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Banana Republic:

Rep. Michael Moran, House chairman of the Committee on Election Laws, said lawmakers shouldn’t be handcuffed by past votes if they are not in the best interest of the state.

I don’t care about the politics here, we know that is going to be there. And there is no doubt that a Democrat will take Kennedy’s seat either today or in January. But I do care about the rule of law, and being ruled by the whims of men rather than the force of law (in the real sense).

Taken literally, Rep. Moran could be interepreted to mean, “the best interests of the government.” So what, then, keeps the legislature from raising taxes by 50%? Or take it from another angle. Once we allow that lawmakers should not respect laws they just passed (I am certainly willing to go there since I do not respect most laws passed), that does not mean that they can ignore the direct interests of the people. In fact, the Massachusetts legislature is famous for not respecting the outcome of a citizens tax initiative a few years ago – refusing to implement an income tax reduction that voters got onto a referendum, and the ballot measure passed (update, I am informed that the process never got that far, but the point remains that the legislature seems to not be responsive to this core constituency concern).

Put in a more straightforward manner. The Massachusetts legislature is well within its rights to make changes to laws, particularly if they see them as being counterproductive. But if that law as previously on the books did not make sense today, it must not have made sense last year. What prevented the changing of the law back then? To change the rules of the game only once a particular aspect of the game turns against you is a poor way to play a game, and a nefarious way to behave in a free society. That is the problem – not changing the rules, but doing so only when it became clear that the rule you previously crafted doesn’t suit your personal or political interests.

How about an analogy from my classes. It is OK for me at the start of each year to craft policies on extra credit assignments, due dates, deadlines to submit me draft papers, and the like. But it is entirely unprofessional and unfair to set a deadline for an assignment, have 95% of the class adhere to it, and then when I don’t feel like listening to student excuses and complaints, to extend the deadline for the other 5% of the class. How is that fair to the kids who played by the rules? But more important, what incentives does that put in place for the future work effort, interest, and trust in my students? And what would happen to my reputation or my ability to teach effectively if I engaged in such behavior regularly, but unpredictably? THAT is the problem with the Massachusetts legislature.

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