Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Could DeLeo's coup be Naughton's gain?

All signs point to Robert DeLeo ascending to the role of Speaker of the House this week when the full House meets to elect Sal DiMasi’s replacement. According to a list circulated by DeLeo’s staff Sunday night, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee has at least 87 votes. Among the supporters are all five of the North County’s Democrats (Hank Naughton, Dennis Rosa, Jennifer Benson, Stephen DiNatale, and Bob Rice).

As the DeLeo and Majority Leader John Rogers grapple for supporters, the Rogers camp has cried foul. One of their complaints is that outgoing speaker DiMasi waited until after the new House was seated this month to resign in an effort to shore up DeLeo’s support:
Representative Paul Kujawski, a Webster Democrat and a Rogers supporter, said he believes that DiMasi and DeLeo secretly plotted to transfer the speakership before DiMasi was reelected speaker on Jan. 7.

Kujawski and other Rogers supporters said the speaker and DeLeo were plotting to make the transfer after Jan. 7, after newly elected representatives who backed DeLeo were sworn into office and could participate in the leadership vote.

"When we met with [DiMasi] in December and he asked us for his vote, he said: 'I'm not going anywhere. I want to stay,'" said Kujawski, referring to DiMasi. "We believed everything he said, but it looks like he was just orchestrating the handing of the gavel to DeLeo. I feel completely deceived."
While Kujawski should stop whining—I mean really, it’s Massachusetts State House politics, why would you ever believe everything that anyone said, especially someone who is the target of an ethics investigation?—based on information I received last year he is absolutely right.

I spoke with an acquaintance who has business at the state house last summer about the prospects of a Rogers-DeLeo election should DiMasi step down. The source told me that Rogers would most likely win because he would be able to combine the entire Republican caucus with enough Democrats to cobble together a slim majority, similar to the way Tom Finneran took control a decade ago.

Of course, things have changed since last summer. A number of new representatives have been elected and the Republican caucus has dwindled. If six or ten votes have moved from Rogers to DeLeo because of the change in the membership, that very well may have made the difference. In fact, one legislator who attended a reception paid for by the DeLeo campaign just after the election told the Telegram & Gazette that he was “confident of Mr. DeLeo's chances because he has been rounding up the support of newly elected state representatives.”

Then again, it’s entirely possible that DiMasi was just looking out for number one and any benefit to DeLeo is just a pleasant side effect.

Finally, it will be interesting to see what effect DeLeo’s election will have on Rep. Hank Naughton. Naughton and DeLeo serve together on the Ways and Means Committee and DeLeo has traveled to our district to meet with Naughton and local officials. With a restructuring of committee assignments and the leadership team likely to follow the new election, will Naughton, who is also vice chair of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and a member of the Joint Committee on the Judicary, be in line for a more powerful appointment?

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