-Mattapan) can continue as long as he likes and as long as the Democratic majority chooses him as Speaker.

"Speaker for Life" some newspapers called him. Or, "King Tom."

Candaras, by the way, was rewarded with a committee vice chairmanship.

Realistically, the vote didn’t matter. Because rules are good only for the current two year session of the Legislature. Two years from now, members can vote to reinstate term limits. Or, eject Finneran from the office and elect another Speaker.

So, what’s the problem with Finneran continuing forever?

People who supported removal of term limits for the Speaker included the League of Women Voters. The spokeswoman for the group complained that "We don’t have a democracy any more."

One opponent to the power of the Speaker said this week, "He (Finneran) is a dictator-like, punishment-oriented, go-against-me-and-you-will-suffer-dire-consequences person."

Other opponents say that, because he controls everything from committee assignments and office space to staffing and bills introduced by members, it’s difficult to vote your conscience. They fear retribution, or revenge.

Therefore, Democrats faithfully vote with the Speaker. On the Republican side, we call it the "lemming vote." The board that tallies our votes is on the front wall of the House Chamber. We watch it carefully to see how the Speaker votes and how quickly the Democrats follow suit. If the Speaker votes green, one by one his followers vote green.

Of course, in full disclosure, I must add that Republicans try to vote with the Minority Leader, but there is much less pressure.

And, I must continue, the Speaker has always treated me fairly, when it comes to staff and office space. His sidekick, Majority Leader Bill Nagle (D-Northampton), has been particularly helpful in getting legislation passed.

Our Minority Leader, Fran Marini (D-Hansen) has been very fair with me as well, and this year appointed me to the leadership post of ranking Republican on Long Term Debt and Capital Expenditures.

Back to the problem at hand, the so-called Speaker for Life. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, that the Speaker is, frankly, a control freak. I don’t say this because he is a Democrat. It’s just his personality. Nothing escapes his control, particularly budget items, but also bills brought to the members for approval and debate on the floor. Old-timers in the Legislature say they miss the hours of open and honest debate that occurred in previous years.

This is only my fourth term, but I miss open and honest debate as well. To think that some members vote with the Speaker, even though they don’t believe his decision is right, is appalling.

I was elected to represent my constituents. I was elected because you thought that you could trust my honesty and common sense. I was elected to make wise decisions in casting my votes on the floor of the House.

And I will continue to do so.

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