Dorchester has been the focus of political conflict in Boston over the past few months. The City Council redistricting was mostly fought within our borders, and a proposal to transform a nearly empty Comfort Inn into affordable housing has made headlines for weeks. Meanwhile, we have kayakers regularly cruising down Morrissey Boulevard, a dysfunctional Red Line, and some of the highest rental prices in the country.
While the city may see us divided, they share in our problems, and with our City Councillors distracted by the drama of an election year, Boston may need to put its hopes in the black hole of Massachusetts politics, the State House.
And Dorchester has a big role to play.
It’s no secret that our state representatives like to operate at a snail’s pace. It is the home of low expectations and long vacation time. In a democracy, politicians are held accountable by the voters. But at the start of each session, the House votes to put a bag over our heads, blinding us from how they operate, and allowing smooth sailing to another re-election. They do this by a process known as the rules vote.
Every two years, the state Senate and House vote on their own rules (must be nice), and what they pass has earned Massachusetts the reputation as one of the least transparent legislatures in the country. The most secretive of these rules is the denial of committee vote information to the public. Our Legislature is in the minority of those that do this. This means that every bill that is sent to a committee, no matter how vital or important it is to the future of Massachusetts, can be killed in silence. Behind closed doors. Without a single voter knowing what happened.
How can Dorchester save the day? Many of us are represented by Rep. Daniel Hunt, who for years held a leadership role on the House Committee on House Rules, which gave him a significant say in whether committee votes stay hidden. Unfortunately, Hunt has happily played the role of bag man for the power brokers in the State House who like to operate under cover of darkness. For the past two legislative sessions, he voted against public committee votes and other transparency reforms and hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for the idea of bringing Massachusetts democracy into the 19th century.
However, that was before he got to see what his constituents wanted. Last year, the people of his district voted in support of finally make committee votes public by over 80 percent. Sadly, this was a nonbinding ballot question (which passed overwhelmingly across the state), and Hunt needs a bit more persuading. This can only come from the people of Dorchester.
The Senate and House will be voting on their new rules this month. Will they continue to keep the bag over our heads or will they let the light in? Call Rep. Dan Hunt at 617-722-2380 and make sure the Legislature votes to allow committee votes to be made public.
The writer is a Dorchester resident, volunteer with Act on Mass, member of Dorchester Not For Sale, and organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America.