Mariano pledges to lead with an open mind
Cites shift on millionaire’s tax after 2 no votes
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER Ron Mariano, a day before he is set to be elected speaker of the Massachusetts House, pledged to be a leader who will listen to everyone with an open mind.
“I’m balanced, I’m extremely open minded, I’ve changed my position when I’m convinced that there’s another thing – there’s something that I missed or didn’t consider strongly enough,” said the Quincy Democrat in a brief telephone interview.
As proof, Mariano pointed to one of the votes he has taken that has drawn some ire from progressives: his vote against a constitutional amendment that would raise taxes on income over $1 million. Mariano was one of just 17 House Democrats to vote against the measure at a 2016 constitutional convention and one of 12 House Democrats to oppose it in 2017.
Now, however, Mariano said he would support the so-called millionaire’s tax. The first time it came up in the House, “I didn’t have any details on it, so I voted against it,” Mariano said. “Then I was persuaded by folks. When I look at the amount of people it affects, the amount of revenue it generates, I changed my position.”
Mariano called the honor “the culmination of my lifetime in public service” and “a capstone” of his career.
Mariano first tried to run for speaker when then-speaker Sal DiMasi was on the verge of stepping down, which he did in 2009. House members say Mariano has been quietly ginning up support for the speakership for years. Mariano said he has “never asked anyone for a vote personally,” and he promised DeLeo that he would never challenge him. While Mariano acknowledged that “people were steered to me by other members” after former House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey, another potential speaker candidate, left to take a lobbying job in 2017, Mariano said he always started those conversations by saying he would never run against DeLeo.
Mariano, who is 74, said he has no plan for how many terms he wants to serve.
Asked how he will differ from DeLeo, Mariano said simply, “We’re different people.” He added, “I’m a listener, I have an open door policy, I enjoy talking to people about issues, I enjoy solving problems, and I’m going to be hands on.”
Mariano will take the helm of the House at a time when the state continues to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic downturn. Mariano said his top priority in the next legislative session will be to rebuild the economy post-pandemic.
Mariano said state budget-writers won’t know for another month or so how much of a revenue hole the state is facing. But he said the small businesses that form the backbone of the state’s economy, specifically the restaurant industry, are being hit hard – with some predictions that as many as 30 percent of businesses will go under.
“We have to come up with policies that support and help these small businesses get back on their feet,” Mariano said.
Before the pandemic, the biggest issue facing Beacon Hill was whether and how the state should raise new revenue to fund transportation. Mariano said it is now “way too early” to get into a discussion about whether Massachusetts needs to raise new revenue. But he said any demand for new revenues cannot be met by burdening small businesses, which are already struggling to survive. He called it “a delicate balancing act” to find new revenue without hurting business.
Holmes, who is black, raised the issue of diversity in his brief challenge to Mariano, who is white, arguing that the speaker of the House should be representative of the population that elects House members. Asked whether the speaker who comes after Mariano should be someone other than a white male, Mariano said that is up to the Democratic caucus. “It’s not up to me to decide how the next speaker’s going to look,” he said. Mariano said he thinks his openness to listening to new ideas is one of the reasons why he has support throughout the caucus, including from progressives, black and Latino members, and women.
The House crafts its rules at the start of each two-year legislative session, and the next session begins January 6. In some recent years, newer, more progressive lawmakers have called for providing more transparency to House operations – for example, making all committee votes and committee testimony automatically public or giving members more time to read bills before they vote. When DeLeo was last reelected, there were calls to have the next speaker elected by the Democratic caucus through a secret ballot rather than a public vote, to avoid a situation where the speaker could retaliate against anyone who voted against them.Mariano said any rules changes will be determined by the membership, and he is open to looking at any transparency proposals.
Regarding secret ballot votes for future speakers, Mariano implied that they were unnecessary. “I think if there’s a broad consensus, most people know what the election (result) is before the vote is even taken,” he said. “If you pay attention to the chamber, you can pretty much figure out what the votes are.”