Lawmaker using exile as platform

No one had to put Charley Murphy’s desk out in the hall, but they might as well have.

In December, Murphy resigned as House majority whip, one step ahead of the political firing squad that was about to follow Speaker Robert DeLeo’s marching orders and remove him from the post. It was a steep fall for the eight-term Burlington lawmaker, who had served two years as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee before his stint as majority whip.

But the hard-charging ex-Marine is trying to turn his exile to State House Siberia into a platform for stirring things up in a House where dissent is as rare as a Friday session in August.  Murphy, who angered DeLeo by discussing with colleagues his own designs on the speaker’s post, has joined with Republicans (and only two other Democrats) in signing a pledge to allow more bills to be debated and not kept bottled up by House leaders.

“There appears to be an aversion to taking up bills in the House, and I’m not sure why,” he says.  “There will be some bills that people on the other side of the aisle will move that I’m not going to vote for, but I have no trouble debating them and voting.”

He has called for consideration of a gas tax or regional income tax to address the fiscal crisis of the teetering MBTA, a sharp contrast to the wait-and-see posture DeLeo has struck.  And in perhaps the biggest shot at the Beacon Hill status quo, Murphy has called for a sweeping reform of the state’s Public Records Law to remove the exemption currently enjoyed by the Legislature, the governor’s office, and the judiciary.

“I think that just breeds contempt of the residents,” he says of the exemption legislators have from the law. “Other states don’t exempt anybody and let citizens get whatever information they want, and they get along fine. There’s no reason Massachusetts can’t do the same.”

In the mid-1970s, Ed Markey was a 20-something-year-old state rep from Malden when he angered Speaker Tom McGee by pushing a judicial reform bill the speaker opposed. Markey promptly found his desk moved to the hallway. It provided him with political gold for his successful 1976 run for Congress, when he proclaimed defiantly in a campaign television ad, “They may tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.”

In Murphy’s case, the sudden shift from leadership insider to cage-rattling reformer recalls another political adage: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Murphy insists he has always spoken his mind, saying he is simply free to do so publicly now that he’s out of the House inner circle. The appropriate place for speaking out when you’re in leadership, he says, is in private meetings with the speaker and other House leaders. “We hooked and jabbed behind closed doors,” he says.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Murphy has come full circle. In his early days in the House, Murphy was part of a band of Democratic lawmakers who spoke up regularly against the iron-fisted rule of then-speaker Tom Finneran.

His banishment over the winter was prompted not just by Murphy’s jockeying for a possible speaker’s bid, but because of comments he reportedly made to colleagues suggesting that an ongoing probe of the state Probation Department could ensnare and topple DeLeo. “I never once said to colleagues that I thought Bob DeLeo was going to be indicted or implicated,” Murphy insists. “I did speak to members and talk about the future of the House.

“Murphy says he’s still interested in the speaker’s post—whenever it becomes open. “Things change quickly in the building,” he says. “Depending on the circumstances, if the opportunity presents itself where I can pursue the next level, I’ll certainly do that.”