Barbara Anderson, who as the longtime executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation played a highly visible and influential role in Massachusetts politics for more than three decades, died Friday afternoon after a months-long battle with leukemia. She was 73 years old.
“It’s a tremendous loss for the taxpayers,” said Chip Faulkner, director of communications for Citizens for Limited Taxation, in a telephone interview. “She wanted more freedom for the average person. That freedom came through limiting the amount of money the government could take from you.”
Ms. Anderson died about 2:30 p.m. Friday in a North Shore hospice, according to Faulkner and a statement from Citizens for Limited Taxation.
Faulkner, who worked with her for more than 36 years, said he loved her tenacity and sense of humor. She was articulate and devoted to her cause, he said.
“I see my job as lobbying for the taxpayer,” Ms. Anderson liked to say.
To her allies, she was a “tax-cut tigress.” To her opponents, a “tax-cut terrorist.” There was, however, no disagreement on Ms. Anderson’s effectiveness. A longtime ally, Howard Foley, of the Massachusetts High Tech Council, hailed her as “the most powerful political figure in Massachusetts.”
In 1981, state Senator Alan Sisitsky, an opponent, called Ms. Anderson Massachusetts’ “de facto governor.” Though her effectiveness peaked in 1990 with the defeat of Question 3 and its proposed tax rollback, Ms. Anderson remained a force to be reckoned with on Beacon Hill — and at the ballot box.
Among the successful ballot questions she backed were Proposition 2½, in 1980, which capped property tax increases to 2.5 percent of fair market value; Question 3, in 1986, to remove a 1975 income-tax surcharge and put a cap on tax receipts; and Question 4, in 2000, which rolled back the state income tax rate from 5.85 percent to 5 percent.
Ms. Anderson’s greatest triumph, the landslide passage of Proposition 2½, in November 1980, took place less than four months after she became CLT’s executive director. She had started there in 1977, as a part-time volunteer. A year later she was hired as an administrative assistant.
“I didn’t know anything about anything when I started 2½,” Ms. Anderson said in 1985 interview. “I didn’t know it could not be done. If I knew then what I know now I would never have had the nerve.”
Whatever doubts Ms. Anderson may later have had about passing Prop. 2½ did not extend to its impact. “In five years everyone is going to admit,” she said in a 1981 Globe interview, “that this was the best thing that ever happened to Massachusetts.”
(Figures from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation suggest the impact of Prop. 2½ was much as Ms. Anderson supposed. When it was passed, in fiscal year 1981, Massachusetts ranked sixth among all states in the amount of state and local taxes residents paid per $1,000 of personal income. Five years later, in FY 1986, it ranked 14th. By FY 1990, it had dropped to 36th.)
Ms. Anderson’s inveterate optimism and feisty personality were evident in 2002 as she recovered from a fall that left her unconscious for nearly a week. When she regained consciousness, doctors asked what year it was and who was vice president. Having answered both questions correctly, she complained, “Why didn’t they ask me something more difficult, like what’s my name?”
Asked once where her political philosophy originated, Ms. Anderson cited a surprising source, the children’s story “The Little Red Hen.” “The simple justice of it was so right: If you work for it, you earn it. To a small child who looks for justice in the world that is a great lesson.” She added that whenever she read “Peter Rabbit” she sided with Farmer McGregor (It was his lettuce, and Peter had no business stealing it”).
An only child, Ms. Anderson grew up in St. Mary’s, a small manufacturing town in northwestern Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Max Horvatin, a hardware store owner, and Mary Ann (Fodge) Horvatin, a housewife. Ms. Anderson attended local parochial schools and very early on demonstrated an intense independence. She was nearly thrown out of the Girls Scouts, for example, for refusing to sell cookies. She liked to say, “I think the phrase I heard more than any other in my entire life, from family friends, teachers, and everybody else, was, ‘Barbara, sit down and stop arguing.’ ”
At Penn State, Ms. Anderson further demonstrated her unwillingness to accept dogma, joining both the Newman Club, for Roman Catholic students, and the Young Protestants Club (“to find out what that was all about, too,” as she later put it). She also read the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand, whose novel “Anthem” moved her to tears. As she later put it, “Someone had put into writing how I felt about the sacredness of the individual.”
Ms. Anderson dropped out after her sophomore year to marry Jack Crowley. She was 20. The couple moved to New Jersey, where Ms. Anderson gave birth to a son, Lance.
After Crowley joined the Navy, the family lived in Florida, California, and Greece. “That was my idea of heaven, being married to a naval officer,” Ms. Anderson would later say. While in Greece, Ms. Anderson once again demonstrated her iconoclastic bent: She took to wearing a black armband to protest against US involvement in Indochina.The couple amicably divorced in 1971. A year later, Ms. Anderson married Ralph Anderson, a Marblehead contractor.
Inspired by her husband’s opposition to a ballot initiative backing a graduated income tax, Ms. Anderson volunteered to do part-time work at CLT. She had been working summers, as a lifeguard and swimming teacher, at the local YMCA. CLT, which officially became Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government in 1996, has some 6,000 members. At its height, during the 1980s, it had some 15,000 members. The couple divorced in 1978, the year Ms. Anderson went on the CLT payroll. She liked to say it was because of her ex-husband that she acquired her trademark bright-red hair: She chose the color because he disliked it so much. Later, though, she would say her hair was “colored to match my temper.”
Ms. Anderson proved a highly effective spokeswoman for the tax-cutting cause. She kept up a constant schedule of public appearances, giving speeches and debating critics. Her regular Tuesday afternoon appearances on radio station WRKO, as one of “the governors” with talk-show host Jerry Williams and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, became an institution during the ’80s and ’90s. She also wrote a weekly column for The Salem Evening News and Lowell Sun.
Despite her seemingly all-consuming involvement with politics, Ms. Anderson was a woman of many interests. She was an eclectic reader and devotee and New Age thinking and astrology. (Her standard response whenever asked if she was a libertarian: “I’m an Aquarian, with Libra rising.”) Ms. Anderson’s interests did not extend to fashion. Jeans, sweater, and running shoes verged on a uniform for her.
In 1999, Ms. Anderson became only the fourth person to receive the Lifetime Taxfighter Award of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Jarvis was the political activist who helped promote Proposition 13, the 1978 statewide tax-cut initiative in California that helped pave the way for Proposition 2½.
“I was always sort of a rebel,” Ms. Anderson said in 1985. “I always questioned.”
In addition to her son in Nevada, Anderson leaves two teenage grandchildren, Aidan and Mariah, and her partner of 20 years, Chip Ford.
At Anderson’s request, no services are planned at this time, according to the statement from Citizens for Limited Taxation.