Holmes's censure amendment defeated
A correction was added to this story. Former Rep. Paul Kujawski lost a reelection bid in 2010.
The Massachusetts House on Thursday voted 146-5 to expel jailed Boston Rep. Carlos Henriquez, a decision that appeared to be based on his conviction for assault and battery against his former girlfriend and not on the technical violation of rules cited in the motion stripping him of his post.
Most sessions of the House are fairly chaotic affairs, with members often talking loudly among each other, ignoring speakers, and coming and going from the chamber. The Henriquez deliberations, perhaps because no member has been expelled since 1916, were very different. House members occupied their seats throughout the 90-minute debate and paid close attention to the proceedings as lawmakers, including Henriquez himself, debated the expulsion and an amendment seeking a lesser punishment of censure.
The House Ethics Committee, in its report to the full House, argued that Henriquez should be expelled because he had violated a rule prohibiting members from engaging in activities “which are in substantial conflict with or will substantially impair [the member’s] independence of judgment.”
Rep. Garrett Bradley of Hingham, another member of the Ethics Committee, said Henriquez would have no credibility as a lawmaker on such issues as domestic abuse, court funding, and criminal justice. He also said Henriquez could not fulfill his duties as a legislator while serving his six-month sentence and it was unfair for him to keep receiving his legislative salary as he serves his time.
Henriquez walked into the chamber unshackled shortly before the debate began and sat down at his old seat in the back row. Other members came up to him and shook his hand or patted him on the back. At the start of the proceedings, he pressed his voting button to indicate he was present but the device had been turned off as he wasn’t allowed to vote.
When he was recognized by House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who initiated the ethics proceedings against him, Henriquez calmly walked to the rostrum and insisted he was innocent of the charges for which he was convicted. “The truth is I never touched my accuser in any way at any time that would result in harm or injury,” he said. He also said “an innocent man does not plea and an innocent man doesn’t quit.” Henriquez has said he is appealing his conviction.
At the end of his remarks, Henriquez did not appeal to his fellow lawmakers to vote against expulsion but instead urged them to “do what you feel is right in your heart.” He then walked out of the House chamber and presumably was escorted back to jail. House officials said Henriquez could have stayed and participated in the ensuing debate.
The debate hinged on the proper punishment for him and whether House rules allowed a member to be expelled because he had been convicted of a crime. Rep. Russell Holmes of Boston filed an amendment to reduce Henriquez’s punishment to censure, which would have allowed the jailed rep to hang on to his seat but face internal disciplinary actions, such as the loss of committee assignments and possibly the loss of his salary.
Holmes raised a number of other issues in his speech, including what he called the dangerous precedent of allowing a simple majority of the House to remove a member elected by the people in the representative’s district. He also noted that Rep. Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleboro, a member of the Ethics Committee, had called for Henriquez’s resignation before the proceedings had even begun. He also suggested that race may have played a role in the deliberations.
Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville, who voted for Holmes’s amendment and against expulsion, focused in her remarks on how the House rules don’t seem to allow for the expulsion of a member simply because he is convicted of a crime. She said Henriquez’s judgment didn’t seem impaired. “As far as I can tell, his judgment is a little too independent,” she said.
Rep. Christopher Fallon of Malden said the House could not tolerate having a member who is serving time in jail. “This body really doesn’t have a choice today because the gentleman from Boston has been found guilty,” he said.
The vote on Holmes’s amendment was 143-10. The ten in the minority included three black men (Holmes and Byron Rushing of Boston and Benjamin Swan of Springfield) , one black woman (Gloria Fox of Boston), three white women (Provost, Elizabeth Malia of Jamaica Plain, and Mary Keefe of Worcester), and three white men (Carl Sciortino Jr. of Medford, John Rogers of Norwood, and Angelo Scaccia of Boston). On the vote to expel, the five who voted no included Holmes, Swan, Fox, Sciortino, and Provost.
During the debate, Scaccia asked lawmakers what they would do if they expel Henriquez and then he gets out of jail and is reelected to his seat. Holmes said Henriquez will be released in June and possibly as early as April if granted parole. He said he expected Henriquez would run for reelection and he said he thought Henriquez would win.
In the past, the House has not taken action against other members convicted of crimes. Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and former Rep. Paul Kujawski of Webster pled guilty to drunken driving charges in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The House has passed several bills since then that both Dempsey and Kujawski voted for to increase the penalties for drunken driving.
Nor did the House take issue with Kujawski pleading guilty to campaign finance violations brought by the attorney general. Some of the charges against him included using his campaign funds for personal use, a violation not only of state law but the very House rule that the Ethics Committee used to oust Henriquez. The rule, among other things, states clearly: “No member shall convert campaign funds to personal use in excess of reimbursements for legitimate and verifiable campaign expenditures.”Demspey was later elevated to chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee while Kujawski stayed in the House until losing a reelection bid in 2010.
Jack Sullivan contributed to this report.