Give Them a Million Dollars
`YOU know what I'd like you guys in the news business to do? You're the only ones that can do it. You oughtta campaign for a one-term limit for governor.'' Larry Corda combs his silver hair backward into a mane, a style shared by none of his customers. The town of Wellesley, Mass., has only half a dozen barbers now, plus a dozen of the newer ``salons'' sometimes frequented by younger men.
``About a medium?'' is Larry's next question as he secures the barber sheet at my throat. I always say yes, although it doesn't really matter because I am going to get the haircut he chooses to give me, which is pretty short. The only real choice comes at the end: ``Wet or dry?'' - a plain combing or with hair tonic. I take the dry.
Larry's political convictions center on two issues: money and character. Too much money - or too little accountability - and character gets corrupted.
The morning papers report that the state revenue board has lowered the Massachusetts tax-revenue estimate for the year by $320 million, which means $1 billion will have to be found in new funds or in spending cuts by the end of the fiscal year.
``You think they just found that out?'' Larry asks derisively. ``You can bet they've already spent the money.''
Larry is the kind of Bay Stater who has lost patience with Democrats because he has lost confidence in the system they have run. Michael Dukakis is quitting after his third term. Prospects are high for a Republican governor - most likely either former Democratic governor Ed King, now a Republican, or former US attorney William Weld.
``Give them just one term,'' Larry insists. ``Four years at least, six years. Then they can make the kind of decisions they should, because they can't run again.'' Politicians wear down after their first term, he thinks. Dukakis is burned out. Even the second term of President Reagan, whom he admires, ``was a waste.''
``Another thing,'' he says. ``How much do we pay those congressmen - $70,000, $80,000? Let's pay them a million dollars - but that's all. Let them hire their secretary, pay their own postage, pay for their own research, travel - everything. Give them the money. I'll bet they'll take better care of it. The taxpayer would save a bundle.''
What about financing their campaigns? ``Let us pay for it, the public. For newspaper ads, television. Then they won't owe anybody anything.'' Owing somebody, to Larry Corda, is corrupting.
``Money is everything,'' he says. ``Money is power.'' But character, more than money, is really on his mind.
Drinkers and womanizers do not sit well here. No scurrilous magazines in this Linden Street shop ... although the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition does get rather dogeared.
Loyalty counts. When the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, or another local team is on a rare hot streak, he gets annoyed with the fair-weather fans who enthuse in his chair. Larry has little use for the local teams; good season or bad, at least he's consistent.
The same with politics. He's been a Republican for years. He's for Ed King, but he'll look at another nominee if King doesn't run. He comes by his political positions carefully. He scours the papers. He studies the often perversely complicated local and state referenda: ``When I go into the voting booth - and I never miss an election - I'm prepared,'' he says. ``I understand what I'm voting for - at least to my satisfaction.''
A Kennedy nephew might run for governor and get the nomination just because of his name. Corda's appalled. He says of State Treasurer Robert Crane, another Wellesley resident and a Republican who is stepping down after a quarter century in office without serious political challenge: ``They can't touch him until he's retired, you know.''
Give governors one term. Grant congressmen a generous budget but have them run their offices like a business, having to meet a payroll. Let them earn their way like everyone else. Next?