WE HAVE WORKED in and around the Massachusetts State House for years. As legislative staffers, lobbyists, and grassroots advocates, we’ve collectively attended thousands of meetings with members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and been at the center of dozens of issue campaigns.
Recently CommonWealth reported on former representative Jay Kaufman’s recollection of his experience as a member of the House. The assertion by Speaker Robert DeLeo that Kaufman is lying about DeLeo’s leadership style made us laugh out loud. What Kaufman described has been standard operating procedure in the House for as long as any of us can remember.
In fact, this authoritarian, top-down organization pre-dates the current speaker. Some longtime followers of Massachusetts politics may remember a television advertisement produced by Ed Markey’s campaign in 1976 during his first run for Congress. At the time, Markey was a state representative in the Massachusetts House and had pushed for passage of a bill that then-speaker Thomas McGee did not support. Not only was Markey removed from the Judiciary Committee over it, the speaker also had him removed from his office and put his desk in the hallway. Markey’s ad was filmed at night in front of his desk with the tagline: “They may tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.”
It is no secret that Speaker DeLeo has continued in former speakers’ footsteps. Crossing him carries consequences. If the offender is a representative, the consequences include loss of leadership positions, the death in committee of any bill that person introduces, constant haranguing from colleagues, assignment to the worst offices, and the outright ignoring and silencing by the presiding officer we saw directed at three female representatives on the floor of the House just a few weeks ago. If a representative voted against the Speaker but did not face consequences like this, you can be sure they received permission from the Speaker in advance to vote off, usually in order to protect that person from their constituents’ anger about a policy that is going to pass anyway.
Advocacy groups are also subjected to this bullying. Should one anger the Speaker, it is not unusual for House leadership to call that group and threaten never to pass any of its priority bills again or to pressure the group’s donors to pull their financial support.
This is the way the Massachusetts House of Representatives functions in 2019. To suggest that this is not true is disingenuous and absurd.
Becca Glenn, Jazmin West, Joe Rich, and Vick Mohanka are former House staffers. Mohammed Missouri is a former House and Senate staffer. Barbara Madeloni is the former head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Katie Hayden is a former union organizer. Liza Ryan is a former nonprofit organizing director and Phil Sego is a former lobbyist.