Beacon Hill Leadership Changes, Plus Full Lists Of Legislators' Committee Assignments

The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Massachusetts State House. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Massachusetts Senate

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a moderate Democrat from Westport who runs his family's flooring business, was appointed as the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, handing him the reins of the state's budget as a new legislative session gets underway.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues walked down a Senate corridor Thursday on his way to a caucus where he was announced as new chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Sen. Michael Rodrigues walked down a Senate corridor Thursday on his way to a caucus where he was announced as new chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

First elected to Beacon Hill in 1995, Rodrigues served 15 years in the House, including one term as a member on the Ways and Means Committee, and another eight in the Senate, where as chair of the Ethics Committee last session he approved an investigation into former Senate President Stan Rosenberg.

A centrist who described his ideology as "in the boring middle," Rodrigues said Thursday he planned to take the job "one step at a time" and work across the aisle to find compromise on key budget and revenue questions.

"It's still too soon to tell what items are going to percolate to the top," Rodrigues said. "We certainly know education, we certainly know transportation are the two biggest. Health care costs are biggies. But I'm not ready to commit to anything yet."

The Westport native, 59, has an accounting degree from what is now UMass Dartmouth and has worked for ABC Flooring, a local company owned by his family, since he was 12. After his father died, Rodrigues took over the business, and that served as a springboard to serving on Westport's Finance Committee, where he worked closely on the inaugural foundation budget.

He cited that experience on Thursday as an important qualification for the Ways and Means chair.

"I broke into my public service career as a finance committee member and then chair, so I've always watched budgets, I've always watched revenues very closely," Rodrigues said.

In 1995, Rodridgues won a special election for the House seat formerly held by Ed Lambert — a personal friend who left to run for mayor of Fall River — by just 21 votes. Shortly after being sworn in, Rodrigues aligned with a conservative faction to elevate Thomas Finneran to the speakership.

Amidst the contest to succeed former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, Rodrigues stuck by Rep. John Rogers rather than support current Speaker Robert DeLeo. The move did not cost him too much, though, and Rodrigues secured an assignment on the House Ways and Means Committee.

In 2010, he ran for and easily won election to the Senate's 1st Bristol and Plymouth Seat, which opened after Joan Menard did not seek reelection. He served under former Senate President Therese Murray and Senate President Stan Rosenberg, and was put in charge of the Legislature's "Commonwealth Conversations" forum series.

Last session, when Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner, was accused of sexual harassment and assault, the Ethics Committee that Rodrigues chaired ordered an investigation that eventually led to Rosenberg leaving office.

"I think the Ethics Committee investigation last year showed that I'm able to take on a difficult responsibility and keep in mind as a top priority the institution and the integrity of the institution," Rodrigues said. "I think that's important also when it comes to chairing the Ways and Means Committee. It's not just the operating budget — there's so much other policy that flows through that committee."

Now, as Senate Ways and Means Chair, Rodrigues will hold a coveted position overseeing the state's $42 billion budget, the operating budget of the largest organization in New England. Many previous lawmakers have used the committee chair as a key step to the Senate's top post, including current President Karen Spilka.

Revenues more than half way through the current fiscal year are running below expectations by $400 million.

"I'm concerned, but I'm not panicked as of yet," Rodrigues said. "I think many of the shortfalls we see are just a new reality with the new federal tax codes relative to the (state and local tax) deductions. We'll see how they play out. April will be a telling month."

Sen. Julian Cyr, who himself was elevated to assistant majority whip and chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee, said he believes Rodrigues will be "a very strong chair."

"I think he'll be a real steady hand," Cyr said. "I'm very excited to have him in that position."

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a progressive Democrat and the new co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Rodrigues authored an expansion of the earned income tax credit to help low-income families and proposed a reform to limit the tax credit designed to create film industry work.

"I think he's someone that's generally been skeptical towards certain corporate tax breaks," Eldridge said.

Eldridge added, "I'm excited for him. I am someone that is a very strong advocate to raise revenue and I'll certainly be making my case to him that this session we need to raise revenue and not just look to pass the millionaire's tax in four years."

Here's a full list of committee assignments in the Senate.

Massachusetts House of Representatives

House Speaker Robert DeLeo of Winthrop, first elected to that post in 2009 and now the longest continually serving speaker in state history, shuffled his leadership and committee structure Thursday, naming Rep. Aaron Michlewitz as the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Michlewitz, of Boston, is the fourth Ways and Means chair to serve under DeLeo, following Jeff Sanchez, Brian Dempsey and Charley Murphy, all now former legislators. DeLeo himself served as Ways and Means chair before succeeding former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi following a battle for the speakership with Rep. John Rogers.

Michlewitz joined the House in 2009, winning a special election to fill the seat that had been held by former Speaker Salvatore DiMasi. Last session, as co-chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he led efforts to pass a law taxing and regulating short-term rentals.

Here's a full list of committee assignments in the House.

This article was originally published on February 14, 2019.



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