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Rosenberg has votes to be next Senate president

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat whose district encompasses 17 of Franklin County’s 26 towns, appears poised to become Senate president when current President Therese Murray steps down.

Rosenberg, who since February has been Senate majority leader and recently served as Senate president pro tempore and before that its Ways and Means chairman, confirmed published rumors in a statement Wednesday that he had received “overwhelming support” from colleagues to assume the two-year post as Senate president.

Rosenberg’s one-paragraph announcement, saying that he was “humbled” by the support from fellow Senators to succeed Murray when term-limit rules require that her presidency ends in March 2015, follows reports by State House News Service and other media outlets that Rosenberg was competing with Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, for the post.

Brewer, the Senate Ways and Means chairman who until recently represented several towns in eastern Franklin County, issued a statement Wednesday saying, “I have known Stan Rosenberg for over 35 years. We have had similar career paths and shared a common region of the commonwealth. I know Stan will do a fine job as Senate President when that time comes.”

Brewer, who like Rosenberg has championed the interests of western Massachusetts in both Senate and House, added, “Our caucus should remain united. The Senate is an institution that is larger than any one person. Our shared ideals of public service transcend any other momentary challenges.”

Rosenberg said that historically, “there was more often than not the perception” that the majority leader was likely to be selected by fellow Senators to the top post, more recently the powerful Ways and Means chair has been as likely to succeed.

“But now it’s a settled matter,” he said, “and the body goes back to a level of equanimity.”

Rosenberg, a University of Massachusetts graduate who worked as an aide to then-state Sen. John W. Olver, served in the House from 1987 to 1991 and then won Olver’s Senate seat in a 1991 special election after Olver was elected to Congress, declined on Wednesday to go into detail about how much support he or Brewer had in negotiations that had been going on for five months.

“No names, no numbers,” Rosenberg insisted. “It means we go back to business as usual because the leadership succession has been established. There is overwhelming support and commitment, but this isn’t going to happen until the Senate president leaves. So it’s quite a ways off.”

Rosenberg also downplayed speculation that Murray, a Plymouth Democrat who was elected Senate President in 2007, plans to leave that post early, insisting that she should be able to her serve entire eight-year limit.

“People start having conversations, and before you know it, there’s meetings, and before you know it, there’s a certain amount of momentum and you don’t know when it’s actually going to culminate,” he said. “And it just culminated. People decided this is it, we want to resolve it, and it’s done.”

The Boston Herald quoted Murray on Wednesday as saying she was undecided whether to seek re-election in 2014, which it interpreted as suggesting that Rosenberg could move into the top post earlier.

Western Mass. clout

If elected, Rosenberg would be the first Senate president from western Massachusetts since Maurice Donahue of Holyoke held the post, from 1964 to 1971. Before that, Calvin Coolidge himself, representing the same Senate district, served as Senate president from 1914 to 1915 before going on to the governorship and ultimately the White House. Samuel Adams and Horace Mann have also served as Senate presidents.

But the choice of a Senate president from this part of the state was immediately hailed by political leaders like longtime Rosenberg supporter John Merrigan of Greenfield, who served with him in the Legislature.

“It’s huge, not only for his district, but for western Mass.,” Merrigan said. “I was there when he was Ways and Means chairman. His ability to help the region was felt at that level, let alone as Senate President for the next several years. The region will benefit very much from his leadership.”

Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, agreed.

“It’s both good news for the commonwealth and for western Mass. To have a capable and able leader succeed President Murray in the mold of Stan is something we’re incredibly lucky to have. … Certainly, he’s been a great advocate for western Mass., for public higher ed and for any number of different issues, like social and economic justice.”

Rosenberg, who would concede only, “It’s never a bad thing to have a legislator from your region in leadership,” helped oversee the state’s redistricting process for the Senate after both the 2000 and 2010 census, and he also spearheaded the upper chamber’s consideration of legalized gambling.

The 63-year-old Amherst resident, who would become the Senate’s first openly gay president, immediately following the term of its first woman president, was diagnosed in September 2011 with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer for which he was treated with radiation and chemotherapy. The treatments led to complications that hospitalized Rosenberg twice for weeks in 2012.

“That’s all in the past,” he said Tuesday.

“If for any reason anyone would ever question Stan’s personal will or his desire to fight and persevere, all you have to do is look at what he went through in these past few years,” said Downing, “It certainly informs all of us on the content of his character. He’s someone with a lot more fight than people give him credit for. He showed that there, and really has showed that for some time in the Senate.”

Most recently, Rosenberg won a victory in having a forward-funding mechanism for the state’s regional transit authorities included in the transportation bond that allows Franklin Regional Transit Authority and similar operations to avoid having to borrow money for their routine operations.

“I think when it comes to issues that matter most to us in western Mass., Stan’s been a real leader, particularly in advocating for increased support for public higher ed, in fighting for a fairer tax system and a fairer economy for the middle class and working poor,” Downing said. “Those are issues Stan has worked on for the better part of the last few decades, and I think in this new role, he’ll have that much more of an enhanced role in those debates and those fights.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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