ONE COMMONWEALTH AGENDA
Imagine a Commonwealth where voice and representation are available to all. Where levels of voting participation are high in all communities. Where our elected and appointed public officials reflect the diversity of our state. Where good governance at the state level supports good governance at regional and municipal levels. Where school committees and municipal planning commissions can debate hard issues while maintaining the bonds necessary for healthy communities. Where we have access to the information we need for productive debate and sound decisions. Where money does not win the day.
For too long, we have tolerated a government that views us as customers, not citizens; fails to ensure the full diversity of voices participates in decision-making; and transfers public sector responsibilities to the for-profit sector, undermining our sense of shared civic purpose as One Commonwealth.
It doesn’t have to be this way. That is why an Allen agenda will prioritize: expanded voting access and full participation; an information ecosystem to support citizen engagement and effective decision-making; cultivation of shared civic purpose through service and honest embrace of our history; and reining in the power of money in politics.
An Allen administration will invest in the foundations of our Commonwealth’s democracy to spur broad participation, fully incorporating members of minority groups, women, and low to middle income people; to disseminate and strengthen tools of good governance; and to knit together the diverse communities across our state in projects of shared purpose.
The agenda below is the outcome of community collaboration at every level. It was developed in discussion with democracy advocates and policy experts across the state. Most importantly, we listened to so many of our fellow citizens who are serving on numerous municipal and regional bodies. Thanks to their wisdom and insight, we have a democracy agenda that will significantly improve the quality of our constitutional democracy, the oldest in the world. But work to refine this agenda remains: we’ll continue to engage with communities across Massachusetts so that all voices are heard in our efforts to knit the Commonwealth together.
This agenda is just the beginning of the process. As we seek stakeholder engagement across the Commonwealth in the months ahead, the next critical ingredient we need is YOU. Together, we can knit our diverse communities across the state together into a healthy democracy.
For generations, my family has demanded a voice in American democracy, even when its ideals were being betrayed: fighting for the vote, running for office, leading civic organizations large and small.
My great grandparents helped fight for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century and my great-grandmother was president of the League of Women Voters in Michigan in the 1930s. My grand-dad helped found one of the first NAACP chapters in northern Florida in the 1940s.
I grew up in a family where the expectation was: regardless of what your day job is you are always also working in your community and on behalf of empowerment, rights, and democracy for all.
My family also showed me that we can have a shared purpose of community while respecting a diversity of perspectives.
In 1992, my dad ran for Senate in Southern California as a Reagan conservative at the same time as my aunt was on the ballot for Congress in Northern California as a candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party. Their heated but loving debates over our dinner table taught me that we can argue over matters of highest consequence without breaking bonds of loyalty and shared commitment.
Following these strong examples, I have dedicated my life to democracy – studying it and practicing it. Only when people are empowered to shape their own destinies can they lead their very best lives. Only when those who will be affected by policies contribute to shaping them can a community be truly just.
Expand Voting Access and Full Participation
Massachusetts is the birthplace of American democracy, but for too long we’ve neglected its health in our own state. In 1780 Massachusetts adopted the first written constitution in the world—one of history’s greatest advances in transparency and accountability in government. Yet today, Massachusetts has some of the lowest voting rates in the nation for African Americans, Latinx Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander citizens. Turnout among our young voters lags most other states as well. Limited opportunities for registration and inadequate voting accessibility lead to less democratic participation, alienate constituents from their government, and quiet the political voices of marginalized communities.
We will empower voters by expanding voting access and achieving truly full participation.
- Throughout this campaign, we will work to secure passage of the VOTES Act. Its key provisions would allow same-day registration, make no-excuse mail-in voting permanent, expand early voting, ensure incarcerated people who are eligible to vote have meaningful access to the ballot, implement back-end automatic voter registration, and require that the state participates in the Electronic Registration Information Center, which helps states keep accurate voting rolls. These changes are necessary for empowerment. And empowerment is necessary for securing equity and a foundation of flourishing for all. If VOTES Act passage is still outstanding at the start of an Allen administration, we will get the job done.
We will also work to secure passage of the Empower Act to empower municipalities to make their own decisions about ranked-choice voting and lowering the voting age in municipal elections, without asking for approval from the state legislature. Ranked-choice voting is one of the single most powerful reforms we could introduce to work our way toward a healthy, functional democracy with reduced polarization. As with the VOTES Act, if passage of the Empower Act has not been secured by the start of an Allen administration, we will get the job done.
Foster A Healthy Information Ecosystem
We need to make sure representation works in a context where social media has changed all the fundamentals — because poor information and opaque decision-making undermine the power of voters to shape the policies that will impact them. Erosion of local journalism, underinvestment in civic education, and underutilization of technology to share information and engage residents have led to missed opportunities to connect constituents with each other and their government, to empower the public with meaningful transparency and quality information, and to provide proactive, cost-efficient services to the public. We earn a ‘D+’ from the Center for Public Integrity for governmental integrity in general and an ‘F’ for our failures to provide reasonable access to governmental information. And all over the Commonwealth, Bay Staters are noting with despair increased polarization, division, and misinformation—so pervasive that these now infect even the local decision-making of our towns and cities.
We will expand transparency and accessibility of information and provide innovative tools for good governance to ensure residents know how to vote, understand what their elected officials are doing, and are empowered to keep engaging beyond the ballot box.
- We will make it easier for people to understand how to exercise their right to vote by charging the Secretary of State to pilot and build a voter orientation program similar to jury orientation.
- Empowered voters need good information. To help residents understand what their elected officials are doing, and why, we will commit the Executive Branch to adhering to the requirements of the Open Records Act and to streamlining responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The executive branch currently claims to be exempt from public record laws passed in 1973 and enforced in relation to all 351 of the Commonwealth’s towns and cities. Under an Allen administration, the executive branch will lead by example on transparency and accountability and hold itself to the same standard to which we hold our municipalities.
- We will also work with the Auditor to assess the information provided by government websites, with a view to improving the resources available to citizens and the Commonwealth’s K-12 civic education courses.
- We will use technology to improve government services, first by supporting language access tools for state government and for all municipalities, and also by building on the power of data and algorithms to develop proactive rather than complaint-driven service models.
- And we will strengthen support of civic education and engagement, and the construction of a school-to-voting-booth pipeline, through increased investment in the Civic Project Trust Fund, expansion of the trust’s focus to civic education broadly – not just for middle and high-school students – and implementation of the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap.
- We will recognize and build on our assets. Our founders had the foresight to establish a university as a constitutional matter, and Massachusetts is blessed with many great universities that are home to some of the world’s greatest libraries. We will work with those libraries, as well as with public libraries and the state’s library consortia, to forge partnerships to deliver open access to residents of the Commonwealth to critical information about the legislative process and support citizen engagement and local journalism.
- Also, we will lay a foundation to rebuild the shrinking ecosystem of local journalism. We cannot treat problems as One Commonwealth problems, if we are not all able to see the full range of experiences that exist across the Commonwealth, from whichever region of the Commonwealth we find ourselves in. To rebuild local journalism, we will actively advocate use of Build Back Better tax credits to spur donations to new non-profit local news outlets or, in the absence of a federal tax credit, we will pursue an analogous tax credit at the state level. We will encourage the collaboration of news outlets on back-office functions. We will pursue taxation on digital ad revenue earned from Massachusetts customers to support these investments.
- Finally, we will equip local and regional decision-makers, including school committees, with tools needed to strengthen local governance, such as resources for conflict resolution, deliberative polling, and diversity and inclusion work; supports for community engagement in policy development and evaluation; and scorecards to track progress in domains like housing, health and safety for all, and climate resilience.
Cultivating Shared Civic Purpose through Honest Embrace of Our History and Elevation of Service
Not only is Massachusetts the birthplace of American democracy. Massachusetts was also the first state in the union to abolish slavery. This was done in 1783, before the end of the American Revolution. Yet too few people know this history. Nor have we yet reckoned with the full experience of indigenous people in Massachusetts over generations. Our history has become a source of polarization and strife rather than being something to understand with clear eyes–both the good and the bad– so that we know the point we start from as we try to navigate together toward a better future. Americans today need ways of bridging the current polarization along political lines and interacting with others who are different to build a sense of full community. This requires facing our history and building a culture of mutual commitment and service.
We must reckon with our shared past and elevate service in the present. We must invest in people, places, and programs that help Massachusetts citizens come together despite differences to solve problems and discover a common purpose.
- Our history shapes who we are today. To strengthen shared historical understanding, we will finalize work on a new state flag and establish Indigenous People’s Day as a state holiday. We will energetically support Commonwealth-wide participation in the 250th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the United States, ensuring that as we do so the full history of that founding era is brought into view–the good and the bad. We will also take this as an opportunity to provide state support to strengthen the tourism industry in Massachusetts focused on our historical heritage and service to democracy.
- To ensure that the service of our veterans is recognized and that they receive the support they deserve across the lanes of workforce development, housing, and economic development, and health and human services, we will make the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Services (DVS) a cabinet-level position, while charging the Department of HHS with responsibility for professionalizing the healthcare management of our Soldiers’ Homes.
- We will also add at the cabinet-level a Chief Service Officer for the State. The Chief Service Officer would be responsible for building a new program, Mass Volunteers, tasked with establishing a universal opportunity of service for all young people and securing investments to support the spaces, programs, and people that encourage all residents to interact, find common ground, and solve problems together. A high-priority task would be engaging youth service participants in local journalism to rebuild the capacity to lift up state-level stories, as well as supporting the build-out of a youth climate corps.
Reining in the Influence of Big Money
Money in politics distorts the incentive structures of government, leading elected officials to cater to donors and lobbyists instead of constituents. Opaque institutions further favor established and well-resourced voices. The result is unequal voice and representation. While at the state level, Massachusetts has established tough and admirable limits on campaign finance, our political environment is badly distorted by the broader national environment for campaign finance, and in particular the floodgates of money in politics unleashed by Citizens United.
- To ensure that voters have the chance to vote on an agenda established by their fellow citizens and not by corporations, we would pursue enactment of the CAPS Act, which requires any corporation that seeks to make an electioneering donation to receive an affirmative majority vote by its shareholders prior to donating. This is part of a nationwide effort that creates a formidable barrier for corporate political donations.
- We would also move forward the effort to have Massachusetts be the first state to pass a 28th amendment to undo the impact of Citizens United by pursuing reauthorization of, and funding for, the MA Citizens Commission. The needed amendment would affirm “the right of states and the federal government to pass laws that regulate spending in elections, reversing the concentration of political influence held by the wealthiest Americans and large corporations capable of spending billions of dollars in our elections.” We would also pursue a broadened scope for the Commission so that it might review the Commonwealth’s campaign finance structure more generally and propose improvements to support broad participation in running for office and competitive elections.
Housing, health, transportation, schools, jobs, justice, climate, community, and empowerment are the building blocks every single one of us needs in order to have a foundation to stand on and live a healthy life. For so many citizens and residents of Massachusetts, our challenges with housing, climate change, healthcare, and public health are matters of life and death. It can be easy to forget that the health of our democracy is a matter of life and death, too. Democracy is our best—perhaps our only—tool for converting problems too big for any of us to solve alone into challenges that we can overcome together. The best way to ensure our politics is ready to deliver those building blocks is to ensure that our constitutional democracy is genuinely universal, that everyone’s voice is activated somewhere in our political processes, and that transparency and accountability are core to our political processes. With the tools of democracy, we can steer our lives. We can defeat creeping authoritarianism, alienation, and exhaustion by building a compelling people-powered alternative, a green and healthy next-generation democracy that genuinely works for everyone. Achieving a democracy that can deliver for our most pressing needs requires work on the basic elements of representation to support full inclusion, healthy participation, and effective governance. That is what this agenda delivers.