DeLeo sets in motion Mariano handoff
Discloses intention to talk with Northeastern about job
HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo set in motion on Friday what could be a rapid transfer of power in the House, officially disclosing that he was preparing to meet with Northeastern University officials to explore a job there.
Although DeLeo says he hasn’t even met yet with officials at Northeastern and it’s unclear whether DeLeo would step down immediately if he takes a job, the expectation inside the State House is that DeLeo over the next week will take a position at Northeastern, step down from his House seat, and make way for his trusted No. 2 – House Majority Leader Ron Mariano of Quincy – to take over as speaker.
All of this change in leadership at the top of House would come at a time when the body is scrambling to wrap up voting on many significant pieces of legislation during a lame duck session.
Mariano’s allies want to move as quickly as possible because they believe they have enough votes to elect him speaker now and don’t want to wait until the new Legislature and new lawmakers are sworn in next year. Mariano would still need to be reelected speaker at the start of the new legislative session, but Mariano’s allies say he would prefer to be an incumbent entering that fight.
The 81 votes would be enough to win the speaker’s job, but Mariano’s allies say he has more than 100 supporters in the House, thanks in part to years spent building support among House members for his candidacy.
At his Friday press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said he received a call from DeLeo on Friday informing him of his plans to talk with Northeastern.
“If I have a concern about this – and this is very much up to the House to figure out how they want to handle this – it would be that we’re toward the end of the session and there’s a whole bunch of pretty important pieces of legislation kicking around and I really hope that people find a way to focus on trying to get those through the process and to my desk,” he said.
Baker said he did not ask DeLeo to stay on as speaker until the end of the session. “I didn’t,” he said. “From my point of view, these are real personal decisions.”
Mariano issued a statement Friday afternoon formally announcing his intention to run for speaker once DeLeo exits. He also urged his colleagues to remain focused on the legislation in front of them. “The House must remain focused on rejecting Governor Baker’s efforts to weaken a woman’s right to choose and to dilute our police reform legislation,” he said.
Although most House members have remained mum about the coming leadership struggle, a group of progressive Democratic activists outside the State House are speaking out against Mariano’s selection as DeLeo’s successor. The group had that concern even before rumors began swirling this week about DeLeo stepping down. The group launched a petition December 6 calling on DeLeo to resign the speakership next session and opposing Mariano’s selection to succeed him.
The petition criticizes DeLeo for establishing term limits when he came into office, then abolishing them in 2015. It criticizes him for showing “favoritism” in doling out committee assignments, limiting transparency in the House, and blocking progressive legislation. The group calls for more “democratic and inclusive” policies governing the House.
The petition specifically opposes the elevation of Mariano “who is openly identified as Rep. DeLeo’s pre-ordained successor.”
Chace said she has heard frequent grumbling behind the scenes from activists and lobbyists who do not like the way the House is run. When she worked as a campaign manager for Worcester Democratic state representative candidate Ceylan Rowe, they would joke that Rowe would be given a basement office if she won a seat because she would speak out. “The idea behind this petition is we as citizens of the Commonwealth have a right to say this out loud, have a right to say out loud the State House isn’t working for us, the State House is dysfunctional,” Chace said.
Chace said she has never personally interacted with Mariano, but she thinks the fact that DeLeo handpicked him and his nomination appears to be a foregone conclusion is “so anti-democratic.”
Several signers said they disliked Mariano’s selection because he is not progressive – he received a D+ on a legislative scorecard published by the advocacy group Progressive Massachusetts. Democratic State Committee member Nancy Stenberg said the state party passed one of the country’s most progressive party platforms, but much of that blueprint would never pass the House. When it comes to taking progressive stances, Stenberg said Mariano is “a carbon copy of DeLeo, if not worse.”
The two leaders of the House progressive caucus told State House News Service on Friday that they are backing Mariano. Reps. Patricia Farley-Bouvier and Jack Patrick Lewis said Mariano would provide a smooth transition and strong leadership. “In this time of great uncertainty, with so many issues in our Commonwealth and with our constituents struggling through this unimaginable pandemic, we need a smooth transition,” Lewis said. “We need a strong leader. We need someone who will be a partner. And for me, that is Leader Ron Mariano.”
Bob Massie, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate who ran unsuccessfully for Democratic Party chairman and signed the petition, questioned the process. “This is not the way you should choose such an influential leader, where a person is told well in advance, has a chance to lock up votes on the basis of personal control and influence, then announces there’s no election to be had because he already has all the votes,” Massie said. “That’s the opposite of democracy.”Massie called it “absurd” for DeLeo to step down and have the selection of a new speaker occur weeks before the new members are seated. “To deliberately hold election prior to the appearance and swearing in of those new voices would add insult to injury,” Massie said. “It’s a naked refusal to listen to the will of the people that was expressed in the recent election.”
J. Michael Gilbreath, a Democratic State Committee member from Weymouth who was active in presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaigns and coordinates the Sanders-inspired Our Revolution Massachusetts, said the problem is a lack of transparency in the State House and the concentration of power in one hand. “For years I think it’s been a known secret by everybody that the speaker wields an unreasonable and unusual amount of power at the State House,” Gilbreath said. He said DeLeo had no interest in making the House more transparent, and with Mariano in power, “There’s no evidence he’d rule in a more democratic fashion.”