Few parting shots from Bill Nagle

After 27 years commuting from the Pioneer Valley, Bill Nagle left the State House and his position as House majority leader without a word, let alone the traditional farewell speech. “Part of it was, I came so close to becoming Speaker. It’s very difficult to walk out the door after all those years,” he says. After much speculation about a rift between him and House Speaker Thomas Finneran, for whom he had lined up votes in 1996, Nagle left to become clerk magistrate of Ware District Court in May.

The Northampton liberal remains respectful of the conservative Speaker on whose leadership team he served for four years. “Personally, Tom Finneran is my friend,” he says. “He will be my friend. I see an engaging, personable guy and a family man, and I really respect that.”

Nagle, who views his 1997 efforts to quash the revival of the death penalty as his most significant legislative achievement, does allow that he and Finneran made an odd couple, however. “We were an interesting combination,” he says. “I think we balanced each other very well.”

But it was a balancing act Nagle was not content to keep up forever. He had spoken openly about wanting to succeed Finneran, but after the House vote in January to repeal the Speaker’s eight-year term limit, allowing Finneran to hold the post past 2004, Nagle could see no reason to pin his hopes on a seemingly elusive goal.

“I respect his decision, but I was there before he came in, and I could have been there for a long time after. That played into my decision, that’s for sure,” Nagle says. “Over the years, it’s kind of sad. You see people who stay and play too long. You leave not under your terms but someone else’s…I’ve got too much pride for that.”

Now Finneran, whose reputation for autocratic rule has only grown in recent months, will have to run the House without his liberal second-in-command. Nagle has little patience for those who say that Finneran holds too much power over the members. “At any time, a member can move to vacate the Speaker,” says Nagle. “C’mon, you’re an elected official! No one can hire you, no one can fire you.”

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But he does wonder how Finneran and his confidants will attend to the care and feeding of members, a role that was played by Nagle with skills that he says may be “hard to replicate.” The role of majority leader “requires…political skills that a lot of people don’t have,” he says. Nagle’s politically diverse 1st Hampshire District, with interests ranging from conservative Democratic traditionalists to ultra-liberals, was a good training ground for hearing out the concerns of disgruntled House members. And Nagle knew what it meant to be on the outs with leadership, having been relegated to a cramped office for six years under Speaker George Keverian. “I was so far out, I couldn’t catch a cold,” he says. “I certainly had an affinity with people who weren’t with Finneran.”

With Nagle gone, the Speaker and his team will need a new sympathetic ear. “As the members become more diverse, I think it’s challenging in a leadership role to relate to people,” says Nagle. “A majority leader has to be a good listener.”