Karen Spilka takes gavel as new state Senate president

Succeeds Harriette Chandler, who took over after Stanley Rosenberg stepped down in December

  • Karen Spilka, center, speaks at the Statehouse in Boston, surrounded by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, left, Gov. Charlie Baker, second from left, state Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, second from right, and state Attorney General Maura Healey, right. AP FILE PHOTO

Associated Press
Published: 7/26/2018 3:45:11 PM

BOSTON — Karen Spilka has taken the gavel as president of the Massachusetts Senate, capping a tumultuous eight-month period for the chamber.

The Ashland Democrat was formally elected to the powerful leadership post by her colleagues Thursday. She succeeds Worcester Democrat Harriette Chandler, who has wielded the gavel since former Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg stepped aside amid an ethics probe in December.

Spilka announced in May she had secured enough commitments from fellow Democratic senators to become the new president. The transition occurs as lawmakers race against a Tuesday deadline to complete action on major legislation.

In a speech to her colleagues following the vote, Spilka acknowledged that the Senate has gone through a difficult period, but said those challenges also represent an opportunity.

“I promise that when the next chapter in the story of the Massachusetts State Senate is written, it will say that we created a welcoming, inclusive, collaborative and safer place, where differences of opinion are not only tolerated, but celebrated, and no one fears discrimination based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, ability or background,” Spilka said.

Spilka’s elevation follows the decision of Chandler to step down.

Chandler took over the post after Rosenberg left as president and ultimately resigned from the Senate in May after the release of an ethics report that found he failed to protect the Senate from his husband, Bryon Hefner.

At the time, Chandler said she didn’t plan to keep the seat long-term.

Hefner is facing criminal charges of sexual assault, distributing nude photos without consent and criminal lewdness. He’s pleaded not guilty. Rosenberg hasn’t been criminally charged but is the subject, along with Hefner, of a civil lawsuit.

Spilka takes over in the waning days of the Legislature’s formal session as both House and Senate lawmakers sprint to reach final compromises on a slew of bills ahead of next week’s July 31 deadline.

Spilka’s election also comes as Republican Gov. Charlie Baker plans to sign the state’s $41.9 billion spending package Thursday for the fiscal year that began July 1. That gives both chambers just a handful of days to vote this year to override any of Baker’s vetoes.

Spilka — who has served as chair of the Ways and Means Committee — was first elected to the House in 2001 and to the Senate in 2004. She said she first decided to run for a legislative seat during an ongoing debate about education funding in Massachusetts.

The former social worker and school committee member becomes just the third woman to lead the Senate. Her election also marks the first time that the gavel has been handed from one female Senate president to another woman taking the reins of the chamber.

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