(Another great interview thanks Garrett. – promoted by EaBo Clipper)
This Q&A with Barbara Anderson, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, is the third in a series of interviews with conservative and libertarian leaders throughout the state. The purpose of the series, What Happens Next, is to gather perspectives on the current state of the Massachusetts Republican Party and Massachusetts politics.
Chip Ford & Chip Faulkner, both of CLT, participated in this interview, too.
Garrett : How would Barbara Anderson describe the state of politics in Massachusetts?
Barbara Anderson: Who?
Chip Ford: There are no politics in Massachusetts, only a flock to timid sheep. Politics assumes more than one view, more than a single option. There is the flock and there are the the rest of us exiled to Sherwood Forest.
Garrett: Why is the Massachusetts Republican Party in its current position and how does it improve?
Barbara: Republicans once ran Massachusetts, until they supported birth control (good for them) which was considered anti-Irish by the immigrants. For some reason the Party didn’t capitalized on this fact in later years with an appeal for gratitude from women.
Later CLT was told that our initiative petitions gave voters an alternative to voting Republican so it was our fault. But when we didn’t do petitions Republicans still lost. In 1990, our tax cut petition didn’t pass but helped get Bill Weld elected. His and Cellucci’s brand of libertarian Republicanism had appeal, but many Republican social conservatives disliked them for it. Libertarian-leaning Republicans had more tolerance for conservative Republicans like Mitt Romney, who also had voter appeal because he didn’t emphasize social issues.
CLT tried term limits and various ways to create a limited legislative session which we thought would get more Republicans to run for a part-time legislature like in New Hampshire. Court challenges kept us off the ballot.
Part of the problem is that Republican legislators no longer have independent Democrats to team up with for some legislative successes: conservative Democrats on fiscal issues, liberal Democrats on reform issues. The main reason for this is (Emphasis added by Anderson) Republican legislators biggest mistake: supporting Tom Finneran for Speaker of the House in 1996 instead of minding their own business. Once he was perceived, incorrectly, as a conservative, people saw no reason for Republicans in the House. Then he discouraged opposition among the Democrats, so there were no more alliances with Republicans.
Our PAC continues to support good Republican candidates, of which there are many; even the best of them don’t win anymore. I think the brand-name is tainted in the minds of the electorate, even the Independents, but I don’t know why.
Best suggestions are in Jim Peyser’ s recent column, especially the one about changing the name. CLT once considered starting “The Disgusted Party”. It could attract voters from all parts of the political spectrum.
Chip: The “Disgusted Party,” or the “Outties” — as in the “Outsiders Party”! You have to admit that today there are just the Insiders and the Outsiders. The Insiders Party is composed of both Democrat and Republican incumbents and those living off them (us).
Garrett: What is the status of the fiscal conservative/libertarian movement in Massachusetts?
Barbara: Tremendous potential from young new voters, if someone can find a way to tap it. But it would have to be a practical, not an ideological libertarian component.
Chip: I agree — but the Incumbent (“Insiders”) Party is still almost guaranteed reelection just by being on the ballot. Term Limits, part-time Legislature, pay increase repeals; no such reforms are going to work here in Massachusetts. Even the courts belong to the Insiders Party and will continue to rule for themselves and their party’s interests.
Barbara: I somewhat disagree. While the courts are aware that the Democrat leadership is responsible for their funding, the SJC did rule that legislators must vote on initiative amendments. But Chip’s first argument is a good reason for a Republican Party name change.
Garrett: Is the condition of the Massachusetts Republican Party related to the condition of the conservative movement in Massachusetts?
Barbara: Over the years, the electorate has been fiscally conservative on ballot issues that aren’t perceived as radical, on charter schools, on choice of governor (much of Deval’s appeal was that property tax relief he promised).
Chip: The state Republican Party hierachy stands for little but reelection of itself: its small and shrinking handful in the Legislature and a governor every four years, usually self-funded or sucking dry any state party funds available.
Garrett: What role do you see CLT playing in future elections and Massachusetts politics?
Barbara: We think we still have ascendancy on Proposition 2 1/2, and a Democrat move that would raise property taxes could change the climate here. I think focus on the property tax is the near future.
Chip: I concur. I don’t see us wasting time and money on another ballot question until the Legislature has been motivated to respect the outcome as
voted. Motivation depends on electing more outsiders. We can still be a voice of the taxpayers, if anyone is still listening. I still wonder if CLT just going away would bring on the inevitable end of government sustainability quicker, more noticeably if it collapses all at once?
Garrett: What are the short term and long term legislative goals of CLT?
Barbara: Short term, there is nothing we can do: no way to get our bills through, no initiative petition process. Plans to file public employee pension and health insurance reforms required a ‘Yes’ vote on Question 1.
Long term, when the voters are finally “disgusted”, we would like to cut the property tax more. Have always wanted education vouchers, funded by the apparently popular existing income tax. Get the kids away from the MTA.
Chip: Short term, keep our powder dry and available. Keep on keeping on — continue speaking out for those who might be listening, at least for our members. Already Michael Graham and others are blaming those who voted
‘No’ on Question 1 for the proposed hike in tolls, and everything else bad that is coming. We have to keep reminding everyone what the consequences of that ‘No’ vote they cast meant every time the pols are back picking our pockets. We have to remind local voters that the teachers unions and others campaigned on how homeowners can’t afford higher property taxes each time the government employee unions push for overrides to fund their next benefits increase.
Garrett: Who is your opposition?
Barbara: Public employee unions, Mass Taxpayers Foundation, most politicians, Mass Municipal Association, see list of contributors against Question 1.
Garrett: What role has the “new media” played in your organization?
Barbara: We still have a good relationship to reporters, still have talk radio. The traditional Massachusetts print media still informs the public unless it is supporting a black candidate, when it refuses to question or attack. The problem may be that the “new media” has less influence on a public that isn’t paying attention to it anyhow.
Chip: The “new media” might be able to bring in “new,” younger, activists, but most voters still depend on the “Drive-By” or “Mainstream” media, and what remains of local talk radio. Those “New Activists” in numbers must learn that voting is the conclusion of a campaign effort — a necessary part of the outcome. Until the day comes, the votes that actually count happen away from the computer, not online.
Garrett: What are your thoughts on the failure of Question 1?
Barbara: There was never any chance that voters would seriously repeal the income tax. Never had a chance to win unless the message got out that it was just a message. We had a small hope that voters could be so well-informed and angry that they didn’t care. Since they aren’t that well-informed, the ballot question needed to be at least competitive in funding, and there was no way to beat millions from the unions.
But the real killer was the fear of a property tax increase. CLT’s usual base, the senior citizens, voted ‘No’. This was inevitable with the choice of income tax instead of property tax to cut.
Still it was fun, especially for those of us who didn’t do all the work of signature collecting!
Chip: I concur. Initially I thought it would win, but I figured that would change when I saw that first $5M come into the ‘No’ committee’s coffers and from where. I knew from experience that much more would follow — more than enough to win, however much that required.
This debate goes back for years, decades, between libertarians and CLT. It’s been said that good shouldn’t be the enemy of perfect, but none of CLT’s efforts in the past got the libertarian imprimatur of perfect, so they were not good enough. We shouldn’t have successfully capped property taxes at 2 1/2 percent: we should have repealed them. We shouldn’t have rolled back the income tax to 5%: we should have repealed it, etc. Well now they’ve tried, and even with our limited help it was crushed by 70% of the vote. So much for ideological purism.
Barbara: Chip wasn’t around in 1980, when the libertarians were a strong ally with Proposition 2 1/2, helping us get signatures. They also helped with our attempted tax cut in 1990. Lots of those “old timers” are still valued CLT members. Libertarian talk show hosts have been our best friends over the years. Carla (Howell) was once a CLT member. I’ve been a guest speaker at various libertarian events. The points Chip makes reflect more recent history, when what’s left of the libertarian movement “doesn’t play well with other children”.
Garrett: What role does the Friday Morning Group play in Massachusetts politics?
Chip Faulkner: It allows the coservative movement and the individuals involved to network with one another on a regular basis. The FMG also allows groups to publicize their issues and events in the hope of expanding involvement. The FMG gives encouragement and support to individuals to “continue the battle” who might otherwise consider their efforts hopeless in this very blue state.
Garrett: How much longer are you going to be involved in politics?
Barbara: As someone once said, anyone who is not involved in politics is like a drowning man who is not involved in water.
Chip: As long as there is enough support to continue fighting.
Garrett: What impact do you think Proposition 2 ½ has had on the Commonwealth since its inception?
Barbara: Best thing that ever happened to Massachusetts taxpayers. More important than the monetary savings (the property tax burden dropped from highest per capita to 13th or so, and is slowly moving back up) it gave us respect and some control. Ended school board fiscal autonomy and new unfunded state mandates (education reform excluded itself). Permanent cut in auto excise from $66/1000 to $25/1000.
Chip: It made local officials ask permission for a tax increase instead of simply decreeing one; a very big change in means-and-methods and governing philosophy with an ultimate veto available to voters for the first time ever – if they’re wise enough to choose it and not be cowed by government union demands and threats.