Columnist Lindsay Sabadosa: On the importance of transparency — and transformation

  • A voter arrives as a worker walks past during early voting at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. AP PHOTO/Chuck Burton

Published: 1/18/2019 8:54:17 AM

I recently came across my notebook from AP Government where I had written down and answered a variety of questions on the first page: Have you ever worked on a political campaign? Yes. Have you ever donated to a candidate? Yes. Have you ever written a letter to the editor in support of a candidate? Yes. Have you ever voted? No. 

Before you get too alarmed, remember that I was 16 at the time and couldn’t vote. In fact, I have just hit the point where I can officially say I have been voting for half of my life, and I have always cherished that right. I remember every election and every candidate. After my daughter was born, I made a point of always bringing her to the voting booth with me because I believe in modeling the behavior you want to see in your children. We talk politics in our house, and she knows how I vote and why every time.

I have brought this love of voting to the State House and am ready to talk about how I vote and why every single time, but this is going to prove much more difficult that I first thought. 

The swearing-in ceremony for new legislators was Jan. 2 at the State House, and, on that day, we took dozens of votes — only one of which you will ever find recorded. 

Swearing-in day starts with Democratic caucus, and this year my colleague, Maria Robinson, D-Framingham, took the unprecedented step of introducing an amendment to change caucus rules: making the vote to nominate the speaker a private ballot in the caucus only, starting in the next session. At first blush, this may seem undemocratic and a way of making it harder for the public to know how we vote, but those who spoke in favor of the change pointed out that voting by private ballot would help to deconsolidate power, encourage others to run for speaker, and allow colleagues to appoint a nominee without concern for retaliation.

Having been one of the original signers of the Transparency Pledge, I was heartened to hear colleagues speak about their desire to be transparent with constituents, but immediately disappointed as the proposed rule change was handily voted down by voice vote — making it IMPOSSIBLE to know how a single person in the room actually voted for the amendment. I voted in favor of the proposed change. 

What was even more shocking, however, was that when it was time to vote for the nominee, the vote was done by voice vote. After lots of arguments about how we needed to go on record, no one went on record. There is no record.”  

Many, including myself, did not vote in that voice vote. It was confusing, chaotic and the complete opposite of what our colleagues had led us to expect just moments before. 

At 11 a.m., we moved into the House Chambers to begin the formal swearing-in ceremony. It is a long ceremony filled with pomp and circumstance. Again, we took dozens of procedural votes, forming “committees” to perform various tasks, approving them, and then dissolving them just as soon as the task was completed. This was all done entirely by voice vote, and I noticed that there is rarely a pause between the request for yeas and nays: People have no time to vote either way. 

When it came time for the one recorded vote of the day, I felt incredibly conflicted. One of my greatest hopes is to work on bringing transparency to a building that is often not transparent, and my experience on the morning of swearing-in did nothing if not confirm my belief that there is much work to do. The Speaker is the one who drives that culture, and also holds a huge amount of power. There were several representatives who chose to vote present that day, and I admire them for doing so. I also know that each had informed the Speaker ahead of time.

When I had to make the decision, I took a little extra time, consulted with the clerk and ultimately voted for the Speaker because to vote against him without telling him my concerns and giving him the opportunity to respond felt like it would have lacked integrity.

I still feel conflicted about this decision, and I will be sharing my concerns about transparency, legislative independence and a culture that rewards loyalty. 

Lindsay Sabadosa is a Northampton resident and the state representative for the 1st Hampshire District: Northampton, Southampton, Westhampton, Hatfield and Montgomery. Her column runs the third Friday of every month. She can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.



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