It’s August, and that means it’s the start of debate season!
And right out of the gate we have Republican Thomas F. Keyes challenging Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth) to a series of eight hour-long debates over the next three months. Mr. Keyes sent a letter formally requesting the debate series and, as of this writing, is awaiting a response.
Of course, he’s now set the stage for a classic political “Gotcha!” trap: if Sen. Murray declines to participate in every single debate, Mr. Keyes can claim she’s dodging him, is running scared, doesn’t want people to know where she really stands, et cetera.
Now, if Sen. Murray declines to debate at all? Okay, that doesn’t look good, but if she says, “Hey, let’s cut that number in half” and Mr. Keyes pounces? Well, it’s the same kind of absurd set-up as the “I challenge my opponent to refuse special interest donations!” and “My opponent won’t sign this pledge!”: it dupes people into thinking there’s a larger issue at play when really, there isn’t.
That all said, I’d like to see at least a few debates — well-moderated, preferably, to keep things civil and on-topic.
State Representative Randy Hunt’s (R – Sandwich) next fundraiser is coming up soon. Saturday, August 25 is a Texas BBQ and trap shoot event at the Monument Beach Sportsman’s Club in Bourne from 4 to 8 PM. It’s $35 per person for admission and dinner, plus $10 to shoot ($5 if you bring your own shells).
Meat and guns! How can you refuse? Well, unless you’re a pacifist vegetarian…
Rep. Hunt also has a golf outing fundraiser scheduled for next month and a jazz concert in October. Go to his website for details on those and other campaign events.
Endorsement lightning round! State Representative Demetrius J. Atsalis (D – Barnstable) recently received endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, the Service Employees International Union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Mass Equality.
Now for some other Atsalis-related news, which I’ll file under the heading, “Girls! Girls! You’re BOTH petty!”
Less than a week after we put “Marie ParenteGate” to bed, Rep. Atsalis issued a response to claims by his primary election opponent Brian R. Mannal that the incumbent has — and this is taken directly from Mr. Mannal’s website — “one of the worst attendance records in the Massachusetts State House.”
Mr. Mannal specifically cites a December 2011 Beacon Hill Roll Call Report that lists Rep. Atsalis as having one of the worst attendance records for that session, missing 23 roll call votes (12.8 percent of all roll call votes taken).
One of the worst attendance records ever? Let’s take a look.
Rep. Atsalis’s attendance throughout his legislative career, thoughtfully provided by Bob Katzen, who prepares the BHRC, reads like this: 2011, 87.2 percent; 2010, 66.1 percent; 2009, 85.7 percent; 2008, 94.5 percent; 2007, 95.8 percent; 2006, 96.3 percent; 2005, 96.4 percent; 2004, 100 percent; 2003, 97.8 percent; 2002, 96.6 percent; 2001, 99.5 percent; 2000 99.6 percent; 1999, 99.3 percent.
That gives us a lifetime average of 93.45 percent, and that does not count the as-yet unannounced 2012 attendance rate.
In 2009 and 2010, Rep. Atsalis missed votes due to the deaths of, respectively, his father and father-in-law, and both those circumstances were made public by the candidate. Mr. Katzen pointed out that any absences during budget season or near the end of the formal session can be particularly damaging to one’s record since so many votes are taken in such a condensed timeframe, and that was the case in 2010.
Here’s where things get tricky. Following his 2009 attendance report, Rep. Atsalis’s camp stated in a letter to the Enterprise that the BHRC data was inaccurate as it considered two types of roll call votes: votes on legislative matters and “quorum roll calls,” which are taken for the express purpose of determining if enough people to constitute a quorum are present in the House chamber.
Rep. Atsalis claimed that his voting record on legislative matters was in the high 90 percent range, and his average was skewed because he missed quorum roll call votes, which don’t matter as much because they aren’t votes on legislation.
(Mr. Mannal in a subsequent press release called this explanation “a desperate effort to discredit” his previous accusation of excessive absenteeism.)
Mr. Katzen stated that his attendance data calculates all roll call votes and does not separate out quorum roll call votes. He added that all a legislator has to do is indicate that he or she is present in the House chamber, and failing to do so counts as a missed vote (although this does not necessarily indicate that the lawmaker in question was not in the State House at the time, only that he was not in the chamber when the quorum roll call vote was called for).
However, it should be noted that Rep. Atsalis’s Cape colleagues consistently recorded perfect or near-perfect (above 96 percent) attendance between 2009 through 2011, and as the aforementioned numbers show, Rep. Atsalis himself had much better, often near-perfect attendance prior to that period, so the “quorum roll call vote” argument is a little flat.
Nevertheless, 2009 and 2010 are the worst examples to draw from if anyone wants to push the “poor attendance” angle.
In the final analysis, Mr. Mannal’s claim that Rep. Atsalis has “one of the worst attendance records” is off because it considers only three years out of a 14-year tenure, two of which are marked by well-documented extenuating circumstances.
Conversely, Rep. Atsalis’s counter-claim that his record is not really that bad is undermined by his own past superior attendance record, as well as the records of his Upper Cape contemporaries, and relies on a very specific context in which to present his argument — a context that stymies an apples-to-apples comparison.
“To compare apples to apples, one would have to remove all quorum calls from the equation and calculate the attendance record without using any quorum calls,” Mr. Katzen said, and that means “one would have to recalculate all the other 159 representatives’ records without counting quorum calls.”
My judgment: both of you, stop nit-picking each other to death and try talking about some real issues.
Political news and announcements may be e-mailed to Michael Bailey, senior political reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Brian Mannal, Demetrius Atsalis, Randy Hunt, Senate President Therese Murray, State Representative - 2nd Barnstable, State Representative - 5th Barnstable, State Senate - Plymouth & Barnstable, Tom Keyes
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.