Holmes calls House leadership ‘a dictatorship’

Mattapan lawmaker continues pointed critique

RUSSELL HOLMES, the Mattapan state representative who caused a stir two years ago with talk of succession planning for a new House speaker, is showing no signs of quieting down and dialed up his pointed critique of leadership in the chamber.

Appearing as a guest Wednesday night at a live recording of the weekly “Horse Race” podcast, Holmes was asked to outline his objections to how the House has been run.

“It’s not been run,” said Holmes. “That’s my objection. It’s really been a dictatorship from the time I’ve gotten there.”

It’s the kind of no-holds-barred criticism that has turned the one-time committee vice chairman into an outcast among top House leaders.

Holmes was elected in 2010 and was serving as vice chairman of the housing committee in 2017 when the rift blew into the open. In July of that year, Brian Dempsey, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the presumed frontrunner to eventually succeed Speaker Robert DeLeo, announced he was leaving the Legislature for a lobbying post.

Many took it as a signal that DeLeo wasn’t planning an imminent departure. Holmes said it meant conversations would now begin on a possible DeLeo successor, deliberations in which he said the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus should unite as a single voice.

Legislative leaders are never happy with open talk of who might assume their post. The following week, Holmes was stripped of his vice chairman’s position, and his break with DeLeo was complete.

DeLeo’s office did not return a message seeking reaction to Holmes’s comments.

It’s widely acknowledged that power in the House has been increasingly concentrated in the speaker’s office, but few lawmakers have been willing to speak openly about that or call for change in how the House operates. Four years ago, DeLeo succeeded in getting legislators to eliminate the eight-year term limit for the speaker’s post, giving him unfettered reign in the 160-member House.

The new class of lawmakers that took office last week includes several who have signaled a willingness to push for change. A group of 15 women candidates in last year’s legislative races pledged to call for roll call votes on issues and more transparency in the Legislature. Four of them were elected, three to House seats and one to the Senate. And during last week’s Democratic caucus for speaker, eight Democrats spoke on behalf of a proposal to hold future caucus votes for speaker by secret ballot, arguing it would free members from pressure for their vote. The measure was defeated by voice vote.

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Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“I used to feel like I’m on an island,” Holmes said at the podcast event. “Now all of a sudden I have had six or seven people come and say, hey, we want to join you.”

He offered a shout-out to two freshman Democrats “who joined me on the island,” Maria Robinson of Framingham and Patrick Kearney of Scituate, who were in the audience. Robinson offered the secret ballot proposal in the Democratic caucus and Kearney spoke on behalf of it.