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. Byron Rushing of Boston, a member of DeLeo’s leadership team, said after the caucus that he was going to support the rules change because he was convinced that retaining DeLeo in power without a term limit looming would maintain stability in the House. He noted Senate President Therese Murray stepped down earlier this year after eight years in office, and the battle to replace her began 17 months before she left office. “That’s how this place would operate,” Rushing said.

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 a number of members, seeking to show their loyalty for the Speaker, spoke on behalf of the rules change. But the sources said there was also some limited opposition. The sources said one member read DeLeo’s comments in support of term limits in 2009 and said that was the Speaker she voted for.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

The sources said Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Boston, the longest-serving member of the House, stood up and recounted how he warned DeLeo in 2009 not to push for term limits because it could come back to haunt him in the future.  The source said Scaccia told the group that he opposes term limits and would side with the Speaker on doing away with them, but he also told the Speaker he would not vote for him again in 2017. Scaccia declined comment, saying caucuses are confidential.

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.