BOSTON — Another week of drama in the Massachusetts Senate provided answers about the short-term leadership of the chamber but left unanswered many questions about the future.
Democrats who remain firmly in control of the chamber huddled for hours behind closed doors amid the appearance of growing internal strife caused by the ongoing investigation involving former Senate President Stan Rosenberg.
The events of the past week eliminated any chance of Rosenberg returning to the presidency during the current legislative session. He stepped aside in December after several men told The Boston Globe that they had been sexually harassed or abused by Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner.
The Globe later reported that Hefner may have involved himself in Senate affairs despite Rosenberg’s 2014 pledge to build a “firewall” between his professional and private life. Rosenberg and Hefner’s lawyer have refuted claims that Hefner influenced matters before the Senate.
ACTING NO MORE
The vote this past week to remove “acting” from the title of Senate President Harriette Chandler was partly symbolic, partly logistical but above all politically expedient for senators.
Declaring that Chandler will lead the Senate for the remainder of the legislative session is an effort to limit disruptions and provide stability as senators tackle key legislation in the coming months. It could also strengthen the Senate’s hand in future negotiations with the House and Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
The move shifts the jockeying among several Democrats hoping to be the next Senate president to the background, as that vote has now been put off until the next session in January.
Turning down the temperature on what threatened to become a political firestorm could help incumbents as they seek re-election in November. Many voters might still resent the hefty pay raises lawmakers voted themselves last year and it made little sense to give the electorate another reason to be angry.
COULD ROSENBERG STILL RETURN?
There doesn’t appear to be any Senate rule prohibiting Rosenberg from seeking the presidency again in January. But a number of stars must align for him to have any realistic chance of regaining the coveted post.
Rosenberg would almost certainly need a conclusion from the Boston law firm conducting the investigation that he neither violated Senate rules nor acted negligently or unethically on matters related to his now estranged husband.
Even with such a finding, Rosenberg — assuming he’s re-elected from his western Massachusetts district in November — would seemingly face a tall task in convincing colleagues to reinstate him as president.
The 68-year-old has built a reservoir of political goodwill during his more than quarter century in the Senate, and is admired by many in the chamber for his open leadership style and willingness to tackle complex issues such as criminal justice reform and health care.
OTHER EYES ON THE PRIZE
The 80-year-old Chandler has ruled out serving as Senate president beyond 2018. Rosenberg faces long odds to return. And there is no obvious front-runner among several Democrats eyeing the top job.
They include Senate Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Karen Spilka, of Ashland, who said this week she intends to run but is focused on budget deliberations and other important legislation; Sal DeDomenico, of Everett, the vice chair of Ways and Means and head of the Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Affairs; and Lowell Sen. Eileen Donoghue, who is respected for her knowledge and experience and could emerge as a potential compromise choice.
Sen. Eric Lesser, a 32-year-old Longmeadow Democrat, served in the White House under former President Barack Obama and could appeal to those advocating for a new generation of Statehouse leadership.
WHY IT MATTERS
Wielding tremendous influence over the flow of legislation and the expenditure of taxpayer money, the Senate president is one of the three most powerful figures on Beacon Hill along with the governor and House speaker.
Notable Senate presidents in Massachusetts history include Calvin Coolidge, later the 30th president of the United States, and Horace Mann, a 19th-century pioneer in public education.