BDTC Meeting Notes (12/16/2021)
Attendance: Linda L. (Chair), Jeff L., Michael (Secretary), Richard Waring, Stephen Shestakofsky, Jeanne Mooney, Carolyn Schwartz (New Vice-Chair), Kathy Quirk, Dave Rogers (State Rep), Will Brownsberger (State Senate), Teresa, Dan Barry, Cambell Ames (Pol Director 350 Mass), Vera Isk (Treasure), Kai, Jean Dickinson, Marty Bitner, Julie Wu (Diversity/Affirmative Action Director), Phil Thayer (Sustainable Belmont), Frank Frasier, Dean Hickman, Peter Grey, Emi Graf, Vicki Amalfitan, Mary J., Florence Farrell, Greg P. Ted Dukkas, Dylan Griffith, Helen Bakeman, Steve Klionsky, Karen Friedberg, Marc Sacks, Melvin and Tina Poindexter, Molly Aalyson, Ellie Lesser, Kathyrn Bonfiglio, Nan Donald,
1) Proxy Votes (provided before the meeting regarding voting to donate 500$ to Belmont Helps) Barbara Miranda, Anne Paulsen, Fred Paulsen, Jeff Levin-Scherz, Carolyn Schwartz, Dick Madden, Dan Barry
2) Meeting comes to order. Linda notes we have a # of proxy votes.
3) Linda L. makes a motion to make Sarah Barry a full member (up from associate member) of the BDTC (Gets second from Michael M.), is voted on by full members. Overwhelming support in favor.
4) Linda L. Nominates Carolyn Schwartz for Vice-Chair. Cambell Ames has been a loyal and excellent Vice Chair, but has offered to step down due to constant conflicts with her work (scheduling conflicts) Seconded by Steve, voted on by all full members. Voted overwhelming in favor.
5) Linda L. asks if we will donate 500$ for Belmont Helps to help with food donation and other needs. Seconded by both Steves. Michael M. Notes that it will do a lot of good for our community and that this is one of the reasons we get involved. To help and make a difference. Also we could raise our profile, and reach out to the residents where they are. Vote by Full Members. Overwhelming support in favor.
6) Jonathan Cohn presents on the Fair Share amendment:
a) A bit about him, in Brownsberger District, worked on Amendment, active in MA Dem party, and goes to our convention(s).
b) 1% of MA folks have taken back roughly 28% of all wealth.
c) Top 1% of MA taxpayers pay 6.8% (group makes $680,440 on average)
d) Bottom 10% pay 10% ($22,500 or less)
e) Fair share revenue would help fix this, it would be fair (wealthier folks pay more)
f) The amendment raises money of those incomes OVER 1 Million dollars (income Tax) by 4%
g) Worked to get a Constitution Amendment in MA to allow this
h) Launched in 2015 by getting 150,000 signatures, got sued as a Ballot question due to business groups who argued too vague/asked more than the one question allowed. But not an issue for Legislature, which introduce this amendment and has gone through all the steps to put this on the ballot.
i) Public education is horribly underfunded. MA passed a law to boost funding, and this would help fund this law and mandate to help the most at risk state schools. Higher Education has become increasing expensive, college have been passing on these costs to students, and UMass Amherst went from 5,000 $–> 16,000 $
j) Fixing the T and working to invest in bus, rail, public transport in general.
k) Our goals are to
i) ID voters
ii) Educate, train and mobilize activists
iii) Raise awareness of the Fair Share Amendment
iv) Marc Sacks: Asks about peg an amount, it says that 1 million now might change due to inflation or change in financial outcomes
v) Johathan Cohn: So, we have language that makes sure that it scales for inflation and won’t hit lower incomes
vi) Steve S. He notes that one of the things the MA Supreme Court (MASCOTUS) ruled against the Amendment earlier was that specifically putting this money in Schools and transportation. Are we worried about the MA legislature taken that money and reappropriating it to other causes?
vii) Joathan notes that this money would be strongly considered to be connected to Schools and Transportation, and that the legislature would recognize this especially as they had a vote in the House and Senate of the legislature to specific pass this amendment. They also passed a big education bill and recognize that the money from this amendment would be a big part of this.
viii) Kathryn B. Notes that this hits income (it is an income tax) and doesn’t affect Wealth (like Jeff Bezos who hides his wealth in property or stocks).
ix) Jonathan notes that is correct that this aims at Income, they are not aiming for stocks or estate or other “wealth” connected taxable income. Also notes that our constitution has a Flat Tax (I.e. a regressive, not progressive tax system that does not charge wealthier taxpayers more) so we need a constitutional amendment to .
x) Jeanne Mooney asks about is this the final step in the process, it seems to be an involved process and we wonder if there are going to be any additional steps?
xi) Jonathan Cohn: Good point, we are at the end here. It required a vote in the MA state house, the house of reps, and the MA senate, and then a constitutional amendment convention and now it goes to the voter.
xii) Linda L. Hold a motion for the BDTC to endorse the Fair Share Amendment. Seconded by Steve, all full members vote, Unanimous vote in favor of endorsing the Fair Share Amendment.
xiii) State Senator Will B. talks about redistricting.
xiv) He starts with a brief primer on Constitutional law;
(1) Big Ideas of Constitution: Government of the people/right of people to choose their own government
(2) Big Ideas of the Constitution #2: BUT we have a nation of laws, equal protection under the law. Government can be rule of mob that attacks minorities (racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, orientation, disability, sex, et al.)
(3) District has to be of roughly equal size (follow from Big Idea 2)
(4) SCOTUS (The U.S. Supreme Court) said that you are NOT able to subject district to sorting by race
(5) One of the issues is using political partisanship as a proxy for race-based districts which leads to gerrymandering. Only have safe seats
(6) So SCOTUS says you can’t put people of one race out or into a district, UNLESS (!) you have a really good and specific reason.
(7) If you do this, SCOTUS uses “Strict Scrutiny” test and your district will likely be found unconstitutional
(8) Racial restricting is ONLY ok, if doing this make sures that voters are allow to have a candidate of their choice be elected. So if there is a racial divided community or one group voting as a bloc, this exception/rule is meant to protect racial minorities from gerrymandering and deluding their representation.
(9) You can use certain criteria, like trying to keep communities and cities in the same district (trying not to “crack” districts to weaken their political power).
(10) Mel P. (MA Dem Chairperson): Asks Will B. what safeguards are being put in place to guarantee that we are not “cracking” districts racial and other minorities equal representation.
(11) Will assures him that they have worked really hard to be fair, and to not split communities and to be open with voters.
(12) Michael M. notes that the SCOTUS has been open to cutting back the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and has gutted the equal protection parts of it). Also notes “Creative minds” have said “well, we will just use political partisanship or alignment” but that in southern states can be racial polarized which can lead to overwhelmingly white areas being nearly 80% Republican, and overwhelmingly Black areas are nearly 90% Democratic… essentially get around this restriction.
(13) Will B. Notes that he doesn’t not see SCOTUS overturning key part of the VRA (Voting Rights Act) when it comes to redistricting and gerrymandering. He feels that is pretty much
“bedrock” law. Roberts has noted that SCOTUS has worked hard to say they DO NOT get involved in political redistricting, and let the states deal with things. It can be an issue in other states, but likely not here.
(14) Dylan G. Adds additional concerns about efforts by conservate justice to weaking the VRA and other states using these opening to cut away at representation and political games being played (including racialized gerrymandering).
(15) Will B. Notes that he will address both Michael M. and Dylan G. concerns in the Next section of his presentation. He also notes that in MA we have not had the types of fights like other states.
(16) Will B. notes the history of MA re-districting. In the 1970’s there was a large black community, that should have had the right under the VRA to be able to elect a representative, however (!) the legislature shored up incumbents, and did not do so. They essentially “cracked” the Boston area and split up the Black areas. As a result, this was bad. The Governor Sargent, VETOED the redistricting, which was almost unheard of. A group of house members: good government people, disgruntled members, and republicans (!) sustained his veto and Black representation in the MA senate was increased! Now there are questions about how do we protect the right of racial minorities
(a) There are only 6 categories recognized: Black, Pacific Islander, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native Alaskan.
(b) Also gets complicated with the Haitian/Dominican population don’t consider themselves Black or African American.
(c) Will notes that he has worked to make sure in Suffox district 1 and 2 there was an opportunity for black voters to elect a black senator in at least one of those districts. And worked to keep areas together, but also when re-districting to move some lines to allow district 2 to have that opportunity.
(d) Kathryn B. Notes some concerns about the methods used to draw these districts. She notes, can we actually decipher the voters desire to elect a candidate from a protected racial group in a district? She notes there was a redistricting expert who was arguing and challenging some of the moves the state legislature.
(e) Will notes that there was a lot of debate about Fall River and Lawrence and noted there was an effort to help make sure Hispanic voters could elect a political representative of their choice. Also noting how they balance that with the needs of the Black community in the area. He also notes it became a bit of a circus when they were doing hearing on redistricting with some folks trying to call for a Portuguese district, but they were not a protected racial class under the law! He also notes some experts were pushing arguments they (the legislature) were hesitant or even baffled by.
(f) Mel P. Notes that there was a real effort by Will B. to work to do the process fairly and make sure racial protected groups were able to properly get representation and make sure all voters were heard and communities were kept whole.
(g) Will B. thanks Mel P. and notes he was given this assignment, but worked really hard to learn about it, and do a fair and honest job. It was not something he sought, but was given this large responsibility, and did his research. He also noted how it could also be contradictory, where you could not consider race in some ways, but in other ways you need to, to make sure representation was fair and equal.
(h) Linda thanks everyone for a wonderful and really informative meeting. We all thank Will and Jonathan, and Dave, and we adjourne