It turns out House progressive caucus isn’t growing

Only 58 lawmakers signed up, same as last session

THERE MIGHT NOT BE as much of a stampede toward the House Progressive Caucus as its leaders suggested earlier this year.

In a March 20 press release, Rep. Tricia Farley Bouvier, the re-elected co-chair of the liberal group, announced that the caucus had 60 members, “a record number.” But in an interview on Monday, the Pittsfield Democrat said she miscounted. The actual number of caucus members this year is 58 – and it appears that figure ties, but does not exceed, the number from last year.

Part of the confusion may be due to the way the caucus is counting its members. Rather than just rolling over memberships session-to-session as it had in the past, the caucus this year required members to say whether they want to be part of the group for the 2019-2020 session, according to Farley-Bouvier and others.

Byron Rushing, the former chair of the caucus who lost his seat last year, said he believes the group’s membership in past years was reflected by the group’s email list, which showed 58 members.

Regardless, Farley-Bouvier said enthusiasm and participation among caucus members appears noticeably higher this session. Certainly the numbers would suggest the 58-member caucus would have some sway as a large minority among the 127 Democrats who constitute the majority of the 160-member chamber. Whether that will prove true in practice has not yet been determined.

“I am personally not impressed at all by the signifier of the House Progressive Caucus,” said Craig Altemose, a progressive activist who is a senior advisor to the climate group 350 Mass. “As a caucus, they are not using their collective power in a visible way to really advance progressive priorities.”

Several lawmakers who were members of the caucus last session did not return to the Legislature this year and others opted against re-joining. The ranks have been replenished by newly elected members of the House, who now account for more than a quarter of the caucus membership.

The group also includes veteran lawmakers who have climbed the ladder in the House, attaining positions atop committees or within leadership. The highest-ranking members of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership team who are in the caucus are Reps. Kate Hogan of Stow and Sarah Peake of Provincetown, who are both floor leaders. Rep. Jack Lewis, a Framingham Democrat, has replaced Rushing as caucus co-chairman. Rushing had been assistant majority leader to DeLeo.

Rep. Aaron Michlewitz had been a member of the caucus since 2010, but this session, as he ascended to the position of House Ways and Means chairman, the Boston Democrat opted against re-joining.

“He still considers himself a progressive but in his new role as chair of Ways and Means he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for him to join any caucuses,” said Blake Webber, the chairman’s chief of staff. Michlewitz also dropped out of the MBTA caucus.

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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.

Michlewitz’s predecessor as Ways and Means chairman, Jeffrey Sánchez of Jamaica Plain, had also been a member of the caucus before being ousted by Boston primary voters in favor of a more progressive candidate.

Rep. Jennifer Benson of Lunenburg, who in February became House chair of the powerful Health Care Financing Committee, also had been a member of the House Progressives but did not re-join this year. An aide to Benson said she does not believe she needs to be a member of the caucus to be a progressive and ticked off several clearly progressive bills she has co-sponsored that would reduce cooperation with federal immigration enforcement, dramatically increase local education funding, and establish a surtax on the incomes of top earners.