Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Speaker Term Limits Debate Embarassing

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Monday, February 16, 2015

By Bill Gouveia

            Question:  What do you call a creature with no spine or backbone?

            Answer:  A Democratic member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

            That joke may be funny to many of us, but what is not amusing at all is the hypocrisy and lack of courage displayed by most Democratic members of the House recently regarding the vote to eliminate term limits for the position of Speaker.  As was correctly noted in a recent and extremely strong editorial in this newspaper, this is nothing less than our elected officials going back on their word.

            In 2009 our esteemed state legislature voted to place strict term limits on the Speaker position.  They did so in large part due to the unchecked and overwhelming corruption that has been allowed to occur in that post in recent decades.

            Since the mid-1990s three different Speakers have resigned under a cloud of controversy.  One ended up pleading guilty to tax evasion.  One resigned amidst perjury and obstruction of justice charges.  A recent ex-Speaker is currently serving time in prison for mail fraud, conspiracy, and various other crimes.

            That is and should be an embarrassment to the citizens of Massachusetts, and even more so to the men and women who serve in the House itself.  It is especially embarrassing to the Democrats, who are in complete control of that chamber.  When they came together six years ago and recognized that term limits was the only real and effective way to keep the power of these individuals in check, it was seen as a small step towards true reform.

            Now that has been exposed for what it really was:  A publicity stunt to lessen the pressure and allow them to go back to business as usual while placating the public and taking advantage of the short memories voters in this state have displayed.

            Current Speaker Robert DeLeo was one of those who worked to institute the term limits.  But now that he is approaching the point where they would actually apply to him, he has changed his mind.  His reversal is inexcusable, self-serving, arrogant, and displays blatant disregard for anything but more of the same in what might be the most corrupt state legislature in America.

            And because of the power he is allowed to wield, legislators from across the Bay State who depend on the crumbs he tosses to them and their districts will give him anything he wants.  Even worse, they will defend their gutless actions by pretending they are really doing it for the people they represent.

            An example is Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro).  Heroux was not in office in 2009, and has never been a supporter of term limits.  But recently he made the following comments on the situation.

            This change in the rules is much ado about nothing. No harm has been done. Unlike some past speakers, the current speaker has not been indicted or convicted of anything. He has only been speaker for six years, half the time our current mayor has been in office who does not have term limits. 

Heroux then added, If he starts to act against the interests of our district and our state, I will reconsider my support for his leadership role in the House.

            Its comforting to know Rep. Heroux stands ready to lock the barn door if the horse is stolen for the fourth time.

            And in case you think this is just a Democratic Party problem think again.  Republicans have no term limit on the position of Minority Leader.  And while Rep. Betty Poirier (R-North Attleboro) voted against the removal of term limits, she said she understands the rational for it.  She said if they stayed in place, Democrats would spend too much time jockeying for position to become the next Speaker.

            Unlike now apparently, when they just jockey to stand in line and kiss his butt.

            I am generally not a fan of term limits.  But given the absolute power of the Speaker position and the lack of fortitude of Massachusetts legislators in general, in this case they are a necessary evil.

            You lost all credibility, Mr. Speaker.  But then again, you never really had that much to begin with.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at aninsidelook@aol.com and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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