OVER THE YEARS, rent-control propagandists have emitted no end of asinine arguments to justify a scheme based on greed and theft -- the greed of tenants who don't want to pay a fair rent and the theft of income from owners who are forced to lease their property at below-market rates.
Now the rent-control zealots have come up with their most incredible claim yet: that Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge don't have to obey Question 9, the ballot initiative that made rent control illegal in Massachusetts, because a majority of voters in those three towns didn't vote for it.
About eight seconds after learning that Question 9 had passed on Election Day, tenant activists and their pet politicians began drafting legislation to disregard the statewide returns and keep their controls in force. Since Boston-Brookline-Cambridge didn't vote to abolish rent control, they decided, rent control wasn't abolished in Boston-Brookline-Cambridge.
"The people in my district," declared Democratic state Rep. John McDonough of Boston, "voted overwhelmingly that they want rent control. It is a home-rule matter. What business is it of somebody in Wilbraham what folks in Boston do?"
McDonough's flabby argument is exactly the one the rent controllers made to the Supreme Judicial Court when they tried to force Question 9 off the ballot. The SJC rejected it, ruling unanimously that property rights and landlord-tenant law are not matters of local whim and prejudice. They are core questions of state policy to be answered by the state's people.
And on Nov. 8, the people answered: No more rent control in Massachusetts.
But like socialists the world over, the rent radicals of Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge operate on the principle that whatever they win is permanent and whenever they lose, it's negotiable. The tenant-dominated soviets in all three communities have filed home-rule petitions with the state Legislature. These would either reinstate all the rent-control regulations Question 9 repealed or give local officials full authority to write any new rent law they wished.
Yesterday, at a State House hearing on the home-rule bills, the liberals who run Boston-Brookline-Cambridge put on a two-hour display of arrogance and self-righteousness in defense of the indefensible.
Cambridge's well-to-do mayor, Ken Reeves, for example -- himself a rent-control tenant, though he forgot to mention it -- rained contempt on the heads of the state's voters. He derided the majority vote for Question 9 as an example of how democracy "fails." The long-suffering property owners of his city, many of whom have been barred from living in their own homes, he derided as "a very small group of very, very angry people" who didn't understand that "the purpose of housing is to house people, not its speculative value."
One by one, these politicians trooped before the Committee on Local Affairs -- Reeves, Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Cambridge City Councilors Francis Duehay and Kathleen Born, Brookline Town Meeting member Christina Wolf -- to urge that the election returns be nullified. Not one would concede that maybe the 348 Massachusetts cities and towns that don't have rent control have been right all along.
The notion that local governments don't have to abide by general laws of which they disapprove is hardly new. In the 1960s, Gov. George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama and proclaimed: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" In the 1990s, it is Cambridge councilors, Brookline selectmen and Boston's mayor who proclaim: Rent control now, rent control tomorrow, rent control forever. Only the accent is different -- and the form of persecution being championed.
Of course, if the McDonough-Reeves Doctrine -- towns are only bound by election results if they voted with the majority -- is going to apply to Question 9, it should apply to everything else on the ballot. So:
In towns where Question 2 lost, seat belts are no longer mandatory. Incumbents' terms remain unlimited in any city that didn't support Question 4. And if Jim Braude can find a community where Questions 6 and 7 passed, he gets to graduate its residents' income taxes after all.
Under McDonough-Reeves, William Weld isn't governor when he goes home at night -- because Mark Roosevelt carried Cambridge. And while Ted Kennedy may represent most of Massachusetts in Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney serves the voters of Otis, Pepperell, Wellesley, Southampton and all the other towns he carried.
Oh, well. If logic, fairness, and the basic workings of democracy are lost on the rent-control extremists, they're probably impervious to sarcasm as well.
But for everyone else, this much should be clear: Question 9's victory didn't open the debate on rent control. It closed it.
State legislators have no higher duty than carrying out the people's will. The home-rule petitions before the Legislature treat the electorate with all the respect of a gob of spit in the face. On Nov. 8, the people didn't vote to "fix" rent control or fine-tune it or phase it out over five years. They voted to abolish it. It is the responsibility of the House and Senate -- and of the governor, if necessary -- to make sure it gets abolished.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)