By early Saturday morning, when the news began to spread across the Commonwealth that Barbara Anderson had passed away, a flood of phone calls and texts began to flow from friends and admirers. Most were full of stories of a remarkable woman who had done more than anyone to change the course of Massachusetts’s government over the last 40 years.  

No one triumphed more often in pitched battles with the state’s entrenched political establishment than the lady from Marblehead. In fight after fight, the odds always seemed stacked against her and her comrades-in-arms. The other side always had more money, more field troops, more friends in the media, more of everything. But they almost always lost, and Barbara Anderson almost always won.  

How does she do it, the defeated pols would ask their million-dollar consultants? 

Well, since they never figured it out, let me tell you what I believe.  

Barbara Anderson came to the fight armed with a remarkable insight that cynical politicians and their hapless advisors never would have considered, never would have thought of. Deep in her gut, she always trusted the people. Always trusted the people to absorb the information, consider the arguments on each side of an issue, then go to the polls and vote responsibly.  

Almost 10 years ago, Barbara and I were at a wedding, a very special wedding. Our first gay wedding. The groom and the groom had been together for more than 25 years and now—thanks to a 4-3 State Supreme Court decision—they could finally do what all of us had been able to do: get married.  

We were all so happy for them. It turned out to be one of the very best weddings any of us had ever been to. As the night wore on, my wife and I grabbed a table to join Barbara and Chip Ford and, of course, the talk turned to politics. Should the gay marriage question go on the ballot so the people could decide? The same-sex marriage advocates were fighting that effort. 

Barbara disagreed. I think they ought to trust the people, she said. Everyone has a family member, a friend, a coworker who is gay and will want the best for them. And once everyone sees that this is no big deal, marriage would win easily, at least 60-40. They ought to just trust the people she said.  

Trust the people had always been the essence of Barbara’s belief system. Just consider her perhaps greatest achievement: Proposition 2 ½. Approved on the ballot by the voters in 1980, the measure, among other things, cut and capped property taxes. But most importantly, it also took the power of taxation away from the politicians and gave it to the people.  

If the people in any community want to spend more, to build a new junior high school, add more police, or buy a new fire engine, they can hold an election and vote to spend that money. It’s called an override. But the people decide, not the politicians.  

Trust the people.  

The last time I spoke with Barbara, I was asking her about the latest effort to change the state constitution and pass a graduated income tax. They’ve been trying to do it for years, and they’ve lost every time, six or seven times in a row, she chuckled. In fact, she led the effort against the grad tax and won the last time it was on the ballot back in 1994.  

Sadly, she won’t be with us the next time that battle is waged, probably in 2018. But let’s hope whoever it is will learn the great lesson that Barbara Anderson taught us so well.  

Trust the people.   

Charley Manning, a longtime political consultant, was a friend of Barbara Anderson.