DeLeo taps Michlewitz of Boston for budget-writing post
House leadership has less diversity at the top than last session
REP. AARON MICHLEWITZ will become the new face of the House budget-writing committee, taking on the powerful position of Ways and Means chair on Thursday afternoon.
A 40-year-old Democrat from Boston’s North End, Michlewitz most recently co-chaired the Committee on Financial Services, helping to craft regulations and a taxation system for short-term home rentals and ride-hailing services.
Michlewitz was one of several promotions of Democrats that House Speaker Robert DeLeo made Thursday. DeLeo had to fill two top leadership positions previously held by black and Latino lawmakers – Byron Rushing and Jeffrey Sanchez, both Boston Democrats who were defeated in last September’s primaries.
Thursday’s promotions to those top tier posts went to white men – Michlewitz and Chicopee Rep. Joe Wagner, who took Rushing’s position as assistant majority leader.
“I look at this as a team. It’s not just about one position. It’s about all positions,” DeLeo said Thursday.
Nine of the 21 highest ranking positions in the House are held by women and more than half of the House members who identify as people of color hold top posts on the committees, according to DeLeo’s office.
DeLeo did not promote to chairpersonships any of the more restive members of his caucus – who have agitated for greater transparency and more dispersal of power. None of the Democrats who supported term limits on the speakership four years ago will hold a chairpersonship under the new committee assignments, and those who pushed for stronger transparency measures during last month’s rules debate were generally locked out of higher-ranking positions.
Dartmouth Rep. Chris Markey, who spoke in favor of limited reform to ensure more time to review bills before floor action during the rules debate, retained his position as chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
DeLeo said there was no debate in the closed-door caucus and the appointments were approved unanimously.
There were a number of unrelated factors that combined to create several vacancies heading into Thursday. DeLeo needed to fill four chairpersonships on joint House-Senate committees and two on House committees along with the vice chairperson of Ways and Means and a new assistant majority leader.
“There’s going to be a lot of new people on both sides,” said House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, referring to changes in both the House and Senate, where Westport Sen. Michael Rodrigues was promoted to Ways and Means chairman.
Mattapan Rep. Russell Holmes, one of the few black members of the House and an outspoken critic of DeLeo’s leadership style, said he appreciated that the new Ways and Means chairman is from Boston, but he said the lack of racial diversity in House leadership now is striking.
“I think the whole place is a sham,” Holmes said. “There’s not a single person of color.”
Michlewitz’s district covers the downtown area stretching from the North End to the South End. Before winning election to the House in 2009, Michlewitz was an aide to Sal DiMasi, the former speaker who later went to federal prison for a kickback scheme.
DeLeo said Michlewitz had demonstrated his acuity handling a few different bills.
“I think he’s a gentleman of great intellect, of great integrity, and a gentleman who really works well in terms of dealing with all of the members, their particular interests and concerns,” said DeLeo.
The Ways and Means chairperson has traditionally held extensive meetings with other members of the 160-seat House, especially during the annual budget debate, which will happen this spring.
Michlewitz is DeLeo’s fourth Ways and Means chairman over his decade as speaker. The incoming chairman follows Charles Murphy, Brian Dempsey, and Sanchez, who lasted less than a full term. Under the controversial pay raise law that passed in 2017, Michlewitz will be entitled to a $65,000 annual stipend, a big bump up from the $30,000 stipend he took in as Financial Services chairman. Wagner will be entitled to a more modest raise of $5,000.
“Keeping the Massachusetts economy strong I think is my number one priority. We’re very blessed and lucky to have a very diverse economy here in Massachusetts,” Michlewitz told reporters in his first press availability as Ways and Means chairman. He said he wants to foster growth and “protect the consumer as well.”
Michlewitz was less sure whether the state needs new revenue. Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed a few tax measures in his budget to increase the amount of money flowing into state coffers.
“We’re going to have to take a look at everything and that’s going to come with time,” Michlewitz said.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a technically non-partisan group that has traditionally targeted Democrats for criticism and kept its financing secret, knocked DeLeo’s choice, citing Michlewitz’s ties to DiMasi, his handling of the ride-hailing legislation, and his siding with House leadership to maintain the existing rules around transparency.“With Rep. Michlewitz, you will see more of the same. More backroom deals, more strong-arm tactics, more tax increases. The only thing you’ll see less of is transparency,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for the organization.
Michlewitz’s first big task is likely to be the annual budget, but Ways and Means plays a role in a wide variety of legislation before it reaches the House floor.