SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 15, 2013

Benton: President overshadowed

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — Not only was President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech lacking in major initiatives, it was overshadowed by events taking place across the country.

As the president spoke, police in California were closing in on fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner, who ended up killing himself before setting his mountain hideout ablaze. He’d been the object of a massive, weeklong manhunt that began after a string of fatal shootings.

The commander in chief just can’t seem to catch a break these days. For instance, his foreign policy initiatives continue to be haunted by questions regarding the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, last year. Seems like Secretary of State John Kerry (and new senior adviser Glen Johnson, a former Salem News staffer) have their work cut out for them.

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Gov. Deval Patrick is still taking heat over the administration’s threat to jail motorists who dared defy the driving ban he issued in advance of last week’s nor’easter.

It appears the chief executive has been emboldened by recent Democratic gains both nationally and statewide. The driving ban was a one-day phenomenon, but more ominous are his plans to hike taxes on everything from gasoline to candy.

Citizens for Limited Taxation, for one, isn’t about to take all this lying down. In a recent memo to its membership, CLT official Chip Ford of Marblehead complains about the $30 million the governor is seeking to rectify problems created by the recent scandal at the state crime lab:

“We taxpayers already paid to prosecute the perps, pay for their court-appointed lawyers, put them behind bars, (and) are more lately releasing them for retrials. Talk about double jeopardy — but it’s us taxpayers who’re paying the price twice! We’re paying twice due to an inept governor and his befuddled administration without a clue among them.”

He continues, regarding recent allegations of welfare fraud, “(it is) us taxpayers who not only funded the fraud but are now paying state employees overtime to straighten it out — because they couldn’t get it right the first time, too.”

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Lobbying via text message?

Apparently, it’s being done. I know for a fact that during the recent debate over filling a vacancy on the Salem City Council, at least one councilor received messages on his cellphone urging him to change his position; and it’s hard to imagine others weren’t being similarly cajoled. It’s easy enough to do; all you need is your representative’s cellphone number. He or she merely glances at the phone — a common practice these days — and the message is conveyed without a spoken word exchanged.

Some might view this as a convenient way for constituents to express their opinions in real time as deliberations are under way. Except that not everyone has access to those numbers.

Representatives at the local, state and federal level usually provide contact numbers constituents may use to keep in touch. But cellphone numbers are often kept private, for use by family, staff and close friends only.

It gives those friends with a cause to promote or an ax to grind an unfair advantage. Want to know how much your councilor or congressman really values your opinion? Ask him or her to exchange cellphone numbers with you.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.