Earlier this week, as the state House of Representatives geared up to vote on a bill to allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a temporary successor to fill Ted Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat (they passed the bill late yesterday), the state GOP launched a last-minute assault on the Democrats, with a press report questioning the wisdom of the controlling party’s members—and reminding legislators that the Republicans are watching their every step.
“Beacon Hill Democrats have taken a series of bad votes in 2009 that have empowered corruption and assaulted small businesses,” charged a press release from the state Republican Party. “Now they are attempting to manipulate our state’s election law.”
Attached was a report card grading all member of the House on two items. The first: Did they “Vote to Re-Elect a Federally Indicted Massachusetts Speaker(s) of the House?” Embarrassingly, that’s an opportunity legislators have had three times in recent years: the re-election of Sal DiMasi in January, and the elections of predecessors Tom Finneran and Charlie Flaherty, each of whom won his post shortly before being indicted. While many of the sitting reps did not hold office during the Finneran and Flaherty years, and therefore never had the chance to vote for them, the GOP notes that of the 135 sitting Democratic reps who voted for DiMasi, 32 had also backed Finneran and Flaherty, and 42 had voted for two of the three soon-to-be indicted speakers.
The second, less salacious but still controversial item: Did they “Vote to Raise the Massachusetts Sales Tax By 25% and Increase the Tax on Alcohol?”
The third question—Did they “Vote to Change Existing Election Law in Order to Keep One Political Party in Power?”—showed question marks beside each lawmaker’s name; presumably, the GOP is busily filling in that column now, in light of yesterday’s vote.
No surprise, Democratic reps did not fare well under the Republicans’ grading system, with two reps whose districts include Springfield faring among the worst: Tommy Petrolati and Ben Swan, both of whom voted for the tax increase AND for each of the three indicted speakers.
Springfield Reps. Brian Ashe, James Welch and Cheryl Coakley-Rivera all supported the tax increase and voted for DiMasi. Reps. Sean Curran and Angelo Puppolo (who, let’s face it, is pretty much a Republican anyway) got middling GOP marks: each voted for DiMasi but against the tax hike.
For the record, according to roll-call information in the Boston Globe, Coakley-Rivera, Petrolati and Welch all voted for yesterday’s bill to allow Patrick to appoint a temporary successor to Kennedy until the January election to fill the Senate seat. Ashe, Curran and Puppolo voted against it. Swan did not cast a vote.
In the interest of precision, it’s worth noting that the Republicans’ contention that the succession bill is a self-serving move by Democrats isn’t quite right. After all, should it pass in the state Senate, it will ensure that Massachusetts residents—of all political stripes—will be fully represented in the U.S. Senate in the coming months, before a permanent senator can be elected.
No, the truly self-serving move by Democrats happened in 2004, when they changed an existing law that called for a special election to fill a vacant seat. At the time, the Democrats were trying to prevent then-Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican to fill John Kerry’s seat once he was elected president (oops—well, never mind about that…) Moving now to ensure that Kennedy’s seat is occupied promptly is the right thing to do—too bad for the Democrats that they caused the problem in the first place.
The Republicans’ high-minded response to the Democrats’ bill is a bit hard to swallow, unless you believe that, had the balance of power in state politics been reversed, the GOP wouldn’t have done exactly the same thing. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy their feisty, underdog attack on a bloated Democratic establishment that has often failed to use its power for good.