Rodrigues, a ‘boring middle’ Dem, named Senate budget chief
Westport lawmaker headed Ethics Committee during Rosenberg investigation
SENATE PRESIDENT KAREN SPILKA handed out leadership assignments on Thursday, shaking up some committee posts and giving the job of Ways and Means chair to Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, a self-described moderate Democrat.
Spilka did not come out of her office to talk to reporters after her leadership slate was approved by a Democratic caucus. Rodrigues, however, said he lobbied for the position, which is often viewed as the second most-powerful job in the Senate and considered a stepping stone for those who aspire to be Senate president. It also comes with a $65,000 stipend on top of the base legislative salary of $62,547.
He oversaw last year’s Ethics Committee investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the spouse of former Senate president Stanley Rosenberg. That investigation found Rosenberg violated no Senate rules but nevertheless failed “to protect the Senate from his husband, whom he knew was disruptive, volatile, and abusive.” Rosenberg stepped aside as president in December 2017 after the ethics investigation began and resigned as a senator following the release of the Ethics Committee report in May 2018.
It was during that long period of turmoil that Spilka assembled the votes to move from her position as chair of the Ways and Means Committee to become Senate president.
As the Senate’s makeup has shifted more and more to the left, Rodrigues has hewed more to the political center. He supported the tax on millionaires (which was blocked from appearing on the ballot because of a Supreme Judicial Court decision) and several senators noted he authored the expansion of the earned income tax credit, which benefits low-income people.
But even the 59-year-old Rodrigues, who served from 1996 to 2011 in the House before moving to the Senate, acknowledged he is a moderate on most issues. “I’m in the boring middle,” he said.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a leading progressive who was named Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would try to convince Rodrigues to support new revenues. “I am someone who is a very strong advocate to raise revenue and I’ll surely be making my case to him that in this session we need to raise revenue and not just look to pass the millionaire tax in four years,” Eldridge said, referring to an effort to revive the tax proposal.
Asked if he thought Rodrigues would be receptive to that pitch, Eldridge suggested his point of view has growing support in the chamber. “The Senate Progressive Caucus, we’ve really grown our numbers, so there’s a growing discussion around can we agree on a revenue package,” he said.
Rodrigues acknowledged there are revenue pressures facing state government in the areas of education, transportation, and health care, but he declined to say where he stood on raising taxes. “I’m not saying yes and no to anything right now because I don’t know what to say yes and no to,” he said.
The members of Spilka’s inner-circle leadership team are Sen. Cynthia Creem of Newton, who continues as majority leader, and Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, who replaced Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton as president pro tempore. Sen. Harriette Chandler of Worcester is continuing as president emerita. The Senate has three assistant majority leaders – Joan Lovely of Salem, Michael Barrett of Lexington , and Sal DiDomenico of Everett. The majority whip is Sen. Michael Rush of Boston and the assistant majority whip is Julian Cyr of Truro. Cyr and Lovely are new to their leadership positions.
Andy Metzger contributed to this story.