State Sen. Will Brownsberger, Democrat of Belmont, posted the following to his website after Thursday’s 32-6 vote by the Senate to abolish the eight-year term limit that had been in place for Senate president. CommonWealth reported earlier this week on plans to introduce the rule change.
I SUPPORTED ABOLISHING the term limit for the Senate president. The previous rule was that the Senate president could only serve for eight years. None of the other major offices on Beacon Hill is term-limited: Not the House Speaker, not the governor, none of the other constitutional officers.
The Senate president represents the Senate in negotiation with the House, the governor, and ultimately with many major interest and advocacy groups. It weakens the body as a whole and diminishes our ability to advance our shared priorities if our leader’s long-term negotiating authority is subject to doubt. It is unacceptable for the various competing stakeholders to be able to think of the Senate president as a lame duck, as someone whose views they need not respect.
The notion that forced leadership turnover will somehow invigorate the body is based on a common misunderstanding of how legislatures work: Some perceive incorrectly that legislative leaders can routinely impose their will on rank-and-file members. In truth, leadership actions almost always reflect the spoken or unspoken will of the majority of the body; of course, there will always be some who disagree and sometimes many who disagree, but if a legislative leader chronically acts against the majority of the body, she will not survive.
Every vote has a context. Procedural rules like term limits have different consequences at different times. The abolished term limit dated to 1993 and was instituted as a reaction to the famously autocratic style of Senate President Billy Bulger. However, it has no deeper historic foundation.
My current vote to abolish the term limit on the Senate president reflects my general judgment as to the best rule, but it also reflects my confidence in current Senate President Karen Spilka’s leadership. I recently had the occasion to express my confidence in her leadership: I gave a speech renominating her at the start of the present term.