January 7, 1999
What if Republicans Governed Cambridge?
By DAVID TRUMBULL
Alternative history, the genre of writing that asks, "What would the world be like had Harold won the battle of Hastings, or Napoleon Waterloo?" is by nature negative, asking what if such-and-such had not happened.
Still, it is a fun, if limited, exercise that prompts my question, "What if Republicans held elected offices in Cambridge?"
Freedom of speech and of the press would have suffered fewer outrages in 1998 had Republicans controlled City Council. Likely Republicans would not be eyeing substantial fees for street corner newspaper boxes. This proposed shakedown of publishers abridges the First Amendment rights of all. And it disproportionally harms small publishers, those most in need of constitutional protection for ideas which may not enjoy wide popularity.
At a minimum, Republicans on the council might have raised the tone of debate over newspaper boxes. City Council debate could stand such improvement both in style and substance. Councilor Ken Reeves' vulgar denunciation of the newspaper publishers was an exercise of free speech that I had not expected to hear from a city councilor, and even less expected to see printed in a family newspaper.
Preserve, protect and defend the Constitution
A single Republican councilor could have denied Councilor Henrietta Davis a unanimous vote on her council order condemning humorous billboards advertising blue jeans. "Maybe I just don't have enough of a sense of humor," said Davis when asked about this action guaranteed to send a shiver up the spine of every friend of civil liberties; to which I add "and sense of the rights that a public official is sworn to uphold."
But loyalty to the U.S. Constitution is a scruple quickly discarded when "feel good" legislation, of at best symbolic value, is under City Council consideration. Once again, the lack of a single Republican on the council meant that an unconstitutional (according to a federal judge's November ruling) City Council boycott of Myanmar (formerly Burma) passed unanimously in 1998.
Republicans stand for limited government. Trimming back the leviathan state has been a platform plank for every winning Republican candidate in recent memory. But the principle at stake is not the size of government, rather its extent, the breadth of government's intrusion into citizens' lives. A Republican City Council would not endorse an extension of government control over a private legal activity of adults that harms no one else. But Republicans have no representation in city government, so, last spring, Councilor Tim Toomey was able to push through a ban on out-of-doors smoking in Cambridge parks.
Perhaps one of 1998's strongest arguments for electing Republicans came from a totally unexpected, albeit unintended, source -- State Rep. Alice Wolf. "This is what happens when you have a Republican in the governor's office," said Wolf of Governor Paul Cellucci's veto of an "expiring use" bill that would have placed 2,000 Cambridge tenants under rent control.
Republican Cellucci rejected that failed policy of government micro-management of privately owned rental property, just as voters of the Commonwealth rejected it in 1994. That such intrusive legislation is already pre-empted by federal law was no deterrence to Democrats seeking to pander to potential voters and further testimony to the need for Republican voices in policy-making.
Less government interference and more personal responsibility are the twin themes of the Republican Party. In April 1998, at our State Convention, party delegates, including 37 Cambridge men and women, adopted a platform, or vision of leadership. That platform advances goals that the majority of Bay State residents agree with. It is a blueprint for a better Commonwealth where the citizens have access to the education they want at a price they can afford; where they feel safer at home and on the streets; where they get to keep more of what they earn; and where our compassion extends to protection for the most vulnerable.
When people complain about local government, one friend, who has lived near Harvard Square for decades, simply says, "Well, you can't blame the Republicans." She is right, for no Republican holds elected office in Cambridge. At a minimum, if Republicans were in power, our elected officials would have not tried to stamp out unpopular speech and personal habits. Nor would they have passed unenforceable and unconstitutional laws. Republicans would not have tried to bring back rent control. Think about it: What if Republicans governed Cambridge?
Lee Street resident David Trumbull is chairman of the Cambridge Republican City Committee.