DeLeo: “Good Night” for House Dems Despite Sanchez, Rushing Losses
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
DORCHESTER -- The shocking upsets of two prominent House Democrats Tuesday night is being called a strong rebuke of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s leadership, but the veteran House leader dismissed that narrative Wednesday as one that overlooks the success of House Democrats across the state.
DeLeo appeared at a Democratic Party event Wednesday morning where he did not mention Sanchez or Rushing in his remarks, but defended the House’s record of the past two years. “We have taken the lead,” DeLeo said.
While critics say too many urgent progressive policies are dying in the House, the speaker mentioned the House’s role in heping to pass laws promoting gun safety, fighting substance abuse, raising the minimum wage, defending reproductive rights and reforming the criminal justice system. He also urged Democrats to defeat a ballot question that would roll back protections for transgender people in public facilities.
The defeat of his Ways and Means Chairman Jeff Sanchez and Majority Whip Byron Rushing in two Boston House districts, however, produced audible gasps on Tuesday night at the headquarters of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Gonzalez when U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, in a concession speech of his own on live television, confirmed the upsets.
DeLeo on Wednesday tried to shake off the blame for Sanchez and Rushing losing their seats.
“If one were to take a look at the elections on the statewide basis, first of all you’ll see that out of approximately 130 members we only had 16 or 17 members that had any primary challenges and out of those 16 I think it was 13 who were victorious so I think it was a good night for the Democratic House and I’m proud of our results and, again, I’m looking forward to doing all I can to make sure we bring back as many Democratic members as we can,” DeLeo said.
The House currently has 117 Democrats, of which 16 faced primary challenges on Tuesday. Rep. Robert Koczera of New Bedford also lost his primary to political newcomer Christopher Hendricks.
Sanchez lost to Nika Elugardo, who has worked for a number of state and local advocacy organizations, while Rushing, the co-chair of the House Progressives Caucus, lost in a three-way primary to Jon Santiago, a Boston Medical Center emergency medicine resident.
“It’s a clear rebuke to the speaker and it’s clear that you need to be more aligned with the district than with the building,” said Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat.
Holmes knows the risks of challenging DeLeo. He lost a committee vice-chairmanship after trying to initiate a discussion about new leadership in the House after speaker-in-waiting Brian Dempsey left the Legislature last summer.
DeLeo denied that Holmes was demoted as retaliation for his comments, but failed to offer any detailed explanation for his decision.
“I’m sad that I lost both of my colleagues, but I think it sends a message that what he did with me was the wrong thing to have done,” Holmes said.
“What Is Next In The Building”
Elugardo specifically criticized Sanchez for being unable to deliver on immigrant protections that his district favored, but that DeLeo was hesitant to put to a vote. Sanchez, who co-sponsored the legislation, said at the end of the session that he was able to find a consensus among his House colleagues on a path forward this session.
DeLeo said he looked forward to having a discussion with Elugardo, but did not signal any intention to shift the House to the left or alter his management and decision-making approach.
“I can tell you that those folks who do know me they know that I’m a consensus builder,” DeLeo said. “I work on compromise. It’s not very uncommon that I would have anywhere from two people to twenty people in my office to try to work consensus out, so I would respectfully say whether it’s myself as speaker or working with the chairs or the members that’s the way I operate.”
Holmes said he will be watching to see how DeLeo responds after being unable to protect two members of his leadership team who also happen to be the highest ranking black and Latino lawmakers in the Legislature.
“What I think is going to be interesting next is what is next in the building,” Holmes told the News Service at the Dorchester unity event. “My thought is how does the speaker receive this?”
DeLeo expects to remain as speaker in 2019 after becoming the longest continuously serving House speaker in state history this summer, but it remains to be seen how the Democratic membership will react to the loss of Sanchez, Rushing and Koczera and whether they will bring any pressure to bear on the speaker to shake things up.
Sanchez, in a statement released overnight, called his 16 years in the House a “privilege.”
“From the moment I took office, I have enjoyed getting up every morning to fight together with my neighbors for the liberal values that we hold dear. I am so proud of everything we have accomplished,” he said.