New State Rep. off to a Rough Start
"History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them." So said Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, chief architect of the Indian constitution. I suspect strongly that our incoming freshman State Representative Tim Madden hasn't brushed up on his Ambedkar lately.
The news last week that Madden paid $4,000 from his campaign account for the consulting services of local carpenter and filmmaker John Stanton is not remarkable for the fact that Stanton is relatively inexperienced in providing these services. It is not even extraordinary because Stanton is married to the editor of one of two major papers on the island. Madden's hiring of Stanton is worthy of notice simply because this man, recently granted the confidence and trust of thousands of Falmouthites in the November election, did not think enough of his constituents to make this transaction transparent to the people of the Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket district. "He helped me collect my thoughts, to be prepared if I was going into a debate or into a forum. He kept me focused," said Madden in the Nantucket Independent, a paper published by the Bulletin's Gatehouse Media. What is the harm in that? None, unless the thought collector has a direct line to the editorial board and the thought recipient doesn't bother to tell the voters.
There are two scenarios one can draw from this ethical lapse: the first is that Madden knew what he did was on shaky ethical ground and he did it anyway (bad). The second is that it never even occurred to our new voice on Beacon Hill that hiring the spouse of one of the district's leading media voices without full disclosure was a bad idea (worse). Either way, his dismissal of the issue when the news broke is the most troubling of all events surrounding this disappointing intro to the voters of Falmouth. He could have cured the cloud now following him on his trip north to take the oath of office by simply admitting he was wrong and apologizing to his bosses, the voters. Instead, his treatment of this serious lapse in judgment as a piece of lint to be flicked off his sweater risks tainting his tenure before it even begins.
His attitude gives me pause and worry with thoughts of his future beneath the golden dome, where the clash of economics and ethics will present a daily test for our new leader, who cannot be an island unto himself, but surely has not learned much about his constituency beyond the social circles on the island he calls home. In an almost cartoonish additional response to criticisms, Madden said this of his consultant: "He works with the working class guy. He knows some people that I don't." Here's a thought that maybe Mr. Stanton can help Mr. Madden collect: most of the voters here in Falmouth, even those of significant means, consider themselves to be "working class." Falmouthites pride themselves in their hard work, be it for a paycheck, for charity, or for a local volunteer committee. Madden's lack of identification with most of the local electorate further serves to spread a chasm wider than the expanse of ocean between his home and the heart of his district.
Dr. Ambedkar's clash of ethics and economics is omnipresent in politics. Here's hoping Representative-elect Madden can muster the sufficient force to keep them from clashing too often, and can keep his working-class constituents in mind when deciding when and how to do it.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Bulletin