Strong Arm Tactics at the Statehouse

Did you see this tweet from the State House News Service?

House members were just instructed to go to a lounge to debate state budget amendments pertaining to public safety and the judiciary. If you are wondering about details of that debate, you'll have to find out from the reps themselves as it's a members-only gathering. #mapoli

— State House News (@statehousenews) April 23, 2019

The Massachusetts House of Representative isn't even pretending anymore. What was once a robust, week-long debate on legislators' most important obligation has been whittled down to sporadic announcements of closed-door meetings taking place in secretive room 348-- a room from which both the PRESS and the PUBLIC are banned. 

Lawmakers emerged hours later to distribute hastily compiled amendment packages and vote on them en bloc before the press and the public are given time to properly analyze and digest them. Why even have a House chamber if you're not going to use it? What could possibly be so odious about these debates that our elected officials go to such extreme lengths to hide them from us?

The blame falls on House leadership, but it also falls on House members who claim to care about transparency yet do nothing to object. Speaker DeLeo uses these secretive proceedings to shield his iron-fisted methods of control from public scrutiny. When the Speaker appointed state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston) to chair the Ways and Means Committee, many were puzzled how such an unremarkable lawmaker with almost no legislative accomplishments scored such a prestigious appointment. As some of the most opaque and secretive budget deliberations in history continue on this week, I think we have our answer. 

In the old days, people used to complain about legislators treating the State House more like a frat house during budget week. Now, we can’t even tell if they are in the State House.

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