Autocracy Alert: Massachusetts

David Pepper’s new book Laboratories of Autocracy examines the crisis of the Anti-democratic (small d) condition of Statehouses across our nation, using Ohio’s experience as a test case.

But we’re safe here in Massachusetts, right?

Unfortunately, we are not immune. First, there are the obvious anti-democratic forces. PAC money is flowing into our state to spend thousands of dollars on radical candidates for Select board, School Committee, Board of Health, Library Trustee, etc.. David Pepper explains why: They want to inflame the culture wars to distract us while they undermine all levels of government. Why? It drives good people out of government and keeps regular people from participating. This allows corruption to flourish.

Second, the Massachusetts Statehouse is crippled into inaction, a very sneaky way for conservatives to keep their regressive policies.

We’ve talked for years about the lack of transparency in the MA Statehouse, how it is ranked in the bottom fourth of the nation, how it often takes a decade for laws with popular support to get passed. Our Statehouse suffers from many of the problems that David Pepper outlines, it just has a veneer of blue. 


What’s happening? 

  1. If you want to get elected, you need a D beside your name. But anyone gets to call themselves a dem no matter their policies.
  2. The real choice is made during the primary, with many fewer voters participating. Some DTCs won’t even endorse in the primary.
  3. Incumbents are protected, rather than held accountable for what they did (or usually DID NOT) do.

It's hard to hold them accountable because our elected representatives don’t have to tell us how they voted on a bill. Just because they cosponsored a bill doesn’t mean that they voted to pass it or even advocated for it at all. They do what “leadership” i.e. the Speaker of the House, tells them to do.

Why? The Speaker controls:

  1. Committee chair appointments and significant salaries
  2. Elected official’s staff, who report directly to the speaker
  3. Elected official’s office space
  4. The culture of the Statehouse, which is to bully and shun anyone who dares to speak up

Basically if the Speaker doesn’t like it, it doesn’t happen. And that is why the position created (and money allocated to) to mitigate the rampant sexual harrassament in the Statehouse is … not filled after 15 months

It's why bills aren’t passed, even though we have a supermajority. The Speaker is concerned that Charlie “might” veto it.

It’s why we didn’t get election day registration — the leadership didn’t want college students to be able to register and vote on election day. Why? They might not like the fact that it took 10 years to pass the Family Mobility Act and that the Safe Communities Act and Healthy Youth Act are currently in that same repeat cycle. They might not like that climate legislation is often watered down before it is passed, or it is quietly undercut. They might vote for someone that understands what they want and need: maybe a younger person, or a person of color. Heck even a woman! See the lack of diversity at the Statehouse 

This year is an important year for elections across the nation, but also here in Massachusetts. We have two Republicans running for governor trying to out-trump each other. We have an anti-vaxxer Republican running for lieutenant governor. They are going to put the culture war front and center.

There are also important races for State Auditor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General. We know how the State Secretary of State and Attorney General can protect or damage elections. But did you know that the State Auditor is charged with holding state government accountable? Accomplishments in Accountability but also See this law about birth control that was never implemented

Wow — what can we do?

You’ve taken the first step — broken through the silence surrounding the corruption and radical agenda engulfing Statehouses across the nation, including ours. It’s a crucial year, because we need to work in other States too. It’s up to us to devote the time and treasure to fight anti-democratic forces in every State in the Union. David Pepper has a list of 30 steps to Promote Democracy for inspiration. So roll up your sleeves and bring a friend. Let’s take action this week and every week!