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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Watch out for those flying fingers

I suspect they need eye protection in the Statehouse these days, what with all those fingers being pointed.

We've got folks saying the governor's staff caved into Sal DiMasi when the former speaker made it clear he was interested in purchasing perform management software for the Department of Education.

And while dodging fingers there, be sure to look out not to get poked in the eye by those upset that the Ethics Commission aims only at small potatoes.

And by all means, watch out as former speaker and convicted felon Tom Finneran tells us that reform is coming to the Legislature.

All of these sentiments are likely true (I'll believe in significant ethics reform when I actually see it. The Senate version doesn't cut it.)

But what is missing from the discussion is a reflection of reality. The culture on Beacon Hill is in serious need of an overhaul too -- and prospects for that happening are probably worse than the Globe and its Newspaper Guild kissing and making up tomorrow.

It's also interesting that the fingers doing the pointing mostly belong to members of that tiny band of Massachusetts Republicans, who insist that, try as they might to stop it, bad things keep happening and all you need to do is put them in charge and things will change.

Sorry, but that's part of the culture that needs changing too.

I'm all for hearing from aides to Deval Patrick about what they knew about DiMasi's interest in the Cognos contract and when they knew it. But the finger pointed at senior aide David Morales shakes very hard without any context around it.

Administration and Finance Secretary Leslie Kirwan's job is to manage the money. Morales' job is to manage the Patrick agenda. Without clear indications that something was awry, Morales' goal was to remove one roadblock in what was then a highly rocky relationship between Patrick and DiMasi.

He was doing his job and Kirwan was doing hers. If he ultimately had won, after she raised concrete concerns over cost, then the fingers might have been pointing in the right direction. The US Attorney's office agrees.

The ethics commission fishes for small fry because that's all it really can do. The lack of subpoena power and significant fines leaves it weak. Giving it some significant teeth is something that can only be done by the Legislature.

Let's see if we get something better than Senate President Therese Murray's vision of an ethics commission.

It's tempting to applaud the plucky band of Republicans emerging from the phone booth where they caucus to champion reform. But let's look at the record.

Republicans held the state's top office for 16 years. Some, like Bill Weld and Mitt Romney, were elected on reform platforms. Others like Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift, were legislators before being moved up.

We know what happened. Nothing.

Yes, I know the argument is they were stymied by the small number of Republicans in the House and Senate. But they answer is: who repeatedly failed to muster up candidates to even try and challenge for seats?

The problem can't be solved by finger pointing. And legislative culture change is not an easy thing. After all, one of the more famous lines on the topic comes from Otto von Bismarck.
Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
The Globe's Joan Vennochi is right about the "band of enablers" who allow legislators like DiMasi, Finneran, former Speaker Charley Flaherty and one-time Senate President William Bulger to accumulate power and lose sight of reality.

But we need to recognize that we are part of that band -- because we elect them, complain about the body as a whole and cheer them when they bring home the sausage.

Until we engage more fully in the process we should avoid finger pointing, or risk poking our own eyes out.

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