By Robert Maurice, Manager, State Issues
The contrast of leadership battles in New York and Massachusetts this week could not be more stark.
While the New York Assembly sacks its powerful and long-tenured leader, the Massachusetts House doubles down on the power of its Speaker – erasing term-limits adopted just a few years ago to restore the people’s confidence in the legislature.
The Massachusetts House of Representatives adopted its rules package last week for the 2015-2016 legislative session by a vote of 114-40. What is usually a pro forma process became a public spectacle as the proposal eliminated the eight-year term limit on serving as speaker, thus allowing Speaker Robert DeLeo (D) to remain as speaker after the end of this term – if re-elected.
Ironically, Speaker DeLeo was the main proponent of establishing the rule back in 2009 as a symbolic move to restore public trust in the institution after then-speaker Sal DiMasi (D) resigned after being indicted (later convicted) on federal charges.
Explaining his change of heart, the Speaker stated that “I wouldn’t say I’m going back on my word as much as the fact that over six years, rightly or wrongly, I have learned and feel I have learned in terms of what the importance is of doing away with the term limits we have in the rules.” (Author note: That’s the exact quote.)
One of the arguments that was used to justify the elimination of the term limit was that DeLeo, and by extension, the House, will be weaker during negotiations with new Governor Charlie Baker (R) and newly-elected Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D), since he may be viewed as a “lame duck.”
Additionally, this move may prevent any behind-the-scenes succession fights from taking center stage this session while DeLeo is firmly at the helm of the House.
Representative Geoff Diehl (R) offered an amendment during floor debate to reinstate the term limit. The 34-member Republican caucus, along with 11 Democrats, voted for the amendment which was ultimately defeated by a vote of 45/109, with Representative Jonathan Hecht (D) being the only Democrat to publicly speak on the floor against eliminating term limits for the speaker.
Will the resentment of leadership that finally burst out into the open in New York find a parallel in Massachusetts? Stay tuned.