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Weekend Buzz | What Is Governor's Council and Why is it So Important?
And why don't we know more about them?
[We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to report that, despite two hard-played games, our Burlington 12U boys lost in extra innings to Weymouth last night. All the players did an amazing job, and we are super proud of their hard work and persistence during the championship and all season long. Now, back to the show.]
The weekend is here, and while that means mostly nothing to me, in the time warp I’ve been stuck in this week, I hope it means something to you (and brings you some joy).
Speaking of time warps, today we’re going to be talking about a governmental body that has its roots in the colonial era, nearly 400 years ago.
First, a note on relevance. Those of you who have been around since the beginning of the Buzz (four months ago, rather than four centuries) know I stick to issues and events that affect the Burlington community and don’t cast a net much wider than that. You might be asking yourself, then, why I’m talking so much about the Governor’s Council, which is a state-level body. And I’ll admit, the first thing I asked when a candidate contacted me for a chat was, “Do you live in Burlington?”
Neither candidate, it turns out, lives in Burlington. But Governor’s Council District 3 represents all of Burlington, along with a couple dozen other nearby communities. Councillors (I checked the spelling against a sample ballot and it seems this is correct) serve two-year terms and earn about $36,000 per year. And, after learning what Governor’s Council does, I think you’ll understand and appreciate why I decided to go for it.
As challenger Mara Dolan said during our interview, in a snippet you might have seen on my Instagram or Facebook stories, “In Massachusetts, we don’t elect our judges. But we do elect the people who choose them.” This important job belongs to the Governor’s Council. The Council is also responsible for approving the legislative budget, approving requests for pardons and commutations for incarcerated individuals, and voting on members of the Appellate Board, Parole Board, Industrial Accident Board, and probably others I’m not remembering here.
Officially, the Governor’s Council advises the Governor, and incumbent Marilyn Petitto Devaney underlines that point, calling the group “the only body that are the checks and balance for the Governor.”
Like with many governmental bodies, Governor’s Council meetings have typically been held in person without a way to access or view the meeting that didn’t involve traveling to the meeting room at a super inconvenient time. (GC meets on Wednesdays at the State House.) It’s no wonder, then, that more than half of the respondents to my poll (which is a small sample, but I’ll buy that it’s representative of the state at large) either have no idea what it is or couldn’t explain it if asked.
During the pandemic, the Office of the Governor found a way to broadcast their meetings on YouTube, but after two years, the body stopped the practice when the State House reopened. That got the attention of many organizations, and the Council is now back to broadcasting meetings. The (albeit cynical) interpretation of the Globe’s editorial board is that the Council would prefer that the public not have easy access to see what they’re doing. And Devaney, who championed opening up the meetings to make virtual attendance possible, agrees.
In fact, according to Dolan, the body rubber stamps nearly every single judicial candidate while commutations or pardons are only rarely issued.
Both Devaney and Dolan believe candidates need to be qualified for the positions they’re going to hold, which should be a no-brainer, in my humble opinion, but apparently that’s not always the case. During our interviews, they point to candidates who were not particularly qualified but got through anyway. That’s got to be frustrating to watch.
So why are we hearing so much about Governor’s Council now, if many of us previously had never even heard of it? Here are a few reasons.
It’s election season. That’s kind of a cynical look at it, but folks *takes out mirror* do tend to come around talking about this stuff when an election is coming. I was actually thinking Devaney, the incumbent, hadn’t been challenged in a primary before, but I don’t know why I thought that because it’s not true. There are actually plenty of examples of primary challenges - and there have been general election challenges as well.
The importance of the qualifications of our judges is especially salient in light of several recent Supreme Court decisions which seem to be shifting a lot of responsibility back to the states. It will be up to our state lawmakers and courts to answer questions that previously had been understood to be a matter of federal protection.
If you care at all about criminal justice reform, who we have on all these Boards, and on the bench, is super important. The racial disparity of incarcerated individuals, the incidence of incarceration for offenses related to substance use disorder, and just the general level of understanding and empathy judges and Board members have for things like youth brain development and substance use disorder - these are all incredibly important considerations when deciding a defendant or incarcerated person’s fate.
I’m very excited to be sharing my full interviews with Marilyn and Mara a week from today on the podcast. Paid subscribers, you can get your early access starting today at noon. (Don’t stress out looking for them - you’ll get an email or two.)
Hopefully this goes without saying - though these two are Democratic Primary candidates, you should definitely care about Governor’s Council and what they do even if you’re not going to vote in the Democratic primary. Also, note that if you’re registered as Unenrolled, you can vote in whichever primary you choose. And, when you do, you’ll be looking out for the word “Councillor,” because why would the state make things easy?
That’s it for today. I hope you enjoy your weekend!
P.S. Don’t forget to listen to my interview with Wayne Higden, which unlocks for free subscribers at noon today!