Monday, September 16, 2013

Warren and Van Magness on NECN

Lyric Consulting's partners, Meredith Warren and Fred Van Magness, both had something to say about the race for Governor of Massachusetts during The Morning Show on NECN today.

Meredith Warren was quoted as a Republican political analyst in the news story about Martha Coakley's impending announcement, saying, "I think we're going to see a pretty nasty primary fight between Martha Coakley and Steve Grossman on the Democratic side and that gives the Republican candidate Charlie Baker the opportunity to stay positive about how he'll lead the state while the Democrats slug it out." Here's the video with her quote:

Later, Fred Van Magness went live on-air with Democratic analyst George Bachrach to discuss the race. Here is the video:

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Yes We 'CAN'" – House Republicans use procedure to make an important point

News has been bubbling up recently about a group of Republican legislators who have decided to stand up and use the House Rules to make a point about… well, House Rules.

The tactic is simple and effective. The Constitution requires the Legislature to meet in session every few days. But when the House does not have supposedly controversial business before it, it holds "informal sessions" (normally twice a week) to fulfill the requirement and transact routine matters.

Informal sessions are mostly the same as any other session, and legislators can transact most necessary business during them. However, informal sessions proceed with a wink and a nod, on the tacit agreement that business will proceed without anyone objecting to the fact that there is no quorum of members on-hand, and without anyone making a floor speech or calling for a roll call vote. As former legislative staffers ourselves, we saw it happen all the time without a problem.

That whole process works well enough until a member stands up, calls the bluff and doubts the presence of a quorum, at which point the session grinds to a halt.

That's what Republicans are doing, and they're doing it to protest access to something known in legislative circles as "The Can".

"The Can" is literally a small, metal box for filing papers toted around by the House Clerk. It's decidedly banal in appearance, something that would not look out-of-place in any private office setting.

The purpose of "The Can" is to serve as a file folder for the Clerk of the House to store neatly tri-folded papers which contain the actual text of bills, resolutions, amendments, and the like which are up for consideration by the House that day. During session, the Clerk pulls papers out of "The Can" one-by-one and passes them to the presiding officer for the consideration of the House, going through the day's business until everything is done.

A small but vocal collective of Republicans in the House are objecting to a rule recently announced by the Speaker that only legislative leaders (and not rank-and-file members) will be allowed to look in "The Can" during session.

The Republicans argue that forbidding them access to "The Can" undermines transparency and accountability in the House. And, under the current system, they're right. But, we think all Republican members need to band together and think outside-the-box (pun intended) for their argument to be long-lasting. They need to go beyond physical access to "The Can" and talk more about the House in general.

The Speaker reportedly says the rule is necessary to preserve order in the House, so as to prevent a flurry of 160 members from rifling through "The Can" all the time. The Republican Leader agrees, saying members have ample opportunity to consult him or the House Clerk before session to find out what's going to be in "The Can" and therefore up for consideration that day.

If the Speaker wants to restrict access to "The Can" to preserve decorum, it's somewhat understandable… mostly from an organizational perspective. Trust us; about the only thing most legislators flock to faster than "The Can" during session is free food in the Hall of Flags. There is a legitimate need for order.

But, what this group of Republicans is essentially arguing is that it's not just about preserving decorum, it's about control. After all, let's face it – no one would be arguing for the right to look in "The Can" in the first place if they were confident they already knew what was in there. It's an issue of a lack of trust in a system where one party rules and can impose its will without notice or accountability. And, it's also worth noting that by restricting access to rank-and-file GOP members, he's also restricting access to his Democratic brethren.

The fact is, what's in "The Can" during session isn't always... well... shall we say... exactly as advertised. And, while when that happens it can be the honest result of logistics or just poor communication, it's more often than not the result of the Democratic majority abusing its dominating power to ram through legislation without proper vetting or notice.

Whatever the cause, it's not uncommon for documents to appear in "The Can" out of thin air, or for wording to get changed at the last-minute. As a result, it's also not uncommon for rank-and-file members to have absolutely no clue what it is they're actually voting on when bills come up for approval. That's not fair to lawmakers themselves or to the voters they represent. And, if lawmakers can't see what's in "The Can," they have no ability to know when and if there's a problem – without blindly trusting legislative leaders.

In a system where bills are kept on paper and committee markups sometimes aren't posted online in final form prior to session, members don't have a hard copy to look at and the public doesn't have access to the process. And, while that could be as innocuous as not knowing about the placement of a comma or something, it could also mean not knowing the contents of an entire bill that could affect every Massachusetts resident.

So, Republicans have a right to be mad, and we applaud them for using procedure to make the point. The Democrats do it all the time. But, if they want their protest to be long-lasting, the message has to evolve beyond "The Can" and be more about procedure in the House as a whole. It should be more about the untrustworthiness of a system where one party is in complete and unchecked control. And, that's a message all Republicans should be able to get behind in unison.

Perhaps members also should look into some sort of "virtual can" where the actual text of legislation is posted online and available to all members at their desks or on a portable device. That way, no one would have to rely on leaders of either party to let them know what it is they're actually voting on, and the public would be in on the decision too. After all, that's the way it's supposed to work in the first place. There would be a cost associated with that technology, but even as penny-conscious conservatives, we think it would be a small price to pay to make sure every lawmaker (and every constituent through them) gets a seat at the table.

Friday, September 06, 2013