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House Speaker Robert DeLeo will push his caucus on Thursday to approve new internal rules eliminating term limits on the speakership, allowing the Winthrop Democrat to remain in power beyond 2017, someone familiar with the speaker's plans said Wednesday.
DeLeo will make his case to House Democrats for dropping the eight-year limit on serving as speaker during a private caucus Thursday morning before the House is slated to debate it rules for the upcoming session.
Senior House leadership does not expect to encounter much opposition within its own ranks to the proposal, but one House member acknowledged that DeLeo would also have to articulate a convincing rationale to the broader public of the merits.
DeLeo was a driving force behind the creation of the term-limit rule in 2009 following the abrupt departure of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who was later indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges.
At the time, DeLeo said imposing term limits was a partly symbolic gesture, but also one that could help restore public trust in the institution that had been beleaguered by scandal and infighting.
"It's important in a position such as speaker for there to be an opportunity for fresh ideas, and the only way you can ensure that is to put term limits on the speaker," DeLeo told the Boston Globe in 2009. "Sometimes folks feel they're concerned about political figures getting stale. This shows that there's opportunity for change."
Asked in recent weeks about the possibility of changing the term-limit rule, DeLeo had not ruled it out, but suggested he had also not given it much thought.
Without a change, DeLeo would be at the start of his final two-year term as speaker. Joking in 2009 at the start of his tenure as speaker, DeLeo said, "Eight years is a long time to be speaker ... If I can make it to eight years, that's like an eternity."
By lifting the restriction, the speaker could potentially keep an internal power struggle for succession at bay while also avoid being labeled and treated as a lame duck with a new governor and new Senate president getting started on Beacon Hill.
Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Somerset Democrat and top DeLeo lieutenant, told the News Service in December that she opposes the concept of term limits and saw value in "stability" of House leadership at a time of change in the executive branch and the Senate.
Though she said at the time she was unaware of any formal push to change the rules, it was not the first time she voiced support for extending DeLeo's stay as speaker, if he chooses.
"It's a rule. It can be changed. I don't think it's a bad idea. We have a good team. Things are going well. Do you change the manager when the team's playing well?" Haddad said in July.
Not completely unlike the turbulent year leading up to the 2009 rules changes, the House over the past year was forced to confront ethics questions posed by the trial and conviction of three former probation department leaders in a patronage hiring scandal.
Though no member of the Legislature were implicated by the U.S. Attorney's investigation, several House members were called to testify and DeLeo spent $200,000 in 2014 alone on legal fees.
DeLeo was re-elected speaker in January with no Democratic opposition.
Rank-and-file House Democrats will be asked to vote on the rules Thursday before DeLeo announces leadership and committee appointments for the session, potentially having a chilling effect on any opponents hoping to score a plum post in DeLeo's House.
Democrats will caucus at 10 a.m. ahead of the formal floor debate.
The rules, which could be filed as soon as Wednesday afternoon, are also expected to mirror in several key ways those adopted by the Senate earlier this month, including the creation of several new special House committees on redistricting and other topics.
According to Stonehill political science professor Peter Ubertaccio, only two speakers in modern history - Thomas Finneran and Thomas McGee - have served more than eight years as the leader of the House.
Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat and member of DeLeo's leadership team last session, referenced Finneran last week when she spoke to the Boston Herald about the idea of eliminating term limits on the speaker.
"The last time this came up was with Tom Finneran, and the Herald had all these wonderful cartoons with him with a crown," Story told the newspaper. "I think an eight-year limit is a good and sensible limit. And it's there for a reason."
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