Monday, May 09, 2011

Perpetual Pains in Power

It's right there in the Constitution — empowered here and refined here and here. The Governor's Council has long been the paper-pushing drudges who voted on judges up for appointment.

The eight elected members, who comprise the Council along with the Lieutenant Governor, originally had a huge potential role as well. If the Gov. and Lt.Gov. were "vacant, by reason of death, absence, or otherwise, then the council, or the major part of them, shall during such vacancy have full power and authority to do, and execute, all and every such acts, matters and things, as the governor or the lieutenant governor might or could, by virtue of this constitution, do or execute, if they or either of them, were personally present." That Chapter II, Section II, Article VI, was replaced with a cabinet-level, federal style succession ladder — secretary to attorney-general to treasurer and receiver-general to auditor.

Now they rule on gubernatorial appointments, criminal pardons and such. Amusingly even these fairly clerical tasks have become contentious and controversial. Three of the eight have acted out so badly that there are regular calls from government and media to do away with the Council.

Not Likely to Change

A reasoned view of the craziness appears in today's Adrian Walker column in the Globe. He figures it's a fairly lame, overly politicized group...and nothing will change. Not only would it require changing the commonwealth's constitution, it just isn't the kind of problem that gets voters or legislators hot enough long enough to fix.

I've attended enough candidate forums to know what's coming when Council folk are running for election or reelection, as they do every two years. The first and biggest job is to explain yet again what the Council is and does and why it exists at all.

There are two kinds of candidates. One and most common are those who make it clear that they think choosing judges is a big deal and who promise to make sure the governor presents the best appointees. The second would-be Council is the smart aleck, the seriously obstreperous.

We elected three of the latter class in the last go. Mary Ellen Manning is a DINO from Salem. Jennifer Caissie is a Republican from Oxford. Charles Cipollini is a serious winger from Fall River. What they share is a mantra of I AM NOT A RUBBER STAMP.

Truth be told, MA governors don't push incompetents for judgeships. There needs to be compelling reasons, much more than simple grandstanding and point making, to vote against a candidate. In the Council meetings that do consider judges, the members certainly should ask pertinent questions and clarify anything in the applicants résumés that is murky. That's not what we have been hearing from the No Trio.

Cipollini is the simplest. He is reactionary and anti-gay. He opposes same-sex marriage and doesn't care that it is settled law here. He bring us anti-LGBT and parents' rights rhetoric freely and often.

Caissie is more specific issue oriented. She worked for DAs and has been a prosecutor. She wants mandatory sentencing, particularly hard on sex offenders. She is eager to see any undocumented alien convicted of a crime deported. Also, she is very opposed to the clichéd activist judge, who she would say makes laws instead of just applying settled law.

Of the three, Manning is the publicity hound and self-anointed gadfly. A divorce lawyer, she carries her contentiousness to the Council. She hops from one media interview and talk show to another. You can get plenty of background from her by listening to her appearance last week on the Howie Carr show. (This opens an mp3 audio in your default player.)

She seems to be in the mold of Mary Connaughton, who ran for MA Treasurer last year. Both are oddly and strongly proud of being pains in the butt and have everything stop while they make their points. Connaughton remains incredibly pleased with herself for making the MA turnpike authority perform for her while she was a member. She refers with pride to a Globe article (archived for a fee or subscription) that called her the "thorniest thorn" in the side of the Governor and authority.

Amusingly from a distance and not having to attend those meetings, I note that she billed herself as people's champion in fighting for lower turnpike tolls. However, that was for her section (she's from Framingham). She was fine with higher tolls for Western MA and inside 128.

How it is that Manning calls herself a Democrat is one of those tiny wonders of MA politics. She and Cipollini love to gum up the works with highly inappropriate and irrelevant questions. For one, consider his recent attempts to score points at the hearing on SJC nominee Fernande R.V. Duffly.

He and Manning both were similarly harsh when quietly out lesbian Barbara Lenk was up for the same high court. They both attempted unsuccessfully to make big deals of a Lenk ruling on incest and of the possibility that her wife, a public defender, might have to argue or somehow be related to a case that would come before an appeals court or the SJC. Manning said Lenk's not informing all appeals judges of her spouse was "an oversight of huge proportions."

For her part, Lenk kept a wall and recused herself when their might be the appearance of conflict. She also noted that her marriage was public and known. Others commenting on the scrappy hearing said or wrote that other judges don't tell everyone in the judicial chain repeatedly about any potential conflict with their spouses until there is something meaningful to say.

Smirking Gadflies

So there we have it with this trio, as we did with Connaughton. They are irrationally proud at being in a position and of a mindset to clog up the works. Their value add seems in their brains to be more demanding in the process, a.k.a. not a rubber stamp. Most of the rest of us wonder what the matter with them is.

It may be as simple as their family cultures. From my dime-store psychology perspective, I know adults who grew up praised for answering questions at home and school the quickest. Generally those are half-assed comments, but quite a few people think if they are first, they're best. Likewise, others got their rewards when they framed things their own way, from slightly to hugely different. There, contradictory indicates insight and even wisdom, in their minds.

Back to columnist Walker though, his prediction is likely right. Plus, no one really wants to add judge, notary, and pardon's hearings to their workloads. If we had five jerks instead of three on the Council, they could well halt the appointment process or try to turn it into pure politics. Even with the Lieutenant Governor voting to break ties, if the No Trio expands to five, the works clog.

A slower Council, even one that insults nominees with dumb questions, is not terrible. At the least, it gives the more conservative voters and those who are terrified of consensus as proof of overly powerful government some sense they are represented.

I'd like to think that the Council is a lot smarter than the rest of us. As such, they would ensure that our interests are well represented. Yet, reading and hearing the comments and questions, I don't believe that. There's the peril of electing plain folk to such pivotal positions. You get some petty, politicized egotists from time to time. This is the time.

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Mary-Ellen Manning said...

Thanks for the ink. I was a great Democrat when I voted against Republican nominees for the same reasons and at the same rates that I vote against Democrat nominees. So, that makes me a bad Democrat, I guess....oh well. If your readers would like to know why I voted against Barbara Lenk, here's the link

massmarrier said...

I'll call you. You are a clear fit from your side and ours for a half hour on Left Ahead.