Testimony at the Democratic Platform Hearing in Arlington

Here are my prepared remarks for the Democratic Party Platform Hearing held this evening in Arlington.
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Welcome to the home of our Representative Town Meeting; one of the most open and responsive legislative bodies in the nation; made even more accountable with our adoption of electronic voting.

I am Paul Schlichtman, and I have spent 21 years as a Town Meeting Member, and 15 years as a school committee member. During that time, it seems the open meeting and public records laws became stricter every year. Sometimes I wonder if I can sneeze at a school committee meeting if it isn’t on the agenda.

Accountability and transparency are good things, but from its inception through every subsequent reform, the state legislature has exempted itself from these laws. It makes no sense that the volunteers on the Bicycle Advisory Committee operate under strict rules that don’t apply to our professional state legislators.

As a nation, we have been transforming ourselves away from our democratic ideal, where public policy decisions were made, and public funds were appropriated, by elected representatives of the people. We are trending toward a plutocracy, where tax cuts for billionaires translate into cash-starved state and local governments. Without adequate revenue, cities, towns, and school districts are chasing funds from the Walton and DeVos Family Foundations. They provide the money, they set the policy.

Speaking of Betsy DeVos, our unelected State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Secretary James Peyser, have been given broad leeway over education policy. While the town meeting that sits in this hall makes granular appropriations of local funds, such as $2,160 for the Arlington Historical Commission, an ideological group of Republican appointees can swoop in and take millions of dollars out of a city or town budget for an unwanted, unnecessary charter school. Instead of maintaining tight restrictions on the actions of cities and towns, the legislature needs to engage itself in some adult supervision of the state education agencies. We also need to reform governance and funding of charter schools. If we are expected to pay for charter schools, we expect the right to approve a new school and vote its appropriations.

With the nonsense happening in Washington, Beacon Hill needs to be a beacon for  thoughtful, progressive, successful government.

We don’t need a stupid wall. We need a smart transit system. We don’t need a stupid South Station expansion, we need a smart North-South rail link. Bill Weld and Michael Dukakis agree that the rail link is $2 billion cheaper than expanding Boston’s two dead-end terminals, and it would be the lynchpin of improved rail service throughout the region.

We shouldn’t need a Proposition 2 ½ override to maintain level services, especially when the Foundation Budget Review Commission has documented the annual erosion of state funding for public schools using formulaic trickery. For Fiscal 2017, the state said our costs DEFLATED 0.22% Really?

We are severely constrained at the local level in our ability to raise revenue, and the state refuses to talk about revenue and their structural deficit. Instead of looking for solutions, they pass the problem down to cities and towns and school districts.

Employer-based health care is a drag on small businesses and our economic competitiveness with other nations. The Republicans point to failures of Obama-care, Romney-Care, in rural states where the markets are not working. Vital, universal public needs like education and health care shouldn’t be market driven opportunities for high profits; we need Medicare for all, and a transition away from an expensive, profit-driven private bureaucracy with no public oversight or accountability.

At the end of our warrant, we have a sanctuary town, or trust act resolution. We have had many open discussions, and I believe it will pass by a significant margin. Our Human Rights Commission placed this on our warrant. It has been discussed. It will be voted upon. The discussion has been public; open. Just as I have faith that Arlington will vote to support the resolution, I have no faith that our legislature will even bring a similar resolution to the floor for discussion.

This hall is the home to open, transparent democracy at its best. If we can do it here, why not on Beacon Hill. Shouldn’t our legislature be as good as our town meetings? Shouldn’t we, as Democrats, embrace the highest standards for representative democracy and apply that to our state government? Shouldn’t our platform embrace, and advocate for, a state government that aligns to our local ideals?

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The birds are… shivering!

The birds should be chirping, but they are shivering instead.

What’s up with the weather? It was 68 degrees in February, and we are in the midst of a frozen Nor’easter on the first day of April. It should feel like spring, with chirping birds, lots of bikes on the bike path, and happy folks enjoying the first days of sidewalk dining. While we are just two short days from opening day at Fenway, it is a windy, wet, cold, snowy, Saturday. April Fools!

This is where I usually get into the feathery shtick and tell you it’s a beautiful day for an election. Let’s be honest. The weather is less than ideal, and the town-wide races are uncontested. It’s the kind of day that lends itself more toward French toast and huddling under a blanket with a good book. Still, there are good reasons to venture out into cold reality and visit your local polling place.

First, there are poll workers who are waiting for your visit! A slow election is a lonely day for the election workers, who make sure you have the opportunity to participate in your town government. Go thank them for working a very long day to make democracy possible.

Second, voting in an uncontested election is a way to say thank you to the people on the ballot. My colleagues on the school committee, and the other folks on the town-wide ballot, are all hard working and thoughtful people who spend considerable time working to make Arlington a better place to live. Diane Mahon is also a long-time friend and fan of this chirping bird routine. Please take the time to fill in the bubble next to Diane’s name, as well as Dan Dunn, both running for re-election as selectmen. Fill in the bubble for Mary Winstanley O’Connor, running for re-election to the Board of Assessors. Fill in the bubble for Town Clerk Stephanie Lucarelli, and Finance Committee member Dean Carmen who is running for Town Treasurer. Please vote for my school committee colleagues, Jennifer Susse and Bill Hayner, and I ask for your vote as well.

We work well together, we respect each other, and I think Arlington is moving in a positive direction. Your vote today may not be a vote to select candidates, but it is a vote of confidence.

In eleven of 21 precincts, it is also a vote to elect Town Meeting Members. Our citizen legislature appropriates the town budget, enacts bylaws and zoning bylaws, and makes the major decisions for the town. Some of the Town Meeting races are very spirited, with your neighbors engaged in a contest for the right to spend several spring evenings representing you in Town Hall.

Yes, we have a town election on April Fools Day, and it’s the fools who fail to use their vote! The polls are open until 8:00 p.m., and I promise you, if you vote, the birds will be out chirping in the sunshine really soon.

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