Category Archives: National policy – local impact

Birds are chirping for enchiladas!

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and this is going to be one of the most beautiful days of the year. It’s a wonderful day for enchiladas!

Enchiladas? Don’t the birds normally sing on election day? Well, yes, but in many ways today’s primary election is the whole enchilada.  In most of Arlington, the Democratic primary is the election, as there is no Republican candidate on the ballot for our Representative in Congress, (Governor’s) Councillor, Senator in General Court, and District Attorney. Senator Donnelly is unopposed in the primary, but the remaining races will be decided this evening.

Even where there is an opponent, most pundits, birds, and cats all agree that the only really competitive race in November will be the election for governor. That’s why the birds are singing for the voters of Arlington who will be making their choices today.

The birds are also singing for Martha Coakley, a former Arlington resident who has been very responsive to local governments in her role as Middlesex DA and Attorney General. They like her collaborative style and willingness to listen.

They also sing for Katherine Clark, who was recently elected to Congress to fill the unexpired term of Ed Markey. Not many folks are aware she has a primary opponent, but she needs to win the Democratic primary to continue as our representative.

There is a lot to like about both candidates for Attorney General, but the birds sing with pride for Mike Lake (Lt. Gov.), Tom Conroy (Treasurer), Charlie Shapiro (Governor’s Councillor), and Michael Sullivan (District Attorney).

That said, the birds are really singing for Arlington, with the hope that Arlington will once again be one of the top voting municipalites in a primary election. The birds are singing for you if you visit your friendly poll workers and thank them for making democracy work in Arlington.

So get out there and vote! Polls are open until 8:00 p.m.

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Fixing Ferguson (and beyond)

I can’t stop looking at Ferguson through the lens of my own experience in local government.

I understand how things work in my beloved Town of Arlington, a 5.2 square mile New England town with a population of about 43,000. Ferguson is more suburban than Arlington, in that it has 21,000 people living in 6.2 square miles. (Our neighboring town of WInchester, MA also has 21,000 people living in 6.2 square miles.)

Taking a spin through Ferguson on Google Maps Street View, I see lots of well kept single family homes with more lawn than almost any neighborhood in Arlington. Having done lots of political door knocking in Arlington, I see Ferguson as a flat, pleasant place for a good old fashioned political canvas.

Yes, I am looking at this as a political problem. I know of no other way to view the whole situation. How can a police department think it’s okay to hunt down and shoot unarmed jaywalkers? Who is holding the police department accountable for their actions?

The line of accountability is through the political process. The police chief needs to answer to the mayor and city council, and these elected officials are accountable to the voters.

The crisis we are witnessing began with the murder of Michael Brown, but was fueled by the lack of an appropriate response from the police chief and the elected officials of the City of Ferguson.

A sick police culture
News reports describe the area surrounding Ferguson as a patchwork of small municipalities where African Americans complain of being targeted by the local police. The system is designed to produce this result.

The New York Times reports that the City of Ferguson receives a quarter of its revenue from court fees. This creates an incentive for the mayor and council to expect significant revenue from traffic fines, putting pressure on the police to generate revenue instead of acting in the best interests of the public it is sworn to protect.

Ferguson is not alone in this regard, as the Times reports that some surrounding cities generate half of their revenue from court fees.

Allowing a municipality to keep and budget traffic fines is nothing more than an invitation for trouble. Consider the notorious little city of Hampton, Florida, where they incorporated a 1260 foot stretch of US 301 for the purpose of turning it into a cash cow speed trap.  In Hampton, it was easy for the police to point their speed guns at out-of-towners. They had no remorse for victimizing “those people” in order to generate barrels of cash for a corrupt little city.

In St. Louis County, “those people” who are the targets for the traffic fine revenue scheme are mostly guilty of Driving While Black. White cops, black motorists, and a white political structure that is happy with the cash flow being generated by strict, racially motivated traffic enforcement. The ground rules poison the political culture, poison the community, and leads to a culture where a police officer thinks its acceptable to fire six shots into a jaywalker who happens to be one of “those people.”

In Massachusetts, cities and towns are not allowed to keep revenue from moving violations. Massachusetts cities and towns cannot balance their budgets and raise revenue through strict traffic enforcement. If Missouri is serious about abolishing the toxic culture that produced this crisis, they will act immediately to eliminate traffic fines as a municipal revenue source.

A political failure
My television has been filled with a stream of really good folks, who reside in Ferguson, who are appalled by the actions of the police, the response by the police chief, and the condoning silence of the mayor and city council. Three layers of failed accountability.

St. Louis County reports that the last election (April 2, 2013) in the City of Ferguson attracted 1,614 out of 13,745 registered voters, an 11.74% turnout. I am not writing this to scold the folks who didn’t vote in the city election (most cities and towns don’t do much better). I am merely pointing out how easy it is for the community to exert greater accountability over this whole mess.

Ferguson elects city council members by ward, and in 2013 the winning candidate in Ward 1 got just 518 votes. The winner in Ward 2 got 497 votes. The Ward 3 candidate ran uncontested and won with 162 votes. This is not a sign of a huge political establishment that has a stranglehold on the city. This is a small city where a half dozen folks willing to put their names on the ballot, a few dozen dedicated volunteers, and about 1800 new voters can make all the difference in the world.

Local elections matter. Local elections define the quality of local services, including police and public schools. I am sure the good folks of Ferguson have come to a very real understanding, and they know what to do when the next election rolls around. I guarantee the days of sleepy, low turnout elections in Ferguson are long gone.

Ferguson will get this right.

What about the rest of us?

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Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook Elementary School did all the right things to secure their building. Locks, buzzer, lock-down drills. There was no police officer, but that would have also been a minor obstacle for a mass murderer with multiple military weapons.

The NRA solution of more guns in schools is no solution at all, and would only succeed in making things worse. Gunmen who want to create massive carnage before they exit the world in a hail of bullets will not be deterred by additional guns in and around their target when the gunmen plans for his death as part of the rampage.

It is painfully obvious that we cannot solve this problem at the local level. The solution to this constant stream of semi-automatic gunmen is to separate the unstable civilian gunmen from military weapons. Can we do this while we preserve our second amendment rights?

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

For those who view the constitution most conservatively, looking at original intent, it’s clear the founding fathers were talking about the citizenry’s right to muskets. Specifically, they were informed by the British regulars marching through Menotomy and Lexington on a mission to remove muskets and powder secured for the Concord militia. A central power that could disarm the local militia was a threat to a free State, and a well regulated Militia was a clear balance to the potential of a powerful federal government.

I doubt the founding fathers wanted the village idiot wandering around the common with a musket or two, and the amendment was certainly not written for the purpose of guaranteeing gun rights to the village idiot or any one individual.

We already place significant limits on civilian ownership of weapons. The second amendment doesn’t guarantee civilian ownership of nuclear weapons. You can’t park a fully-operational tank on your front lawn. You can’t ride around with rockets and mortars in the back of your pickup truck.

There’s a line. We just need to find a place where that line should be drawn to preserve reasonable rights and public safety.

Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are military weapons. They have no legitimate civilian use, and we should prohibit civilian use of these weapons. Similarly, high-capacity ammunition is necessary for our military, but its only civilian purpose is mass murder.

The words “well regulated” should also bring us to the point where we can regulate the licensure of gun owners and register guns. Again, under the village idiot in the town common interpretation, licensure and registration should be required for firearms. Because the amendment declares it “necessary to the security of a free State,” let the states register weapons and license users, much as we allow the states to register cars and license drivers.

It is also clear that mental health services are woefully inadequate. If we are to live in a safe society, we need view treatment of mental health issues as a critical public health issue. We need adequate resources so folks get the treatment they need, to protect themselves and their neighbors.

Again, this is nothing we can solve on a local level. This requires significant courage and resolve from our federal legislators, in the face of a powerful lobbying industry that wants to flood our nation with even more military weapons.

A solution delayed is a solution deferred. Our national leaders need to take action now.

 

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