What’s The Matter With Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House

Right now, there is no way for anyone to know how Massachusetts state reps vote on bills, because in 2019 they voted to keep those votes secret (like they do about every two years).  They do make some of their votes public, but by default there is simply no way to find out how reps voted on legislation.

The Massachusetts State House has a well-known problem: the Speaker has way too much power.  The last three Speakers were all convicted of felonies related to corruption or bribery.  The Speaker appoints every chair and co-chair (called his “leadership” team), and those positions come with big bonuses.  And we know from former state reps that this Speaker, Bob DeLeo, threatens those chairs that if they don’t vote the way he wants them to vote, he’ll remove them from their chairmanship.

One former state rep said, “That’s how leadership works. You don’t vote your own way and be a chair. You don’t complain about what the speaker is doing and be a chair.”  And, of course, when a former state rep came out to the press to talk about this reality, the Speaker publicly called him a liar.

I’ve been privately interviewing former state reps to better understand exactly what goes on in the State House.  The Speaker controls everything.  He controls where you sit in the chamber.  He controls which office you get (Ed Markey famously had his desk put in the hallway).  He controls how many staff you have, and of course what your salary is, because the bonuses for chairs and co-chairs range from $5,000 to $75,000.  He indirectly controls which bills make it through committee, and which are pulled from the floor at the last minute before they can be voted on.

The Speaker of the State House controls what legislation the state of Massachusetts is allowed to pass.

The message that state reps learn early on is that you either “play the game” or you are ineffectual and get nothing done.  The problem is, when they play the game, they give their power and their constituents’ power to the Speaker, who can take it away at any moment.

This culture is a general problem in American politics.  AOC talks about the “vice grip of pressure” that she is under, political pressure, psychological pressure, social pressure — pressure to conform and do what the establishment wants.  “Every trick in the book is used to get us to abandon the working class.”  It is the reason why bills that are not favored by the wealthy cannot get passed in Congress, despite elections every two years.

Seeing the vast majority of elected officials, even well-meaning progressives, crumble quickly under this pressure is what inspired the launch of The Incorruptibles in 2017.  We wanted to create thousands of “incorruptible” candidates who could withstand this pressure, choosing at each juncture to give more power to the powerless, not to the powerful.  

I’m very excited to be working on a new course on how to navigate this system.  This workshop will prepare candidates for the reality of politics, the pressure they will be under, and the types of decisions they will be forced to make. It will discuss different kinds of power and how to wield it, as well as the consequences of trading your power for the kind the establishment offers.  We will discuss a third way that is neither “playing the game” nor being ineffectual, and we will foster discussion among candidates about ways they can not only resist establishment pressure as individuals, but how they can work together to build power and change the way the game is played.

We need to drastically change the way politics is done (which, in the MA State House is based on bullying, secrecy, and retaliation) and create a politics built on compassion, integrity, and courage.  

We intend to equip the next generation of elected officials in Massachusetts with the preparation they need to do this — because Incorruptible politicians aren’t born; they’re made.

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