Massachusetts Legislature Audit

Diana DiZoglio

Our new hero on Beacon Hill is Diana DiZoglio.

As a 39-year-old state senator from Methuen, she ran last fall for the low-visibility post of state auditor with the hearty endorsement of her fellow Democrats.

Three months into office, she rocked the state’s political establishment long dominated by her party by last week announcing she will conduct an audit of the Legislature aimed at uncovering the reasons for its lack of transparency and its need to keep things secret.

“We hope this will increase transparency, accountability and equity in an area of state government that has been completely ignored,” DiZoglio said in a statement. “Historically, the Legislature has been a closed-door operation, where committee votes have been hidden from the general public and legislation has been voted on in the dark of night.”

It’s about time someone shed a light on the darkness that pervades our state government.

For decades, Massachusetts has been the least transparent state government in the nation. It is the only state that exempts its legislative and judicial branches from the public records law and one of only two that exempts its executive branch from providing access to all documents and communications.

Municipal officials, from mayors to city and town councilors to select board and school committee members all the way down to conservation commissioners, must meet in public and disclose all correspondence, documents and votes.

Meanwhile, legislators can meet behind closed doors, discuss important public policy and decide what to do with taxpayers’ money without recording what was said or how anyone voted in committee.

It’s an embarrassment for a state that claims to be the birthplace of American democracy.

DiZoglio is clearly trying to shake up Beacon Hill, which we find helpful and long overdue. We also hope the area’s legislative delegation not only embraces the audit but supports the idea that the Legislature should no longer be exempt from the public records law.

That’s not quite the case.

For instance, state Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, believes some correspondence between lawmakers and their constituents should be kept private. He also questioned whether DiZoglio had the authority to audit the Legislature although there is precedence for it, albeit over a century ago.

But mayors and city councilors must provide access to their constituents’ correspondence. Why not state lawmakers?

We wish there was no need for DiZoglio’s audit. The Massachusetts Legislature is an outlier when it comes to transparency, and that’s largely because it has been dominated by one party for so long.

With little opposition from the GOP, Democratic leaders have been able to conduct their horse trading and swing the deals they want, keeping them secret until they are ready for a vote. Then they are pushed to the House and Senate floors and approved quickly with little debate or opposition.

It’s a very un-democratic way to do the public’s business and exposes the dangers of one-party rule.

We’re hoping things will change, thanks to Diana DiZoglio, our newest hero on Beacon Hill.