Lucas: Watch out lawmakers! DiZoglio may get her audit

Diana DiZoglio is on a roll.

She is the state auditor who wants to take down the Massachusetts Legislature, and she is on her way to doing it.

DiZoglio, a former legislator herself, is seeking clear authority from the voters to audit — or, as some fear, oversee — the workings of the House and Senate the way the auditor does other state agencies.

Toward that end, she is halfway to gathering the 75,000 signatures of Massachusetts voters needed to get the issue on the 2024 ballot for voter ratification as she awaits a decision from Attorney General Andrea Campbell paving the way for her to sue the Legislature to comply.

Either way it is all but certain that the question will not only be on the ballot, but, given the public’s general negative attitude toward the Legislature, it will surely pass.

While most in Massachusetts speak well of their representative or senator, the same voters look much less kindly on the Legislature as a whole.

Both House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka oppose the move on the grounds that the Legislature is a separate branch of government that makes its own rules and governs and audits itself.

Others on Beacon Hill, where DiZoglio has gotten little support, believe it is a vengeful political power grab by DiZoglio who had a controversial and rocky road with the Democrat leadership in both the House and Senate when she served in both branches before being elected auditor in 2022.

DiZoglio, of course, denies the charges, saying that she is fulfilling a campaign promise to bring accountability and transparency to the Legislature.

DiZoglio seems unperturbed by the little support she has gathered from her colleagues at the State House, from Gov. Maura Healey on down, all of whom are fellow Democrats, as is just about everyone else on Beacon Hill.

Massachusetts is a one-party Democrat state and, since the few Republicans at the State House don’t count, the Democrats end up fighting among themselves.

Merits of DiZoglio’s issue aside — and there are questions of tampering with the legislative process — she continues to gather momentum, attracting support outside the State House from Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals.

Last week, the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance joined the left-wing Our Revolution in support of DiZoglio’s cause and offered volunteers to gather signatures.

“The more the merrier,” DiZoglio said, adding that she now has 530 volunteers out gathering signatures that are all due to be filed with the secretary of state Nov. 22.

If DiZoglio succeeds, she could shake up the Legislature the way it was rocked a generation ago when the move to reduce the size of the House from 240 to 160 members was approved.

Back then, after a long struggle in the 1970s, the Massachusetts League of Women Voters, then an important public interest lobby group, was successful through signature drives, media campaigns and lobbying, to win the battle to reduce the House by 80 members.

It was an idea that seemed good at the time. It was supposed to make the House more efficient and transparent, which is a joke. Democracy is designed to be messy.

What it did, however, was to make the Speaker of the House more powerful since the smaller House, with fewer dissidents, was easier to control. Many important issues, once hatched out in open House debate, are now decided behind closed doors and rubber-stamped by the House.

In that way the House is indeed more efficient, but the quality of the legislation approved and the way it is passed depends on the nature of the speaker and the leadership team he has around him, not the rank-and-file members.

Also, in a smaller House, members who were once approachable by average citizens became distant once they were stashed away in their new offices protected by staff and press secretaries. Minority representation also took a hit.

Speaker Mariano, a moderate Democrat with a steady hand amidst the growing progressive crowd at the State House, has by all accounts been a good, fair and common-sense leader. Whack job progressives do not rule the House as they do the Senate.

So, at age 77, it was generally greeted as good news when Mariano said he will run for re-election and remain as speaker, at least for a while. He just might be the last moderate Democrat to hold the job. After him comes le deluge.

But no matter his skill and experience, it will be tough going to stem DiZoglio’s voter drive to bring the Legislature to heel.

But be careful what you vote for. You just might get it.

Peter Lucas is a veteran Massachusetts political reporter and columnist.

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