DeLeo: My thinking has evolved
Speaker seeks to remove term limit
SAYING HIS THINKING has “evolved,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Thursday that he wants to do away with a rule he instituted six years ago that would require him to step down as the House’s leader at the end of this term.
“Quite frankly, I look at it as important for the institution,” he said, suggesting the rules change had nothing to do with a desire on his part to extend his time in power. “What we have done over the last six years, I think, has been remarkable.”
DeLeo personally pushed for and won passage of a rule in 2009 that placed an eight-year limit on the speaker’s term. The Senate has a similar rule. At that time, DeLeo said a term limit was needed to restore the public’s trust in state government after DeLeo’s predecessor, Salvatore DiMasi, was indicted. DiMasi was later convicted and sentenced to prison, the third speaker to leave office under a legal cloud.
Emerging from a closed-door caucus with House Democrats, DeLeo said the situation today is very different. He indicated he and many members of the House do not want him to be in a position where he would be a lame duck for the next two years. Doing away with the eight-year term limit will allow him to extend his time as speaker indefinitely, but he said he has made no decision about whether he will even stand for reelection as speaker again in 2017.
Rep. Geoff Diehl, a Republican from Whitman, said he didn’t think the House would crumble if DeLeo left office after the current two-year term ends. He noted Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, the current chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, seems capable of stepping in. “He seems to be the heir apparent,” Diehl said.
The House took up a series of rules changes during the afternoon and into the night. Most of them passed or failed along party lines. An attempt by Republicans to reinstate an eight-year term limit on the post of speaker was defeated.
While DeLeo said he was seeking the rules change on behalf of the House and not himself, many said they saw a carefully calibrated campaign to extend his reign as one of the three most powerful people on Beacon Hill.
DeLeo lieutenants for months have been floating the idea of scrapping the eight-year term limit on the Speaker’s job, but DeLeo himself repeatedly refused to say where he stood on the issue. Earlier this month, when he was reelected as speaker by his colleagues, DeLeo told reporters “I haven’t really given it a heck of a lot of thought at this point.”
DeLeo has yet to hand out committee and leadership assignments in the House, positions that come with greater power and pay. He even decided not to fill critical committee posts that have been vacant for months. Critics say he decided not to fill the positions because the lure of landing one of the assignments was his biggest leverage in horse-trading for votes on the rules change.
The rules change will also allow DeLeo to attempt to push through legislation that would increase his salary and the salary of the Senate President from $102,000 to $175,000 a year. A special commission last year recommended the pay hikes, along with smaller but still substantial increases for the governor and other constitutional officers. The raises for the Speaker and Senate President would make them the highest-paid legislative presiding officers in the country. If DeLeo were to receive the higher salary for three years, his state pension would rise substantially, to an estimated $140,000 a year.
The private meeting among House Democrats started late and went on for nearly two hours, and many members said afterward there was some spirited debate about DeLeo’s proposal. Sources said the merits of the proposal were put forward by Reps. Patricia Haddad of Somerset, the third-ranking official in the House, and Garrett Bradley of Hingham, a member with a minor leadership position but someone who is emerging as DeLeo’s go-to guy on important issues.
Sources said DeLeo’s role in the Probation corruption trial last summer did not come up during the party caucus. DeLeo was labeled an unindicted coconspirator during the trial for his role in steering Probation jobs to House members who recommended people for the posts. Most of the people were hired sight unseen.