Monday, March 2, 2009

My Day on the Hill

Last Year
March 19, 2008

I trudged up Beacon Hill.

A girl could get sick of this place, I thought.

I'd spent a week on the Hill last night at the Statehouse hearings. And yet, here I was, a glutten for punishment, perhaps, coming back for more. The League of Women Voters had invited the membership of and anyone else opposed to casinos in the Commonwealth to come back to the Statehouse the next day for their annual "Day on the Hill". And I am not one to let down a friend.

But I'd missed the breakfast.


I met up with Fiferstone and we listened to speeches about various topics. It was interesting. I hadn't realized that even in the 21st century, a lot of legislation effecting women had a hard time getting passed at the mostly male Statehouse - and hence the Lobby Day - a day for the League to descend en masse on their reps so they could hear us roar - though men are welcome to roar, too.

It crosses my mind that folks in my part of the State probably have reps like Marc Pacheco (D - Tracks) and Dave Flynn (D - Slots) in part because we don't have a League of our own. I was asked if I would start a chapter. Gulp. My life is at critical mass. I don't have the time to return phone calls let alone organize a political group. But I promised to ask around.

Louise Haldeman, the League's expert on expanded gambling gave a great talk. During the question and answer period someone in the audience stated that since a "casino in Middleboro was inevitable..."

Fiferstone and I are on our feet shouting that notion down. Ow... that hurt. My back and legs, forced to spend hours in a modified fetal position at the union-cramped hearings yesterday, screamed in protest. They want to go home. They want to curl up in a hot tub with some Epsom Salt and aromatherapy.

Then it's over - it's time to head out to find our reps. Tell them not to vote for the Governor's casino plan.

I hope they don't talk back. Because I've had it up to there with blah blah blah jobs... blah blah blah... money going to Connecticut... blah blah blah inevitable... blah blah blah It's Entertainment!

And I'm just another one of the annoying killjoys who bring up costs and impacts and addiction.

I'm tired. I'm tired of crazy flying monkey death threats, I'm tired of nonsensical perseverating rants on public message boards, I'm tired of sociopathic public officials, and tired of bumping into greed and stupidity and big fat bloated egos every time I turn around.

The only bright spot in the past few days was Rep. Conroy's verbal evisceration of the guys from Harrah's at the hearing last night. But it always comes down to that, doesn't it? The money.

My mind wanders to the baby my mother told me about - the one who'll never meet his own dad because a casino was close enough to lure him in with hope - then steal it from him.

I keep walking. I'm alone on today's dark journey because no one else, not one of my Lobby Day cohorts, is going to see "Dean of the House" Dave Flynn.

Lucky bastards.

I meet Carl on the way. He is heading out from work to lobby Rep. Canessa. I've met with Canessa before and at least he's easy to talk to, even if his head's tucked so far up his backside when it comes to gambling that I doubt it'll ever see the light of day.

Carl is in a much better mood than me. I'm jealous. Other colleagues from Cranberry Country are seeking out Rep. Calter, who we have been told, is our friend. But I don't trust him. He's a politician.

In a world that attracts both opportunists and idealists, elected officials eventually seem to break down into a few easily recognizable categories: politicians, leaders - and some who successfully combine both.

But I'm not going to see any of them today. I'm going to see Dave Flynn, an odd bird. An entrenched old-school glad-hander who can't see the forest for the slot machines. And I've been informed that he isn't pleased with my blog.

On my way to Flynn's office I pass Rep. Sue Tucker's headquarters. She fiercely opposes any expanded gambling (with a capitol "F") and I wish she were my rep. How refreshing it must be to be represented by someone who actually cares about whether or not people - people other than dog track owners and their employees that is - get hurt.

In the marble-lined corridors small groups of Leaguers and Lobby Dayers like me are milling around, smiling, laughing - basically looking as if discussing issues with their reps were a positive, even wholesome, experience. Like folks leaving church after a good sermon. I hunt for a frown, a furrowed brow among them.


Unlike me. I am dreading this. What could I possibly say that would change his mind? I tried to get him to talk once while collecting signatures outside Bridgewater Raynham High School. He just shouted something about "eleven years to build a casino" and drove off smoking a cigar.

That's another thing I can't take much more of. Why are there are so many people so convinced they know EXACTLY what's going to happen. I've listened to them all - and if you put them all in a room together, they'd all be saying different things.

I want to go home.

A few dozen feet from Flynn's office I pass a group from Brockton ARC and overhear them say they are looking for his office too. I sneak in ahead of them. I want this to be quick. It's a safe bet that my next stop at Pacheco's office will last for a small eternity and include further toxic exposure to his unique but interminable But-For-Slots Manifesto.

Flynn's office is sunny and bright, unlike my mood. Eventually the secretary notices me and tells me Flynn isn't available today (relief!) but she'll grab an aide to come talk to me (relapse). But I figure the aide will be new Flynn-underling and Raynham selectman Joe Pacheco - which I can tolerate.

But it's not Joe. It's some pleasant looking young man in an oxford cloth shirt. I introduce myself, and get the blogging thing off my chest right off so he knows where I stand. He hasn't read my blog, he says, though he's heard of it.

Sure he hasn't read it. Because no one would make a beeline to a web site featuring PhotoShopped pictures of their boss linking arms with a Las Vegas showgirl, standing in his pajamas next to Donald Trump, or being terrified by a blue-faced Glenn Marshall dragging the chains he forged in life.


I quickly recite my rehearsed spiel asking that Rep. Flynn kindly consider not voting for the Governor's three casino plan. Almost immediately, Oxford Cloth is on the offensive.

What alternative did I have, he wanted to know, for filling in the budget shortfall.

Well, not casinos certainly, I countered, which haven't managed to lower taxes in other States.

But Oxford Cloth persists. He is leaning in the doorway, arms crossed. Calm. Smug. Insufferable. But we can use the revenue now from the licenses... he says.

What is up with this? Why am I being challenged to a debate?

Just to show him I mean business I remind him that "if the State approves Class III gambling it could usher in an era of Tribal casinos..."

Yes, it might... he unexpectedly concurs. "But as far as getting approvals it may take up to five years for them to build those casinos."

But, I point out, after they're built those casinos will be there forever. They'll be sovereign. They'll bring an increase in crime to my town and others in the region. They'll decrease our quality of life, cannibalize local businesses, hurt schools, expose us to potential environmental problems and exacerbate social problems. Including gambling addiction. And let's face it, no one's going to want to go to the dog track if the world's biggest casino is 15 minutes away. Tribal casinos will close the tracks.

"Ah," he grins, "But that's still five years worth of revenue the State can take in before they do."

Well, how can you argue with remorseless avarice like that?

The tireless optimist, I attempt once again to locate a pulse. "Doesn't Rep. Flynn care about gambling addiction in his district?"

Oxford doesn't flinch. "What about the lottery we already have? Wouldn't you consider that gambling?"

Before I can answer, a lady from the Brockton ARC, accompanied by a young man with Down's syndrome, answers for me.

"I would!"

We give her our attention.

"My father was addicted to the lottery... Really bad..."

My work here is done. Please let Mr. Flynn know I've dropped by...

Back in the hallway, I marvel at the chilling depth of soulless detachment I have just witnessed in the office of the man who represents me and my 27,000 neighbors at the Statehouse.

I thought I was supposed to leave here smiling serenely like the other Lobby Dayers - not wanting to find the stairs so I can take a leap off the dome.

My shoes feel heavy. I can't lift them. They make soft swishy sounds on the marble.

Because my next stop is Marc Pacheco.

I half-heartedly look for directions to his office. I have trouble reading them because I realize my eyes are filled with tears. I'm tired, I know. That's it. That's all. I have to go home and work on my testimony for the upcoming BIA hearing. Another monkeyfest, I'm certain. I have to try to get someone from my town to show up. I have to get out a blog. Make dinner. Help with homework. Drive to sports. Go to meetings. Return phone calls... I have to...

...find Marc Pacheco's office.

There's a window at the end of the corridor. I stare out into the courtyard and over at buildings across the street and up at the gray sky, letting time pass, attempting to compose myself. A tissue from my purse, eyes dabbed dry. Sniffles silenced.

And that's when I decide not to find Pacheco's office. It's been a long winter, and I need a little sunshine. I'm going to do something more productive. I'm going to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.

And so I walk down to Senator Tucker's office to thank her for standing firm against expanded gambling in Massachusetts. There is a young man inside - Oxford's counterpart but without the smugness - he stands and shakes my hand. And I ask him to please thank Senator Tucker for me. "I don't live in her district, but I appreciate what she's done. Please thank her... for all she's done... to prevent...

Last night, this morning, next week, the whole year, the whole thing - it hits me.

"...expanded gambling in our State."

And suddenly, inexplicably, and uncontrollably, I dissolve into tears.

If I can do it again, so can you.

League of Women Voters Day of the Hill
March 4, 2009

9:00 a.m. Registration & Reception – Nurses’ Hall
Come meet your legislators and join us for a light breakfast.
10:00 – 12:30 Program – Gardner Auditorium
Hear featured speakers on the issues.
12:30 – Lobby Your Legislators

And it's OK to miss the breakfast...


Anonymous said...

The reminder is appreciated!

I hope tomorrow is well attended.

Carl said...

That was a very interesting day. I was glad to have participated. More constituents should attend so the legilators hear from them more instead of the lobbyists and special interest groups.

Give them heck on the hill folks.

Anonymous said...

Mr Oxford challenging you with the question, "what would you do to fix the budget shortfall?" is a tactical evasion.

My question to our current administration:

"What did you do to try and fix our budget shortfall? If casinos is our last hope, what (until now) has failed?"

Because we know that "budget shortfall" is snynonymous with "piss poor fiscal management".

And "casinos" is synonymous with "I didn't try".