Meet the New Boss: Gene O'Flaherty at Judiciary. I Will Get Fooled Again!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

If I advise you to invest in Apple, buy Samsung instead.  If I predict the Red Sox will win the pennant, bet the Orioles.  If I agree with Punxsutawney Phil that spring will arrive early, buy a bigger snow blower tomorrow.
For I am the savant who said last April, “There will almost certainly be a new House chairman of Judiciary next January.”
I couldn’t even get the month right.
Last Wednesday, February 6, House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced the appointment of committee chairs and other legislative leaders for the 2013-14 session.  Prominent on that list was the name of Eugene L. O’Flaherty, who was given a new term, his sixth, as House chairman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
In my defense, I have to point out that O’Flaherty himself said he was not interested in remaining as Judiciary chairman. 
On March 21, 2012, he conveyed that surprising information, via email, to Kevin Cullen, a Boston Globe columnist, who had criticized him for allegedly blocking legislation that would end the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children.
“There is a general consensus that there should be no statute of limitations for murder, and the law reflects that,” Cullen had written.  “There is a growing consensus that there should be no arbitrary hiding place for those who murder children’s souls by sexually abusing them.  That consensus does not include Gene O’Flaherty.”
Politics is a bare-knuckled, merciless business, but even in politics, one is rarely accused of sanctioning the murder of children’s souls.  Maybe only genocide could be worse.
O’Flaherty wasted no time in responding.  “Your article, and its depiction of me as unconcerned about the ‘murder of children’s souls,’ has resonated with me since I first read it,” he told Cullen.  “So much so that I will be resigning my Judiciary Committee chairmanship after I complete the important work assigned to me this session.”
O’Flaherty also told Cullen, with admirable restraint, that the soul-murderer depiction was “very unfortunate.”  Then he added, “Thankfully, my family and constituents know me to be someone that cares deeply about children and their safety.”
I am good friends with a couple whose special needs adult daughter has attended a vocational and social program in O’Flaherty’s district every day for years.  They tell me that no public office holder has been more supportive of this program than O’Flaherty.
Coming as it did after his ostensible resignation-in-advance, O’Flaherty’s reappointment tells us some important things about this House of Representatives.
First and foremost, it tells us that O’Flaherty has a solid relationship with the Speaker. 
DeLeo “inherited” O’Flaherty as Judiciary chair from the previous Speaker, Sal DiMasi.  If ever DeLeo seriously questioned the decision to keep O’Flaherty in that powerful position, now would have been the time to act on those doubts.   “Gene, old pal,” he could have easily said, “I know you’re sick of that job, so I’m going to let someone else do it for a while.”  Instead, DeLeo stepped around the shrinking rubble of the statute of limitations controversy and basically announced, “What we need more of now in Judiciary is Gene O’Flaherty.”
Second, it tells us that a majority of House members quietly stand arm-in-arm with O’Flaherty on a host of hot-button issues that have come before Judiciary -- everything from gay marriage to penalties for drunken drivers, from transgender rights to parole for violent criminal offenders -- even though it sometimes appeared as if the chairman was sitting by himself on a limb, way up in the air.
Third, it tells us that most members of the  House: (a)  appreciate that O’Flaherty has often taken flak for them in public, shielding them from controversy and electoral harm, and (b) want to recognize O’Flaherty for his stoical team play by giving him another term as chairman.  (“You can’t quit, Gene, we need you there.”) 
In a way, O’Flaherty’s reappointment is an acknowledgement of the “complexity” of the legislative process.  He once observed to the State House News Service, “It seems that it’s become quite fashionable to say that the only reason things aren’t moving is because of me,” before pointing out that “many of these matters are complex.  Many of these matters don’t take into consideration that there are many, many reasons why some pieces of legislation move and others don’t.” 
Fourth, it tells us that O’Flaherty really is the best person for the job at the end of the day. 
When the Speaker heard O’Flaherty talk of quitting, one may infer that DeLeo took a good look around a House chamber filled with attorneys and didn’t see a convincing replacement.
Thus did O’Flaherty’s semi-famous e-mail to Kevin Cullen become inoperative.

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