First, considering developments in the statewide probation scandal rocking Beacon Hill especially hard this month, let’s take a quick look at what you are allowed to do at the State House: trade jobs for votes, grant patronage positions to constituents who have scant relevant experience, things of that sort.
Now consider a behavior that is utterly forbidden underneath the Golden Dome: taking pictures of the crooks whose self-preservation tactics trump any real regard for the commonwealth. At least that’s what I was told by the guard who nearly tossed me from the gallery on Wednesday for momentarily blinding Senate President Therese Murray with my flash.
The truth is that I planned on causing trouble at the State House this week. Nothing that could get me arrested, but rather just to demonstrate that I have less respect for most lawmakers than they have for constituents. My breaking point came when Rep. Patricia Haddad, a loyal sidekick of embroiled House Speaker Bob DeLeo, told the Boston Globe that allegations against her colleague, who prosecutors named an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the probation fiasco, were “complete crap.” She continued: “I just skim [the news] and go, ‘Oh, God, another day of foolishness.’”
Tell me about it. Haddad went on to claim that since traditional patronage culture is under attack, she’s no longer able to help constituents. At which point I realized: these assholes actually think they’re doing the Lord’s work. And so I went to watch them in action, even closer than usual, for a few days during their busiest week.
Things seemed normal around Beacon Hill. Lobbyists crowded hallways outside the House chamber. Tourists got in the way. Three dapper-looking older men, over-suntanned if you ask me, hung outside DeLeo’s office like it was a barber shop.
I found some action on the Senate floor, where on Wednesday lawmakers debated an intensely controversial bill proposed to increase the number of charter schools statewide. Having helped expose the nefarious corporate interests pushing more charters on Mass – executives and charities with ties to Walmart and Bain Capital, for starters – I’ve followed education legislation closely. It’s one thing to fill the probation department with rubes who are unqualified to reform chronic offenders; it’s another caliber offense altogether to allow plutocrats to guide pedagogy.
Neoliberal opinion mongers spent the past month safely arguing, as one Globe header put it, that the “charter school battle erodes middle ground.” Bullshit. There is no middle ground. Charter boosters might envision halos posthumously perched atop their profit-driven peanuts, but their behavior in Mass has been the extortive equivalent of a gangster saying: “I’ve been robbing you for decades, but now I want more. And if you don’t hand it over, I’m going to tell everyone you hate children.”
And then a ray of hope flooded the Senate chamber, starting with a detailed presentation of the charter bill by Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz of Jamaica Plain, in which she blasted the unholy schism said issue has forged and pleaded for colleagues to “fix this thing.” After acknowledging the hard work Chang-Diaz put into composing the proposal, several of her fellow members – most notably senators Pat Jehlen of Somerville and Marc Pacheco of Taunton – then promptly pulverized it like a glass pinata, the bill’s guts unceremoniously splattered on the weeping mugs of charter shills from the Pioneer Institute in the balcony.
The temporary slaying of the charter beast was just a golden kernel in a legislative shitpile. In the final stretch of the current session, lawmakers have already shown their unwillingness to address scores of meaningful items in favor of white collar voter fodder like the battle over non-compete agreements. Nevertheless, the temporary outcome of the education debate marks a win for the greater good over greed.
Meanwhile … back in the House, about two-thirds of the desks were empty during Wednesday’s session. The speaker wasn’t on the floor, though he had been vocal in the media. With the co-conspirator title hovering, DeLeo has been safeguarding his rep so as to avoid being categorized with his three predecessors – Charles Flaherty, Tom Finneran, Sal DiMasi, in that order – all of whom were actually indicted.
DeLeo’s is a narcissistic yet noble campaign; he ought to angle for a space in the history books alongside the oft-forgotten George Keverian, who ran the House before Flaherty. Though the State Ethics Commission found that Keverian violated impropriety standards in having legislative aides help remodel his home, he was never formally scolded. The current speaker should pray for such a petty and pathetic legacy.