Last week, in a Massachusetts court room, an era came to an end. Salvatore “Sal” DiMasi, late Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, was convicted of taking bribes while in office. DiMasi had served as Speaker from 2004 to 2009, resigning seven months after his indictment. DiMasi was convicted of soliciting and taking bribes from a software company that sold its product to the state — and DiMasi was a big, big pusher of giving them the money.
DiMasi had succeeded Tom Finneran as Speaker. “Tommy Taxes” (and now “Finneran The Felon”) Finneran served from 1996 to 2004, until he resigned after a redistricting scandal — he’d engineered the redistricting in Massachusetts following the 2000 census to reward his friends and punish his enemies. That’s not necessarily illegal, but lying to the investigators while under oath is. He was convicted of perjury and lost his law license.
Finneran, in turn, had succeeded Charlie Flaherty as Speaker. “Good Time Charlie” held the Speaker’s gavel from 1991 to 1996, until he, too, ran afoul of the law. Flaherty pleaded guilty to tax evasion and accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Three Speakers in a row, all convicted of felonies. That’s remarkable, but hardly unique. Illinois, for example, can boast of six governors convicted of corruption, including the last two preceding the current guy. So why bring it up?
For one, all three Massachusetts Speakers were Democrats. Massachusetts is the bluest of blue states, and often serves as a wonderful example of the dangers of a one-party state. The legislature is usually 5/6 Democratic, the Congressional delegation is consistently overwhelmingly Democratic (Republican Senator Scott Brown is a serious aberration, but there was another factor — I’ll get back to that in a moment), and the 16-year run of Republican governors (1993-2009) was a rare sign of sanity, as it showed that Massachusetts understood that there needed to be some kind of check on the Democrats.
And the second factor? Remember Scott Brown? His opponent in the place to fill Ted Kennedy’s rump-sprung, gin-soaked, and questionably-stained seat in the US Senate was Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley — one of the worst candidates I’ve ever seen.
Coakley has been AG since 2007. Which means she was in office when Sal DiMasi’s corruption was revealed, and he was tried and convicted for taking bribes.
In federal court.
Just like Finneran and Flaherty.
Not one of those Speakers ever faced justice in a Massachusetts state court. All were brought before a federal bench to answer for their crimes.
In other words, Massachusetts was incapable of taking out its own trash. It needed the feds to do its dirty work.
Three times in a row.
That’s pretty much what you can expect from a single-party state. Having an opposition tends to make the powers that be a bit more careful and less complacent.
Once again, Massachusetts leads the day — in showing the rest of us how not to do things.