DeLeo spins a positive tale

Speaker calls election a ‘good night’ despite defeat of key lieutenants

HOUSE SPEAKER ROBERT DELEO dutifully sidled up to the state’s other top Democrats at a “unity” gathering yesterday morning in Dorchester, where party pooh-bahs reveled in their victories — and tried to paper over any divisions from primary races that saw some of them on the losing side of big races.

Asked after the event about the defeat of two of his top lieutenants, Rep. Jeff Sanchez of Jamaica Plain and Rep. Byron Rushing of Boston’s South End, DeLeo didn’t address the losses and instead sought to put the election in a statewide framework. He pointed out that of 130 Democratic state reps, only 16 had primary challengers and 13 of those lawmakers prevailed.

“I think it was a good night for the Democratic House,” he said. Maybe he’s right based on sheer numbers. But it was not a good night for the House that DeLeo built. Two of the three losses were handed to lawmakers who formed a key part of the left flank of the big tent DeLeo has tried to fashion, and they were the only two minority reps on his leadership team.

In the Sanchez race in particular, challenger Nika Elugardo made the heavily centralization of power in the House a major issue. Despite Sanchez’s position as chairman of the powerful budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, she said he operated more “with permission, not with power,” with all the real power in DeLeo’s hands.

That message resonated strongly in his liberal-leaning Jamaica Plain district, where voters were angry over the dropping of an immigration protection measure from the final state budget Sanchez helped negotiate as well as the watering down of renewable energy legislation and failure to update the state’s education funding formula.

In some ways, the elevation of Rushing and Sanchez into top House posts seemed destined to eventually provoke fallout of some kind. They were liberal lawmakers who were part of the leadership structure of a House that often frustrated progressive advocates who said it was the obstacle to passing measures endorsed by the more liberal-leaning Senate.

In a Sunday opinion piece for CommonWealth, Stefanie Coxe, a former staffer to several Democratic elected officials, said disaffection with the ways of the House is not a matter of left-right ideology as much as it is disillusionment with the lack of transparency and “small ‘d’ democratic values” in the way it operates.

The real question is whether the defeat of top DeLeo lieutenants in two of the state’s most liberal districts is the canary in the coal mine that signals more upheaval ahead, or outlier results that don’t say much about the broader political climate in the state.

Former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi came down firmly on the side of the former explanation.

“If there isn’t a leadership change – in person and attitude –  in the #mapoli House as a necessary & logical outcome of yesterday’s election results, there will be a tsunami of change sweeping House incumbents out across the state in 2020,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “The clock is ticking.”

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.

That also seemed to be the view of state Rep. Russell Holmes of Mattapan, who was axed from a committee vice chairman’s post last year after urging minority, women, and progressive lawmakers to band together in the selection of the next speaker. “This is clearly a rebuke against the Speaker and the way he’s doing things, and how those things translate to our districts,” Holmes said on election night about the defeat of Sanchez and Rushing.

Democrats nationally are feeling optimistic about signs that a blue wave may be coming this fall. Whether there is a reform wave heading for the Massachusetts House of Representatives seems far less certain.