Jeff Jacoby

But whether you agree with the Republican dissenters or not, their commitment to candid and substantive debate is refreshing. In a political culture as overwhelmingly monopartisan as Beacon Hill, dissent can be risky. Almost everything important is decided behind closed doors, then gaveled to passage on the floor in pro forma voice votes whose outcome is never in doubt.

"If rank-and-file lawmakers won't resist the smothering of open democracy that has become the norm on Beacon Hill, nobody else will do it for them," the Boston Globe editorialized in 2012. But resistance can seem futile when one party controls every lever of state power and literally sets the terms of debate. When the House took up the fiscal 2015 budget this spring, it operated under procedural rules that barred members from proposing any changes in welfare reform, local aid, or education funding — which add up to more than one-fourth of the state's expenditures. In such an atmosphere, the value of a minority prepared to march to the beat of its own drummer, and to explain why and where they are marching, can't be overstated.

Two-party competition doesn't guarantee more thoughtful or productive lawmaking. (See under: Congress.) With one-party rule, however, abuse, secrecy, and lockstep obedience are foreordained. The state's new budget, which runs to hundreds of pages, wasn't finalized and provided to legislators until late Sunday night; they were expected to vote on it the next day. But as one Democrat confessed, they weren't necessarily expected to know what was in it.

"When someone asks me, have I read the 500 pages that came out this morning? — I printed them off, I'm glancing through them," Representative Denise Andrews of Orange said on the House floor before the vote to pass the budget. "But I haven't read it, and I won't, because I believe in the process that we're engaged in. I came in three years ago and have witnessed nothing but excellence and fiscal management from the chairman of Ways and Means and his team."

Lyons and Lombardo, who also entered the Legislature three years ago, take a very different view of their responsibilities. "We need a vigorous clash of ideas about how tax dollars should be spent," says Lyons, a former Democrat. "A small group of us are determined to promote a fiscally conservative philosophy, and we think if we promote it openly, the support will build."

You don't have to be a conservative or a Republican to appreciate that attitude — just a citizen who understands that democratic self-rule wasn't made for unquestioning sheep, and wants a state government that understands it too.


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.