The term limits measure, Question 4, isn't ideal. Ideal would be a constitutional amendment -- not just a statute -- limiting the number of times an incumbent can run for reelection. Statutes can be altered or repealed anytime a majority of the House and Senate wish. Amendments, more or less, are forever.
Term limits advocates had hoped to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. But before an amendment can be submitted to the public, the Legislature has to vote on it. And in 1992, mocking the tens of thousands of voters who had signed petitions for a term limits amendment, legislators refused to take a vote. They didn't debate the proposal and vote it down -- they dodged it altogether. It was a dirty trick. It worked. The amendment died.
So volunteers went back to work, collecting new signatures for a term limits statute -- Question 4. Ideal? No. But it was the only way to get term limits past the pols and to the voters.
The strangling of the term limits amendment was accomplished by Senate President William Bulger, who is running this year for a 13th Senate term. Entrenched in office, certain that no challenger will ever have the money to defeat him, Bulger abused his power to strip voters of their right to decide an important issue. Such contempt for the public ripens when politicians view their offices as personal property, theirs by entitlement. It is what term limits are designed to curb.
By mandating turnover in office, term limits will make elections more competitive and meaningful. Talented citizens will no longer avoid public service, because challenging an incumbent will no longer be a costly fool's errand. Limits on terms will enhance the tone and seriousness of political debate. And they will sharply decrease the influence of lobbyists, whose clout depends on ties to entrenched incumbents.
Term limits are the most important political movement in modern American politics. Massachusetts will finally join that movement on Nov. 8 when it says no to arrogant officeholders, no to politicians who break their promises, and no to vast campaign war chests -- by saying yes on Question 4.
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There isn't much left of the state's blue laws, and what little remains is a joke.
Chapter 136 of the Massachusetts General Laws forbids any shop or business from operating on Sunday. Chapter 136 also lists 54 sets of exemptions to that prohibition, including the sale of nitrogen, the operation of public bathhouses, the opening of a pet shop and the cutting and styling of hair.
For 344 years, the blue laws have deprived tradesmen and shop owners of the right to open their businesses and serve their customers on Sunday and certain holidays. Today, shot through with loopholes, they are not only antichoice but antilogic. Christy's can sell groceries on Sunday morning, but Purity Supreme must wait until noon? Filene's can open on New Year's, but must close on the Fourth of July?
Question 5 would repeal the blue laws, finally scrapping this dog's dinner of inconsistent, unfair regulations. It would boost local payrolls by tens of millions of dollars, and create new opportunities for work. All good reasons to vote Yes on 5.
But there is a more compelling reason. When the blue laws were born, Massachusetts was ruled by theocrats. Like the Iranian mullahs of our era, New England Puritans in the 17th century were intolerant and despotic. They hanged "witches," and hounded religious nonconformists into exile. They banned work, play, and travel on Sunday. Church attendance was mandatory, and enforced by the militia. Meetinghouse doors were locked during services to prevent restless congregants from leaving early.
To Increase Mather, a century before the Bill of Rights, the blue laws no doubt seemed right and proper. It is scandalous that 3-1/2 centuries later, the state is still trampling citizens' freedom to force an official dogma down their throats.
Rev. Diane Kessler, head of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, denounces Question 5, declaring it urgent "to preserve what is left of a common day of rest." Talk-show host Christopher Lydon, chorister at the 12th Baptist Church in Boston, says, "Those people going shopping on Sunday should be going to church instead." Up in Puritan Heaven, Rev. Mather must be pleased that authoritarianism in the service of sectarian virtue still figures in Massachusetts politics.
Down here, however, it is obnoxious. The law should never punish anyone who wishes to reserve Sunday (or any other day) for worship or family or rest. Nor should it punish anyone who doesn't. That is the meaning of liberty -- and the real importance of Question 5.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)