STATE REP. RUSSELL HOLMES, one of the most outspoken critics of the top-down centralization of power in the House of Representatives, said he will run for speaker, presuming rumors are true that Speaker Robert DeLeo is preparing to step down from his post after nearly 12 years.
Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, was ousted from a committee vice chairmanship three years ago after saying the Black and Latino legislative caucus, the Women’s Caucus, and the Progressive Caucus should have a say in choosing the next speaker. He has been blistering since then in his criticism of DeLeo’s leadership and the operation of the House.
While CommonWealth reported on Thursday that allies of Rep. Ronald Mariano, the House majority leader, say he has the votes locked up to become the next speaker, Holmes said it’s important to challenge the presumed continuation of business as usual in the House.
“Obviously this is going to be a very tough fight,” he said. “I just plan on appealing to folks’ awareness that this building is operating in a way that is counterproductive to our constituents.”
Holmes said the fact that it’s not yet clear whether a vote for a new speaker might occur before newly-elected lawmakers take office early next month or after they are sworn in is symptomatic of what ails the House.
“Everything is a backroom deal, nothing is out in the open,” he said.
Holmes, a 51-year-old African American who was elected to his seat 10 years ago, said the House is built on a foundation of “structural racism.” He said black voters are the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc, yet they hold no committee chairmanships or leadership roles in the House, which is dominated by white men, the party’s least reliable voting bloc.
He vowed to open up the House, if elected, to give voice to members and ensure that leadership positions reflect the diversity of the state.
Watching the way black lawmakers and others have been marginalized has convinced him that the House is a corrupted and “poisoned tree,” Holmes said. “These experiences have taught me, if you don’t yank this tree and uproot it, it will continue in the same way it has for 300 years, where people of color, women and progressives are not part of the conversation.”
Holmes hinted in an interview a little more than two years ago that he might make a run for the top House job. “I would run for speaker because I would just want to see it run different,” he said. “You have 160 people who should be treated as equals and not as though there’s a reporting structure.”
He said a victory by Mariano would ensure a decade or more of continued rule by white men in the House, suggesting that the 74-year-old Quincy lawmaker would serve for a few years before ensuring a handoff to Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, the House budget committee chairman.
“It’s clear to me that white men have put things in place to stay in power,” he said. “It offends me that they say, let’s appoint the next white guy, Mariano, and then Mariano appoints Michlewitz. You can see the next 10 years of the speakership as if the rest of us don’t matter.”
Holmes said he made the decision to run after a conversation Thursday night with Rep. Patricia Haddad, the House speaker pro tempore, in which she told him she did not plan to vie for the top House post.
He said on Friday morning that he was about to send an email to his House colleagues announcing his run.
“It’s not democracy,” he said of the quiet transition of power being engineered. “Someone has to stand in the gap. Someone has to broaden the conversation. Someone has to not just roll over and play nice.”