DeLeo to seek yet another term as speaker

News comes as powerful House leader claims chairs can vote how they want

HOUSE SPEAKER Robert DeLeo, who four years ago oversaw the scuttling of term limits on his reign, said he doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon and intends to seek another two-year term as leader of the chamber.

The 69-year-old Winthrop Democrat who first joined the House in 1991 told the State House News Service on Monday morning that he intends to seek an unprecedented seventh consecutive term atop the House. DeLeo who is already the longest continually-serving speaker, will break the record for longest total time as speaker in February, according to the news service.

DeLeo, who supported an eight-year cap on the speakership until shortly before the House scotched the term-limit rule six years into his reign, said he could not pinpoint the moment when he decided to seek a return to the top House position. He also said he had never previously decided against another run.

“With so many things that go on, I don’t think it’s something you actually think about day in and day out,” DeLeo said Monday afternoon following a meeting with Senate President Karen Spilka and Gov. Charlie Baker.

While talking about his decision to seek another term, DeLeo spoke more about the constituents of his Winthrop-Revere district, who have continuously returned him to the House, than he did about the 159 other members of the House, who have collectively chosen him as their leader every two-year-term since late January 2009.

“I still enjoy the job, and the reception from the folks within my district has been very good,” he said.

The unexpected announcement came on the same day DeLeo challenged an account that former state rep Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat who was DeLeo’s longtime Revenue Committee chairman, gave about a contentious 2013 vote on a tax bill. In an interview on The Codcast, Kaufman said he thought the revenue that would be raised by the bill was insufficient, but DeLeo pressured him into voting for it, telling him that if he didn’t he would lose his chairmanship.

“He made it very clear to me that my options were to vote for it or not be part of any conversation going forward,” Kaufman said. “He said, ‘If you can’t vote for this, I can’t have you as part of my team.’”

DeLeo, who called Kaufman a “liar” in a statement Monday, suggested that those he appoints to chairmanships are not required to vote in particular ways.

“Chairs, or anyone else for that matter, can vote any ways. There are times that chairs do vote off,” he said, referring to a vote that goes against the leadership position.

There are many written rules of the House, including some that have historically been openly flouted or routinely suspended. There are also customs that, in practice, effectively function as unwritten rules, such as the prohibition on speaking in detail about conference committee negotiations, and the tradition of standing and applauding when a member speaks on the floor for the first time. Whether an enforced rule or not, members of leadership rarely vote against the wishes of the speaker, who generally only brings a bill to the floor in order to pass it.

While DeLeo has enjoyed either unanimous or nearly unanimous support from Democrats each time he’s sought reelection as speaker, association with the powerful House leader proved to be a political liability on at least one recent occasion, in the very liberal House district centered around Jamaica Plain.

Rep. Nika Elugardo defeated Jeff Sánchez in the 2018 Democratic primary in large part by tying the incumbent, who was then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to the speaker.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

Calling someone a liar is a pretty bold move in the usually polite world of Massachusetts House politics. On Monday, DeLeo flat-out denied Kaufman’s description of an ultimatum.

“The allegation was that I had told him that he had to vote a certain way on a certain issue,” DeLeo said. “That simply was not true. It’s as simple as that.”