For the sixth time, the Massachusetts House picked Winthrop Democrat Robert DeLeo, already the longest continuously serving speaker in state history, to lead the chamber for the new two-year session that began Wednesday.
DeLeo, who was elected on a 119-31 party line vote with House Republicans instead backing Minority Leader Bradley Jones, said in his remarks to his colleagues that it's important to have fresh voices in the House and new ideas will be welcomed as lawmakers get to work to address the needs facing the state.
"No one's rights will be infringed upon here in Massachusetts," he said.
Eight Democrats, including four new lawmakers who took their seats for the first time Wednesday, broke with their colleagues by voting "present" instead of supporting either DeLeo or Jones for speaker.
Five of those eight were among a group who earlier in the day urged their fellow Democrats to elect speakers by secret ballot, instead of recorded votes, in future years.
Rep. Maria Robinson of Framingham, one of 25 new House lawmakers, made the proposal during a Democratic caucus in which DeLeo was the only candidate nominated for speaker.
Robinson said she wanted to ensure that House lawmakers would be independent, "and it is difficult to have independence when you do not have a private ballot for one of the most important roles."
Reps. Russell Holmes of Mattapan, Jonathan Hecht of Watertown, Nika Elugardo of Jamaica Plain, Patrick Kearney of Scituate, and Mike Connolly of Cambridge spoke in favor of Robinson's amendment.
Elugardo said she had supported the amendment but found the opponents offered "really strong arguments."
"A great number of people — including members of leadership, and not the speaker but others — stood up to say this is not a good idea to have a secret ballot, because our voters deserve to hear where we stand on every vote, and I could not agree more, so I have never been so happy to lose a vote because those things are recorded," she said after the House adjourned for the day.
Reps. Thomas Stanley of Waltham, David Linsky of Natick, Ann-Margaret Ferrante of Gloucester, Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Sarah Peake of Provincetown, Ken Gordon of Bedford, Tackey Chan of Quincy, Alan Silvia of Fall River and Antonio Cabral of New Bedford spoke in opposition.
"To go to a secret ballot defies a republic," said Chan, who in the last session co-chaired the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee.
Peake, a member of DeLeo's leadership team in the last session, called the idea "misguided" and said House Democrats should not be "trying to turn back time."
Cabral, who emigrated with his family from the Azores region of Portugal, said he is "opposed to anything that is secret" because he was born under a dictatorship.
Proponents of private ballots noted that they were all elected into office by constituents who cast their votes in secret.
"We've heard that the current speaker may retire between now and the next election, we've heard the rumors that obviously there is some things happening for change," Holmes said. "Whenever that next change happens, whenever it is, we should not be in a position where folks have already been counting their votes and trying to figure those things out. Someone should come to us, stand in front of us, advocate to us to be the speaker or not, and there's a way to do that fairly, not with someone already having some quid pro quo or some things that have happened in advance of that."
Hecht said selection of a speaker "really sets the tone for the House," and that each lawmaker should be able to make their choice "based on our consciences and without fear of any ultimate sanctions."
Kearney, the son of former Rep. Maryanne Lewis, said his vote was not about retaliation or the culture of the House. "It has everything to do with respecting this institution, how this Commonwealth is run," he said.
The amendment was defeated on voice vote at caucus, and Robinson told the News Service afterward she would continue to advocate for accountability among lawmakers. During the campaign last year, she joined fellow new Reps. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton, Tami Gouveia of Acton and Sen. Rebecca Rausch in taking a "transparency pledge," promising to support efforts to put lawmakers' votes on record.
"It was great to hear so many people today talk about transparency, roll call votes, voting on the record, and I'd love to be able to make sure that that energy around transparency moves forward on the actual House floor," Robinson said.
A more centrist Democrat who stresses his belief in building consensus among House members, DeLeo could face pressure to move the chamber leftward on issues like immigration and climate change, where advocates have at times criticized him as overly cautious, and to open up the House power structure.
DeLeo was nominated for his sixth term as speaker by Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton, with Reps. Denise Garlick of Needham and Lawrence Rep. Frank Moran, the most recent chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus, seconding.
"Speaking as a member of the Progressive Caucus, I would say we had a seat at the table," Balser said. "Probably more accurate to say we pulled up a chair and sat down."
Balser and Garlick praised DeLeo for his work on legislation to ensure women's access to contraception and reproductive health care, protect transgender people from discrimination, and protect the rights of pregnant workers.
Moran described DeLeo as a "great leader" and a mentor, thanking him for a swift response to the gas fires and explosions that affected homes and families throughout Lawrence, Andover and North Andover in September.
Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol, who in 2017 left the Republican Party to become the House's one unenrolled lawmaker, joined Democrats in backing DeLeo for speaker.
First-year Reps. Robinson, Elugardo, Kearney and Gouveia and returning Reps. Holmes, Hecht of Watertown, John Rogers of Norwood and Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, voted "present" in the speaker's election.
Gouveia said her vote was informed by what she heard from voters during the 11 months she spent campaigning.
"What I kept hearing over and over and over again is the need for greater access and transparency in the government, and I also see across the country, if you look at the way that people voted in the most recent election, that people are really demanding change," she told the News Service. "And so my vote was about looking forward to what's the kind of government that we want to have and what's the kind of government that voters are demanding."
Two years ago, Scaccia and Rogers left the chamber during the vote for speaker and did not vote.
Rogers, who lost the speaker's battle to DeLeo in 2009 when the speaker succeeded Sal DiMasi in the post, told the News Service he voted present Wednesday because of his "long-held belief in term limits" for the speaker.
DeLeo, with the support of House Democrats, eliminated the eight-year term limit on the speakership in 2015, allowing him to continue to serve for as long as he has.
"Indeed, the Gentleman from Winthrop and I years ago both ran for Speaker advocating for term limits for Speaker; although I support his right to change his mind, I remain resolute in the fundamental belief in this necessary limit on the powers of the office of Speaker," Rogers said in a statement.
Two representatives, Somerville Democrat Denise Provost and Taunton Republican Shaunna O'Connell, did not vote for speaker and were absent from Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony. Provost was traveling with her daughter in Scotland, according to her office, and consultant Holly Robichaud said O'Connell was tending to a "personal emergency with her daughter."
Matt Murphy contributed reporting
This article was originally published on January 02, 2019.
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