State House News Roundup: Whip Lashed
Winter's chill blew into the capital this week with wounds of pride being ripped open in the House of Representatives by a public feud between House Speaker Robert DeLeo and a former confidant.
DeLeo called House Democrats to Beacon Hill in the midst of a winter recess to have them okay his plan to remove Majority Whip Charley Murphy from his leadership circle, shuffling the depth chart to reflect what the speaker described as the best possible team to execute the House's not-yet-defined agenda for 2012.
"WOW!" wrote one House aide in a single-worded email, unlikely intended to land in the inboxes of the Fourth Estate, but nevertheless succinctly summing up the guttural reaction of many under the dome who were struck by the demotion, the way it was executed and Murphy's subsequent assault on DeLeo's leadership of the House.
Murphy and Rep. James Vallee accepted demotions from DeLeo in January by quietly fading from the spotlight. Upon his further demotion, Murphy went out perhaps the only way a Marine knows - shooting.
During the closed door caucus where Murphy resigned rather than force his colleagues to choose sides between himself and the speaker, the eight-term Burlington Democrat told members he looked forward to a day when there was a "great leader" in charge of the House, according to House members.
"The Speaker's face turned purple," said one present House member who requested anonymity.
Murphy blamed his involuntary career move not on disloyalty, but DeLeo's desire to micromanage a clean handoff to his hand-picked successor, if he has one. Majority Leader Ron Mariano declined to get into DeLeo's motivations but did offer an intriguing post-firing verbal embrace of Murphy.
A perennial backbencher who clashed with Speaker Thomas Finneran and never quite gelled with Sal DiMasi, it took Murphy nearly 12 years to earn a spot in the starting lineup, and just three years to disappoint the coach.
Murphy played a key role in helping DeLeo round up the votes to defeat Rep. John Rogers for speaker in 2009, and was rewarded with his first chairmanship as head of arguably the most powerful committee in the building - House Ways and Means.
Within two years, however, Murphy had fallen out favor. DeLeo initially gave Murphy a soft landing in the whip's office before dropping him hard on Tuesday back into the rank-and-file out of anger over Murphy's jockeying to one day ascend to the speaker's chair, and rumors that Murphy has been subtly hinting that Probation Department investigations could land on DeLeo's doorstep.
Time will tell whether DeLeo's decision to publicly admonish Murphy - even if he didn't given much by way of explanation - will solidify his position as poobah of the House, or serve to undermine his leadership more than Murphy ever could.
After delivering a scathing letter of resignation to DeLeo in which he questioned the speaker's "inability to effectively communicate a vision and lead," Murphy hit the TV circuit. Though he said he has no plans to launch a "coup," Murphy's willingness to air his grievances about DeLeo's perceived top-down style of management could engender more open dissent among frustrated members, or push them further into hiding for fear of retribution.
DeLeo's troops, predictably, defended the speaker's openness to input from the members.
This program aired on December 9, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.