Beacon Hill notes: DeLeo cruises to speaker reelection
Spilka lists priorities; refurbished Senate chamber opens
REP. ROBERT DELEO cruised to reelection as House speaker for the sixth time on Wednesday, but a small band of lawmakers from his own party registered their disapproval of the process by refusing to vote for him and pushing for an amendment to House rules to make future caucus votes for speaker secret.
DeLeo was reelected speaker with 119 Democratic votes; House Minority Leader Brad Jones received 31 Republican votes. Eight Democrats, including Reps. Nika Elugardo of Boston, Tami Gouveia of Acton, Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, Russell Holmes of Boston, Patrick Kearney of Scituate, Maria Robinson of Framingham, John Rogers of Norwood, and Angelo Scaccia of Boston, didn’t vote and answered present when called on. Two other lawmakers – Reps. Denise Provost of Somerville, a Democrat, and Republican Shaunna O’Connell of Taunton – were not in attendance.
In a Democratic caucus prior to the vote, Robinson proposed a motion to House rules that would make the vote for the next speaker, whenever that comes, by secret ballot. Supporters gave various philosophical and practical reasons for backing the measure, but their primary motivation appeared to be a desire to free lawmakers from outside pressure by candidates for speaker.
Holmes, who has made no secret of his dislike for what he considers the top-down leadership style of DeLeo, said a number of lawmakers had told him they supported the amendment but could not vote for it for fear they would lose their leadership positions and the $15,000 to $30,000 stipends that accompany them.
Kearney of Scituate said his vote had nothing to do with the fear of retaliation but instead reflected support for the American tradition of secret ballots. Elugardo struck a similar tone. “This is a basic principle of democratic governance,” she said.
Rep. Mike Connolly of Cambridge also embraced a secret ballot for speaker. “As a modest reform, this makes all the sense in the world,” he said.
Supporters of the rules amendment used 11 of the 15 minutes they were allotted for debate, while opponents took the full 15 minutes and could have gone on much longer. The opponents dismissed the allegations of backroom deals and argued that secret votes would hinder efforts to bring greater transparency to the House and state government.
Rep. Thomas Stanley of Waltham said he has never felt threatened to vote for anyone as speaker. “I believe our constituents deserve to know who we’re voting for,” he added.
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield said the rules amendment wasn’t the way to change the culture of the House. Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown called the proposed amendment “misguided” and said lawmakers shouldn’t hide behind a secret ballot. “We should be moving in the direction of transparency,” she said.
“I love the fact that folks yelled for transparency. For me, that was the major statement of the day,” Holmes said. “That sets the stage for exactly what I’m going to stand on for the rest of the year. Everything now should be transparent and open.”
Spilka lists priorities
Senate President Karen Spilka called for an “economic development and tax framework for the 21st century” that would allow tech businesses to thrive while capturing new revenue for the state.
“So far, we have been addressing these new industries on a piecemeal basis, which only serves to breed confusion for business, government, and consumers. We must work together to find a balance that benefits us all, especially as we will be relying on these industries to fuel our economic success,” she said on Wednesday.
Spilka, who was elected president with 33 votes (Republican leader Bruce Tarr received six votes), also called for legislation increasing the state’s investment in public education, reining in the price of prescriptions drugs, integrating preventative mental health care into the health care system, and studying the feasibility of what she called a rapid regional rail system.
Refurbished Senate chamber opens
Senate President Karen Spilka spent nearly a third of her speech highlighting the more than $20 million makeover of the Senate chamber, which now features a quote from Frederick Douglass (“Truth, Justice, Liberty, and Humanity Will Ultimately Prevail’) on the wall facing the rostrum.After nearly two years of work, the Senate has been restored to the way it looked in 1898, when it first became the Senate after serving as the House of Representatives previously. The restoration project began in early 2017 and forced the Senate to relocate its operations during that time to Gardner Auditorium.
Spilka said the chamber will soon host busts of Douglas and Abigail Adams. She also noted the chamber is now fully handicap accessible, complete with a lift to carry people up to the rostrum so that “physical ability will never be an impediment to being a senator ever again.”