CONCERNS GROW OVER ROSENBERG PROBE'S IMPACT ON LEGISLATING
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 6, 2018....With the Senate's leadership situation in turmoil, pressure mounted Tuesday on Democrats to find a way to steady the ship before the cloud of a seven-week-old ethics investigation and jockeying among members completely overshadows Beacon Hill's legislative agenda.
Senate Ethics Chairman Michael Rodrigues entered President Harriette Chandler's office Tuesday afternoon. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]
House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Tuesday it's "imperative" that the internal dynamics in the Senate don't gum up the progress of key policy initiatives in the Legislature, and a pair of senators told the News Service they can't see former Senate President Stan Rosenberg returning to his top post.
Auditor Suzanne Bump, who once served in the House, also said it was time for Rosenberg to "abandon any plans to return to the presidency," and House leadership expressed their concern that the uncertainty in the Senate has created confusion as committees are trying to make decisions about whether to advance legislation by a biennial deadline that falls on Wednesday.
Interviews with at least a dozen Democratic senators, lobbyists and House members over the past couple of days has made clear a growing sense that Rosenberg's path back to power, which some senators have viewed as possible, has become more difficult for them to imagine.
Gov. Charlie Baker has said there is "no way" he can return as president if the latest news reports about giving official email access to his husband are true, and gubernatorial candidates from his own party are calling for him to give up on the presidency, if not resign altogether.
Still, there is no consensus from senators about the best way to move forward, which could become a discussion point on Wednesday when Democrats have a private caucus planned.
"It's imperative, it's imperative that we do everything in our power to get some of the legislation out of committee, before the floors and get it passed," DeLeo, whose House members control joint committees, told the News Service Tuesday after speaking at a women's heart health event.
The Boston Globe reported over the weekend that despite a purported firewall, Rosenberg's husband, Bryon Hefner, had access to Rosenberg's Senate email, lobbied for and then against an earmark for the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, and gave direction to Rosenberg's staff. That report came on the heels of anonymous allegations that Hefner sexually harassed four men with business on Beacon Hill, and boasted about his influence in the Senate.
The allegations have resurfaced questions about whether Rosenberg could ever be allowed to return to his position as president even if he is cleared by independent special investigators of violating Senate rules. While some senators want to let the Senate Ethics Committee investigation play out, at least a couple have said it's time to find a new, permanent leader.
Sen. Anne Gobi, a Spencer Democrat, said it's her belief that it's time to elect a new Senate president.
"I do yes," Gobi said, when asked whether the Senate should give up on the idea of Rosenberg being able to return. "I think it's kind of obvious as things have been going we keep hearing more and more and I think for the Senate to move forward I think it's time to really look at things with a fresh approach and I think it's necessary to us to get moving."
Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler has said she has no intention of remaining in the post after the conclusion of the investigation, but there is no timeline for the completion of that work.
Gobi continued, "You're writing about this. This shouldn't be the front page article. It should be about things the Senate is working on and this is a very busy time of year and we need to get going on things."
Sen. John Keenan also said the Rosenberg situation has become a distraction from legislating, telling reporters after an event focused on opioid addiction that the latest revelation about Rosenberg's emails disqualifies him from returning as Senate president.
"I believe it does," Keenan said. "I believe that the wall that was said to be in place wasn't in place and I think having that wall in this situation was critical to the workings of the Senate. The fact that it wasn't in place or has at least been breached has led to the situation now where we're talking about this rather than the opioid epidemic, transportation, education, mental health. So it's time to move."
The Senate Progressive Caucus met Monday to discuss the fluid situation involving Rosenberg, according to two people familiar with the deliberations, but were unable to reach consensus as a bloc about how to move forward.
Gobi said the Rosenberg investigation can only be a distraction as budget season heats up and the Legislature enters the final six-month formal legislating period of its two-year session.
"I don't think it helps, because anything that kind of sucks the oxygen out of the room a bit, that doesn't allow it to be there for other things that are every important," Gobi said.
Sens. Karen Spilka, Sal DiDomenico and Eileen Donoghue have expressed interest in the presidency, but Gobi suggested that may not be the entire field of candidates.
"I think we'll see someone who may have not even been mentioned yet. That's all I'll say," she said.
Gobi said she hasn't thought far enough ahead to say whether she would push the issue in caucus on Wednesday.
Keenan said he would support Sen. Chandler remaining as acting Senate president as a bridge to her eventual successor.
"I think for the sake of continuity and stability in the Senate that I would be supportive of Senator Chandler getting us through the next several months and the balance of the legislative session but that doesn't necessarily preclude resolving the issue of who would succeed her," Keenan said.
Some senators, however, believe the best path forward is to wait. Sen. Michael Barrett, a key Rosenberg ally, said Monday he's "really hanging on the special investigators' findings."
Donoghue, a Lowell Democrat, also said it's important to follow the process. "I think the matters before the independent committee, group, that are investigating are important. There are serious issues that have been raised and they need to complete the investigation," she said.
Under a rules reform sought by Rosenberg and Senate Democrats, Wednesday is the deadline for joint committees to make recommendations on the thousands of bills that have been filed by lawmakers in both branches this session. The so-called "Joint Rule 10" deadline was pushed up on the calendar after a fight over rules between the House and Senate last session.
"One of the problems we're having began with the rules fight long ago, and it's been exacerbated now by the fact that there's no one there the chairmen can go to to get a definitive answer to how to handle some of these Joint Rule 10 issues," said one member of House leadership.
The senior House member, who requested anonymity to discuss the relationship between the branches, said the lack of permanent leadership at the top of the Senate ladder has made it difficult for House chairmen to work with their Senate counterparts to resolve rule and policy disputes.
"Right now, there's a lot of confusion. It's just chaos and I don't know if it will be straightened out for a while," the Democrat said. "However they want to resolve it is fine with us. It just needs to get resolved. I could care less whether they move on or not."
DeLeo declined to weigh in directly on Rosenberg's future, saying he would leave it to the Senate to resolve the question of leadership moving forward.
"Obviously the latest information that came out Sunday, as the acting Senate president said, is disconcerting to her and I think for a lot of people. But having said that, ultimately it's going to be the Senate and former Senate President Rosenberg in terms of what happens with that," DeLeo said.
Asked whether the lack of permanent Senate leadership might impede the Legislature's policy agenda, the speaker said, "I think that's a great question. Again, I'll leave it up to them in terms of what they do with the present situation and where that goes. It's ultimately up to the Senate."
Sen. Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, said the latest allegations involving Rosenberg and Hefner are "troubling," but he declined to say whether he thought Rosenberg should return.
"We'll see what happens at caucus tomorrow. People are obviously talking about it and we want to see what happens. Just trying to absorb all the information and I think we need to make a decision soon," he said.
[Michael P. Norton, Andy Metzger and Katie Lannan contributed reporting]
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