One Tough Vote Ended the Political Life of a Legislator from Bygone Era

Friday, May 23, 2014

One of my bad habits is holding onto stuff I don't really need.  Take the Boston Globe obituary on John Dolan, for example.  Dolan died one year ago, on May 24, 2013, at 90 years of age.  His obit can still be found in the piles of paper on my desk.*

I really don’t know why I’ve kept it.  I suspect it has something to do with the kind of man and public servant Dolan was. There was something innocent and genuine about him that calls for continuous contemplation. 
We can't let go of the memories of the Dolans of Massachusetts, those small-town, thrifty, upright Republicans, they who put much more into this country than they ever took out of it

John Dolan was born in Ipswich on September 7, 1922, the first of the five children of Charles L. Dolan and the former Rose Kilborn.  He lived with his family on Grape Island, a barrier island off Ipswich, just south of Plum Island, for the first 12 years of his life.   There was no electricity or running water on the island.
The Dolans left Grape Island for the mainland when the island was turned into a wildlife refuge.  Shortly thereafter, his mother experienced health problems and he was sent to the Hillside School, a boarding school in Marlborough for poor and homeless boys.  He remained at Hillside through high school.

In 1942, Dolan enlisted in the Navy and served throughout World War II as a gunnery captain.  He became the veteran’s agent in Ipswich after the war, met the woman who would become his wife, Lucy Eustace, and was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.  His wife took over as veteran’s agent while he was away.

When his younger brother, James, a soldier fighting in Korea, was killed in action in 1950, John Dolan was released from the service, upon the intervention of Senator Leverett Saltonstall, and assigned the hard duty of accompanying his brother’s body home for burial.
Back in civilian life, Dolan was elected Ipswich Town Clerk.  He later ran for the legislature, won, and was re-elected eight times.  His political demise came about abruptly after he took an unpopular stand on reducing the size of the Massachusetts House.

It was February 25, 1970.   The legislature was voting whether or not to advance a state-wide ballot question.  If placed on the ballot and passed by the voters, the measure would reduce the number of representatives from 240 to 160. 

Dolan favored the proposal up until the day of the vote, when he switched to the opposition side, a pivotal decision.  The measure was defeated by one vote.  Dolan was thrust into the headlines as the man responsible for its defeat.  Many criticized him harshly, including a slew of fellow Republicans.
He said he feared that Ipswich, which had always had a local representative, could have lost that voice when all House districts were enlarged, in accord with the smaller total number of representatives.

Up for re-election that fall, Dolan drew two Republican opponents in the primary.  He lost the nomination and left office the following January.  However, he managed to continue his career at the State House as research director for the House Committee on Natural Resources, an appointment that could have been made only with the blessing of the Democratic Speaker, David Bartley.
Four years after Dolan cast the decisive vote against a smaller House, an identical proposal made its way onto the ballot and was approved by the voters.  In 1978, the reduction went into effect.  Dolan left his job with the Natural Resources Committee around that same time and pretty much retired to a quiet life in Ipswich.  He remained active in the community and in veterans affairs. He published articles on the history of Ipswich frequently in the local press.

I believe that time has proved Dolan (and others) right on cutting the House.  We the people lost influence in the state capital when we shrunk that body by 25%.  We need more representation in the halls of government, not less.
Also, if we got a more efficient House by making it smaller, has that efficiency counted for much?

John Dolan died in his sleep one year ago.  In his casket, his family placed the cap he wore as a  Hillside School student.  All his life, he treasured that cap and the lessons he learned when he was young and, far from home, had to become a man.

*For this post, I am indebted to J.M. Lawrence and the fine article he wrote: “John Dolan, 90; cast memorable 1970 State House vote,” Boston Sunday Globe, June 23, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment