Too Much Transparency Can Harm Left-Wing Bills, Massachusetts Democratic Legislator Says

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Transparency is a core issue for left-wing Democrats in Massachusetts. “It’s about transparency,” the organization Progressive Massachusetts says on its web site to explain why it provides a legislative scorecard. The web site also has a list of 10 excuses state legislators give for not being more transparent about what they are doing, with rebuttals, including a pitch for more roll call votes.

But too much transparency can stunt the chances for certain legislation, a left-Democratic state senator said this week.

State Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), who earned an A from Progressive Massachusetts in December 2018, made the comment during an online forum hosted by the Somerville Democratic City Committee, which also goes by Somerville Democrats for short.

The problem, said Jehlen, a 29-year veteran of the Massachusetts Legislature, is when certain left-of-center legislation is introduced but doesn’t yet have enough votes to be passed.

At that point, she said, you don’t want to force a roll call vote on the bill, because that could force a state legislator not yet ready to support it to take a vote against it, which will make it harder for the legislator to vote for the bill in the future.

In such a situation, she said, you shouldn’t demand a roll call vote – “you can hurt your cause by doing that,” Jehlen said.

Jehlen appeared in the online forum Thursday, August 13 with Gary Fisher, a Cambridge resident who is challenging her in the September 1 Democratic primary for the Second Middlesex Senate District, which includes the cities of Somerville and Medford and portions of Cambridge and Winchester.

A transcript of the exchange with the moderator of the forum, Anika Von Eaton, chairman of the Somerville Democratic City Committee, is below. The exchange begins at -15:21 of the video of the forum posted on the Facebook page of Somerville Democrats.


Anika Von Eaton, Moderator:  I have a question about transparency.

What could be done to increase transparency in government, particularly as it pertains to voting records, the creation of new bills, and public records laws?


State Senator Pat Jehlen:  So, I agree that it would be good if there was more opportunity for people to know.

We have – in my committees, we have, actually, because of the pandemic we started having all our hearings online, so you can not only see them then, but you can see them later. All our votes are public. Those are very – those are important things.

And in the Senate, for example, when a bill is reported out of Ways and Means, that vote is public. I think those are, are good steps. [Pause]  I think those are good steps that I will mention.


There is also an idea — There is people – There are some people who have a theory of change that involves taking more roll call votes. And in general, I would be glad to do that.

But sometimes, you can hurt your cause by doing that. So, for example, if you have a bill, like the safe driving bill, that you’re building support for, and you think you have support for, but at the time, or the budget that, or the bill that you’re proposing it as an amendment to, you know you’re going to lose:  Don’t make people take a vote, so that they are on record, making the wrong vote. You want to keep building support and take a vote when you can win.


That didn’t – It’s very inside. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have talked about that.