Concerns grow over Rosenberg probe, legislating


State House News Service
Published: 2/6/2018 9:40:33 PM

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.

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” Rosenberg 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.

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.

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.


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