Former rep backs up Kaufman’s account
Turner “not surprised” by DeLeo’s alleged ultimatum
FORMER STATE REP Cleon Turner remembers it well.
Jay Kaufman was in an aisle of the House chamber in 2013 venting about how Speaker Robert DeLeo had told him that if he didn’t vote for a controversial tax proposal, he would lose his chairmanship of the Revenue Committee.
“The speaker let him know: ‘Well, we don’t care if you’re not happy. If you kibosh this on us or vote no on it, then the chairmanship is gone,’” Turner said Tuesday. “He [Kaufman] was a little on the angry side, and a little on the disappointed side that he was being treated that way.”
That discussion between DeLeo and Kaufman, which took place six years ago, has become the source of a bitter controversy between the two Democrats just as the House is preparing for another debate on legislation to fund transportation over the next few weeks.
But DeLeo forcefully denied Kaufman’s account, and leveled an ad hominem attack against his one-time colleague.
“Representative Kaufman’s statement is flat-out false,” DeLeo said in a statement Monday. “He is a liar. The events described never happened, and it is disappointing that he would make unfounded accusations, six years later, in an attempt to disparage the House.”
That same day, DeLeo told reporters about his intention to seek an unprecedented seventh term as speaker.
Turner’s recollection of Kaufman’s comments in 2013 would tend to reinforce Kaufman’s claims about what happened. “It didn’t surprise me a bit,” said Turner, a Democrat who spent 10 years in the House and is now a lawyer on Cape Cod. “That’s the way it operates. That’s how leadership works. You don’t vote your own way and be a chair. You don’t complain about what the speaker is doing and be a chair.”
Turner said that he wasn’t subjected to that type of pressure from leadership himself because he did not hold a chairmanship and he had a reputation for voting independently. As for Kaufman’s story, Turner said he would “be surprised if it didn’t happen.”
As Turner remembers it, his discussion with Kaufman happened moments before one of the big floor votes to advance the tax legislation. That would either put it mere hours after DeLeo allegedly brought Kaufman to heel, on April 8, 2013, or a few months later.
Despite issuing a scalding statement denying Kaufman’s account on Monday, DeLeo’s staff didn’t provide requested clarification Tuesday about which particular elements of Kaufman’s story were untrue. In response to Turner’s recollection of what Kaufman told him, a DeLeo spokeswoman said, “Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true. A lie yesterday, was a lie six years ago. It never happened.”
According to Kaufman, despite his chairmanship, he had been left out of the process for coming up with a tax proposal to fund transportation and other needs, and the Lexington Democrat thought the plan presented by DeLeo and Therese Murray, who was then Senate president, would raise too little to meet the state’s transportation needs.
DeLeo also implied that Kaufman’s remarks on the podcast were somehow connected to his new business venture, apparently referring to Beacon Leadership Collaborative, which provides workshops and programs for people to learn the “art and craft of leadership.”
“It is no coincidence that this interview comes at a time when this former representative seeks to advance his private business interests,” DeLeo said.
Kaufman said the reference to his business is a “distraction” and he didn’t want to engage on that. Kaufman had agreed to be a guest on the podcast with the issue of transportation financing returning to center stage on Beacon Hill.
Some current and former members of the House are at odds over whether Kaufman’s version of events sounds familiar or at least plausible.
“I’ve never been told that if I vote contrary to the speaker that I would lose my chairmanship,” said Rep. Chris Markey, who is chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Markey voted against leadership early this session for a proposal that would give House lawmakers more time to review bills before they come to the floor. The Dartmouth Democrat said DeLeo’s “mantra” is to find consensus in the 160-member body, and he acknowledged it can feel slightly uncomfortable to vote differently than leadership.
“I just think that’s human nature,” Markey said.
It’s clear that members, even chairpersons, are able to vote against the speaker’s wishes and retain their positions or rise in the ranks. In 2011, Kaufman voted against legislation backed by DeLeo to establish a casino industry in Massachusetts, and some of those who voted against the 2013 tax bill – including Reps. Dave Rogers and Danielle Gregoire – have received promotions since voting against it six years ago.
Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, who is the register of deeds for Hampden County and was the assistant vice chairwoman of Ways and Means during the 2013 tax debate, claimed that House leaders maintain a very hands-off approach, leaving many decisions to committee chairpersons.
“It doesn’t sound like the speaker,” Coakley-Rivera said. “It’s just not his style.”
Two former House Democrats who declined to be identified had different takes on the disagreement. One former House Democrat harbors “no doubt” that Kaufman is telling the truth, and said “that’s the way it works.”
The other former House Democrat said that Kaufman is a “straight shooter” and “not a liar.” That person described a “mindset” that discourages members from openly disagreeing with leadership.Other former House Democrats declined to comment altogether.