Friday, October 25, 2002
Just say 'yes' — for a second time
In the November 1998 state election Carlisleans voted 1363 to 613 in favor of a campaign finance initiative titled Clean Elections, thereby mirroring a statewide favorable count of over two-to-one. The law was to be implemented in time for the 2002 election. So why are Common Cause and the non-partisan Massachusetts Voters for Clean Elections, among others, back out on the hustings this year urging voters to "Save Clean Elections?"
The answer is grassroots determination to thwart a four-year campaign spearheaded by Speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas Finneran and his allies, both inside and outside the legislature, to stonewall implementation of the voter-approved measure. In the process they defied an order of the state's highest court to provide the constitutionally required financing, thus forcing a number of declared Clean Election candidates to start fundraising on their own or drop out. Only at the last minute, after the court approved seizure of state property, did the legislature release just enough cash to allow the few remaining Clean Election candidates to run. And finally, in this election cycle, the opponents have fashioned a rigged Question 3 referendum item that is calculated to pave the way for repeal of the law in the next legislative session.
Question 3 in its entirety reads: "Do you support taxpayer money being used to fund political campaigns?" Not only does Question 3 omit the basic provisions of the Clean Elections law and ignore the objectives of those who voted for it, it does not even indicate the measure it's aimed to destroy.
To remedy the legislature's omissions it's necessary to take a brief look at the meat of the Clean Elections referendum adopted overwhelmingly in 1998. The law now on the books allows candidates who agree to abide by strict new rules on contributions and spending, and who demonstrate widespread support in their respective districts, to receive a specified amount of public money for their campaigns. To qualify for state funding a candidate must collect a designated number of $5 to $100 contributions within a set period of time, well prior to the primaries. A candidate who chooses not to participate receives no state financing and can spend what he or she wishes, but is subject to new reporting requirements and can no longer receive soft money channeled through the state party.
The Clean Elections law was designed to accomplish three major objectives:
1. To halt the rising cost of campaigns that forces candidates to spend too much of their time chasing contributions instead of exploring issues and listening to voters.
2. To increase competition for seats in a legislature where 80 percent of this year's incumbents are basically unopposed.
3. To elect political leaders who are accountable to the people who elected them rather than to the special interests who now bankroll their campaigns.
Opponents of the Clean Elections law argue that the state cannot afford to implement the law, a position with traction in the present revenue squeeze (if hardly an excuse for failing to fund it in prior years). The law's supporters counter that we can't afford not to fund it. If the polluting influence of special interest money can be substantially reduced, incumbents will be less likely to tolerate expensive legal loopholes, give unjustifiable tax breaks or grant other sector benefits inimical to taxpayers' pocketbooks.
At present, public funding offers the only constitutional route to truly effective campaign finance reform. Help Massachusetts join the successful reformers in Maine and Minnesota in proving to doubters nationwide that real campaign reform can happen. Vote "yes" on Question 3 on November 5 and save what the Boston Globe has termed "the most promising political reform in years."
Seba Gaines is a Mosquito reporter and a member of the Democratic Town Committee.
What makes a neighborhood?
"Wonderful neighborhood," read the real estate ad for a house on our street last spring. Why did the realtor describe the neighborhood as "wonderful?" As far as I know, none of the neighbors have initiated contact with the new residents, and only those directly across the street have even exchanged a few words while coincidentally out to get the mail at the same time. I know it was a wonderful neighborhood in the past (as I grew up on this street), and maybe it has the potential to be again.
What makes a neighborhood in Carlisle? Cul-de-sacs and loops are natural neighborhoods, whereas the main arterial roads beyond the center are obviously not. But Carlisle also has a lot of intermediate-length through streets that are borderline as neighborhoods. Ours is one of these. Growing up, it was definitely a neighborhood. I recall the annual block parties to which every neighbor was invited. When a new loop was built off our street, it was considered a nice extension of our neighborhood. But I think as the new houses gradually went in, the size of the combined neighborhood just grew too big to be considered a single block-party-sized neighborhood. Now, a second development has begun. The first loop is now its own neighborhood, the new cul-de-sac will become its own, and we are just left on a through street that has become busier with traffic.
Children also play a role in making a neighborhood. When I was a child, almost every household on our street had children. Now, only about a third do. People are more likely to seek relationships with their neighbors if their children are close in age. This, of course, creates an unfair bias against those without children. And I'll have to admit, I'm quite guilty of this myself. This past summer, some new families moved into the neighborhood, so I hosted a highly discriminatory neighborhood party of all families with children of "preschool and elementary school age," as are my own children. Even families with just toddlers or teenagers were not invited, despite the potential babysitting match-ups. And as for those new residents who responded to the real estate ad describing a "wonderful neighborhood," I'd heard that they don't have kids, so I have not yet bothered to make contact.
I realize that I should not discriminate against neighbors without children. They certainly are just as likely to become good friends or simply good neighbors — and maybe even babysitters! And in this era of concern about the safety of children, knowing one's neighbors of any age or family makeup is a good idea. The public school recently distributed a "Neighborhood Safety" information sheet to parents of all children, which included the advice: "Interacting regularly with neighborsis a very important safety measure and a plus for everyone."
Despite its low residential density, on Halloween I always take my kids trick-or-treating in our own neighborhood. This year, I'll have a good reason to call on those new neighbors without kids.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito