Labor Party Wins Ballot Questions in Massachusetts

The following report on Massachusetts ballot initiatives initiated by the Labor Party was posted November 12 on an Internet e-mail discussion group for Labor Party members.

In one State Senatorial District and in two State Representative districts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question calling for a single payer health insurance system for the residents of Massachusetts. In the Hampshire-Franklin Senate District, in the more rural western part of the State, voters approved the following question by a vote of 37,000 to 17,000, 69% to 31%:

Shall the State Senator from this district be instructed to initiate and support legislation to create a health care system for all the residents of Massachusetts that:

Provides universal coverage for comprehensive health care services that includes the freedom to choose doctors and other health care professionals, facilities and services;

Eliminates the role of insurance companies in health care and creates an insurance trust fund that is publicly administered and fairly funded; and in order to safeguard the availability of quality health care, stops the buying, selling, managing and closing down of health care facilities by for-profit corporations.

The vote in the Senatorial district was important because State Senator Stan Rosenberg who represents that area is Assistant Majority Leader for the Democratic Party in the State House. Sen. Rosenberg has declared his support for universal health care, but for years has refused to endorse the “Massachusetts Health Care Trust Legislation” which would create a single payer health care system in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Labor Party initiated the ballot question as part of a campaign to build support for the legislation, which has been bottled up in committee for several years by the state Democratic Party, which controls the State legislature. The Labor Party is part of a coalition called MassCare which for years has led the fight for single payer health insurance in the state. Many members of MassCare and senior citizen organizations took part in collecting signatures to get the question on the ballot and then campaigned for its passage.

In the two other State Representative Districts in the Eastern part of the state the question passed by a 60-40 percent margin.

The victory of this question was important because at the same time a State Wide binding referendum question (Question 5) calling for universal health care failed. This question was controversial because the authors specifically refused to use the single payer model as an explanation for how the health care system would be financed. This left the ballot initiative open to attack from HMO’s that it was financially irresponsible. There was also controversy over this effort because some original sponsors of the effort struck a deal with the state legislature to achieve partial results around a patient bill of rights. Upon achieving this they withdrew their support of the effort. This left a shattered coalition with no funds to counter the HMO’s attack on the referendum question.

It was interesting that where the Labor Party question was on the ballot the statewide referendum also passed, but by a smaller margin. Labor Party members who were at the polls reported conversations with voters who were prepared to vote against Question 5 because it didn’t answer the question of funding and yet said they would vote for the single payer initiative.

The Labor Party also initiated a ballot question calling for the repeal of MCAS, the high stakes testing for high school students that has been introduced in Massachusetts by the Republican governor and supported by the Democratic Party. These questions also passed and the results have immediately been attacked by the head of the State Education Department as a “gimmick.” Like the health care question, the Labor Party initiative was quickly joined by many groups. The following is a press release by CARE, the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education.

Urban Voters Reject MCAS and Support Public Education

November 8, 2000 — For immediate release.
Local Contacts:
Cambridge: Charlo Maurer (MassParents) (617) 491-0429
Larry Ward (Statewide CARE) (617) 876-7285
New Bedford: Ben Gilbarg (New Bedford CARE) (508) 984 5108
Somerville: Bill Bumpus (Somerville Labor Party) (617) 625-9070
Holyoke: Preston Smith (Greater Holyoke Labor Party) (413) 534-6806
West Roxbury/Brookline: Ruth Kaplan (Brookline CARE) (617) 566-4173
Seamus Whelan (West Roxbury LP) (617) 469-8734
Boston: Jenny Lopez (POWER) (617) 628-2226

Urban voters in legislative districts from New Bedford to Holyoke last night voted overwhelmingly to end the use of the MCAS test as a graduation requirement and in favor of strong support for public schools.

In a vote that decisively dispels the myth that urban parents and citizens support the MCAS test as the best way to hold their school systems accountable, six districts with large low-income, minority, immigrant, and working-class populations approved the referendum question by large margins:

The total “yes” vote in all six legislative districts was 39,430, or 68% of the total vote, a 2-1 margin of victory.

Charlo Maurer, field director of the Cambridge referendum campaign, said Wednesday morning, “The margin of victory in these urban districts shows that, when the people are finally given the opportunity to express their own views through the vehicle of a referendum, they are sending an unequivocal message to their legislators: stop the Board of Education’s effort to undermine public education.”

In casting a ballot for the referendum question, the voters also rejected vouchers and for-profit schools, and called for continued and equitable state funding of education, smaller class sizes, and fair and authentic student assessment. “This vote serves notice to the Legislature that our families want their schools under public control, and not turned into profit-seeking businesses,” according to Bill Bumpus, longtime community organizer and Labor Party member in Somerville.

Preston Smith of the Greater Holyoke Labor Party said, “Holyoke families face both economic and social barriers to their children’s education; this 2:1 vote gives a clear message that they want schools focused on student needs, not the privatization agenda of the State Board of Education.”

The non-binding Public Policy Question was initiated by a coalition including the Massachusetts State Labor Party, representing many local unions, working together with local community groups and teachers organizations. The effort was supported and carried out by the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education (CARE), local Cambridge and Brookline CARE chapters, Massparents for Education not MCAS, New Bedford Coalition Against Poverty, Greater Holyoke Citizens for Quality Education, Somerville Labor Party Club, Massachusetts Green Party, and the Executive Boards of the Somerville Teacher’s Association and the Cambridge Teacher’s Association.

The referendum vote follows on the heels of an overwhelming vote (137 to 30) last week by school boards at the Massachusetts Association of School Committees annual convention in Worcester to call for a suspension of the use of the MCAS test to determine high school graduation.

The Question read:

Shall the representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of legislation that equitably invests state funds in local public schools for quality education; reduces class sizes; excludes use of voucher programs which siphon funds from public education; bars for-profit schools from public funding; suspends the MCAS tests as the criteria for promotion or graduation, and establishes an authentic and fair assessment system of educational progress for our students and their schools

The Representative districts were Cambridge — 28th Middlesex (Rep. Barrios); Somerville — 30th Middlesex (Rep. Jehlen); West Roxbury — Brookline (Rep. David Donnely); New Bedford — 12th Bristol (Rep. Rogers); New Bedford -13th Bristol (Cabral); Holyoke — 5th Hampden.