Galvanization, legislation & stagnation

The question was: What’s the inside scoop on galvanizing fellow legislators to push bills and pass legislation. What’s the low down on what you are not able to actually vote on. How much stuff from inner city legislators get kiboshed in committees? Why are some politicians in positions for decades and very rarely co/sponsor legislation (no *shade)

 

In 2006/7 separately I asked Mel King, Chuck Turner and Dianne Wilkerson about the “Black Political Task Force” because I heard about it growing up. I liked the idea of power in numbers. Their responses varied. Councilor Turner gave me an answer but he didn’t want to throw *shade, so he kept it light. Senator Wilkerson smiled and said, I’m paraphrasing…it’s harder than it looks to keep that group together. Representative King’s response is the most memorable. It’s 2007, I’m running against his mentee, Councilor Turner. I’m trying to impress upon him my goals and why I am in it. I’m not looking for an endorsement just to build so he knows I’m serious about our people and the struggle. On the park bench on Columbus Ave between his home and Tent City we sat. When I told him I’m looking to revive that kind of body and power to our community he said, “when you wake up in the morning what’s the very first thing you do to get up?” I said “put my feet on the floor.” He said “do that first and then work on the rest”. It would be years before I pulled that idea out of the parking lot again. But he was absolutely right.

2011, I enter the Massachusetts House of Representatives. I enter with freshman Representative Russell Holmes of the 6th Suffolk District (parts of Mattapan, Roslindale, Dorchester). We had spent some time as Reps-elect and built on this idea and the energy we would bring to the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus. The caucus members are Black or Latino, sometimes Black and Latino. They represent districts where the majority of residents identify as the same. It included the Senate also. At the time, lone Senator Chang Diaz. 8-10 of us tops in the House out of 160. 1 of 40 in the Senate. After we would choose a small handful of bills out of the 20 or more we each believed to be important, proposed by us as individual legislators, we would have maybe 5-8 bills, “most critical”. Hold that. I’ll go deeper on another post. And it ain’t hopeless, just hard.

To pass a bill into law: file the bill. bill gets assigned to a committee. bill may or may not come before the committee for a hearing. that is determined by committee chair who is on the “leadership” team which means they were appointed by the Speaker of the House. So either the Speaker or Chairperson decides to have it heard or not, have testimony and hold a vote to decide if it makes it to House floor or if it gets sent to study. “study” = maybe next year kid. Or it could get voted down by colleagues on that committee = maybe next year. The mechanics of getting your bill through committee are deeply political and I would have to charge you to reveal them all.

Then the committee on 3rd reading. All bills stop here before the House floor. It’s like quality control. Checks for errors, defects, effects, etc. Powerful committee. Many bills stop here for ever.

If your bill makes it through committee and onto the floor, a few things could happen. I will explain it in laymen terms to not bore you. It can get debated and voted on in a formal session (it’s kind of a big deal) and voted up or down or sent to…you guessed it “study”. It can get bundled, put with other bills and passed on a vote or even a voice vote aka slipped through or voted down. And when I say slipped through, it’s not that no one sees it, just not all 160 Reps see it. It could be leadership of both parties and 20 Reps who took the time to go to an informal session. Big votes happen in formal session. I may have to charge for this post.

If it passes the House like the Check Cashing Bill that I sponsored with Alexandra Khaveci. Then all it has to do, is go through that whole process again in the Senate. Make it through that and it winds up on the Governor’s desk for the final John Hancock, if he chooses to sign it. Some bills start in the Senate and do the same process towards the House. The Check Cashing Bill has passed the House in a session. The Senate in the most recent. But not yet both in the same session.

10 reps galvanized moving policy amongst 200 who do not all share the same values or priority, it is hard to pass a law. The average is 6 years. Sound ridiculous? It probably is in some regard. Much of it gets the kibosh in committees. As a matter of fact:

At the end of this session in Aug 2016. 3-4 criminal justice reform bills that would address the issues we are seeing nationally with police were “sent to study” – We will come back to this. Did you know that ? Did your Rep or Senator tell you about that ? I heard Representative Russell Holmes mention it on WCVB during the #raceinBoston discussion.

So everything above this sentence is fact. Below it you will find my opinion mixed in.

In my opinion, more info needs to come from the Senators & Reps at the State House around bills and process in general but specifically these bills I just mentioned, much more. And more needs to be done in the community to bring these bills forward, but nothing moves there until January so we have time to build but not much.

Politicians are in positions for decades in short because the voters put them there and keep them there. I would say all sponsor/cosponsor legislation. I would say most of their constituents have no idea on what and that comment cuts both ways. As detailed above, it’s not easy to cross the goal line. However, in Congress and state levels in most cases seniority gets you rises in rank and influence, as in, you should be chairing committees. Representative Rushing has been in since ’83, he is the majority WHIP. He is on the Speaker’s leadership team, towards the top of that team. But that is not always the case. At the city level, chairs are chosen by council president and seniority is not a factor, it’s all politics there, that’ll be covered in “The Boston 5”.

I believe the majority of voters don’t know the details and intricacies of what I have detailed in this post. And there’s so much more. So, no tangible, measurable expectation is set. It becomes very subjective. Do they support your events, come to your cookout, are they in the paper, knocking your door, do you see them, gender, nationality, does pastor support them, what’s their last name, whose kid is that, did they speak to you, down to hair and clothes. And I’m not saying those things aren’t real but those shouldn’t supersede deliverables like proposing and passing legislation, increasing budgets, educating and organizing districts, changing policy and codes. . .So you get used to a name. They come to your event, they’re accessible, you like being on the winning team and knowing the winner, next thing you know 20 years have passed and a generation of political talent has left for the DMV or further or been disenfranchised.

*footnotes:

“shade” is slang for saying something negative

“session” = a legislative session (Jan- Aug on election years) possibly 2 during non election years

 

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