Monday, September 8, 2014

When Politicians Act Like Children

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, September 8, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia

            When politicians act like petulant children, it’s often hard to decide if it is amusing or just plain sad.  But a recent tantrum by one local leader has some observers chuckling more than fretting.


            Rep. Betty Poirier says she has taken off her gloves – whatever that means.


            This past weekend the esteemed Republican state representative from North Attleboro, who also represents a single precinct in Attleboro, once again tried to make the alleged “leadership fight” in the state Republican Party into more than it really is.  This time her issue is so silly it is hard to take it seriously.


            Poirier felt snubbed when a candidate running in tomorrow’s Republican primary for the House seat covering the majority of Attleboro currently held by Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro) brought a state legislator from Whitman into the city to campaign for him.    She said it would have been “common courtesy” for Rep. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) to notify her he would be coming across the Attleboro border for political purposes.


            Diehl came to the area to support Jeff Bailey, who is locked in an interesting battle with Bert Buckley for the opportunity to oppose Heroux in November.  Diehl said he got to know Bailey when the two worked on a statewide campaign to repeal the automatic increase in the state gas tax. 


            But Poirier claims Diehl is part of a small group of Republicans who want to replace current party leaders with more conservative lawmakers.  She says they want to promote controversy and animosity rather than working collectively for the public good.


            So following Diehl’s alleged invasion of her turf, Poirier immediately used it as an excuse for endorsing Bailey’s opponent.  That should come as a surprise to absolutely no one, because Poirier and most other local officials have been promoting Buckley’s candidacy for months.  So her action merely confirmed the obvious.


            And with all due respect to Rep. Diehl, it is hard to imagine his visit swaying too many voters in this race.  It was hardly noticed in the media.  He was not controversial in his remarks or conduct.  And Whitman is not a neighboring community, so his ultimate influence is questionable at best.


            But last time I looked, notifying Rep. Poirier before visiting a city in which she represents only one precinct was not a requirement.  While there may be somewhat of a tradition of notifying local legislators when visiting, it is hardly any type of real obligation.  Poirier’s petty display of anger is totally out of place and an obvious political ploy to influence the election.  Which is fine – but she should be upfront about it.


            Her attitude about a simple campaign visit is actually amusing.  It brings back the attitudes of the Old West, when the local sheriff might tell a stranger to “get out of town by sundown” or advise them “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us”. 


            Her continuing reference to a battle in the Republican Party leadership also rings hollow.  There is no doubt some of the newer legislators want to rise within the ranks to more important leadership positions, and most of them are very conservative.  But so is Poirier. 


            If Poirier is trying to convince voters the new wave of Republicans are too conservative and prefer conflict over compromising, it may not sit well with those seeking to balance the overwhelming Democratic majority on Beacon Hill.  And there are only 29 Republicans right now in the 160-member legislature.  How much conflict can they create other than replacing their own minority leadership?


            The race between Bailey and Buckley will be decided by Republican voters tomorrow.  Whether the public endorsements by Diehl and Poirier make any difference at all will be a matter of debate and opinion. 


            But perhaps in the aftermath Poirier could challenge Diehl to a duel.  She could take those gloves she has apparently removed and slap him across the face for his lack of “common courtesy”, then propose a battle at Capron Park. 


            The winner would get to hold a leadership position in the House minority party.  The loser’s consolation prize would be the right to visit any city or town of their choosing.


            You have to love silly politics.  And silly politicians.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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