Gearing Up For A Transfer Of Power In The Senate: Beacon Hill In 5

Mar 26, 2018


Last week, state Senator Karen Spilka announced that she had amassed enough support to become the next Massachusetts Senate President. 

The next day, Spilka held a press conference, at which current Senate President Harriette Chandler strongly suggested that right now would not be the best time to transfer any kind of power. Matt Murphy, State House News Service reporter, explains what's been happening.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: What is Senator Spilka's timeline to lead the Senate?

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: That’s an excellent question, and we don’t know right now. First, let's start with what happened.

Senator Karen Spilka was interested in running for senate presidency when that seat opened. We knew there was going to be a vacancy in January, when Senate President Chandler planned to step aside.  

We've seen several candidates for the post drop out. And in Spilka’s own words, “This happened a lot sooner than people thought.”

Just a month ago, the Senate voted to provide some stability moving forward to this session, by making Chandler the permanent president for the rest of the year.  

But this all came together very quickly, as a few people committed to Spilka, and it kind of started a snowball effect over last weekend, as people heard that their colleagues were committing, and more started committing. And it just kind of spun from there, and she was able to claim victory over her chief rival by Wednesday.  

But now, she's saying she wants to have a discussion about how quickly as she gets to move into the president's office, and Chandler is suggesting that she would like to stay to the original plan -- that now, as they are moving into budget season, and as we know, criminal justice is about to hit the floor for votes, and there are other major pieces of legislation moving forward -- that they have some stability, finally, they know where they're moving in the future, finally, and now is not the time to kind of switch that up and inject another round of upheaval into the body.  

But we don't know how this is going to shake out, and I assume that there are going to be the some discussions over the coming days and weeks.

Is there a precedent for how this role is usually assumed?

There is no real precedent for what’s been happening this year, given Senator [Stan] Rosenberg stepping aside, the Senate putting in an Acting Senate President [Harriette Chandler] hoping that an investigation into Rosenberg could be concluded quickly. It has not been. 

It became politically untenable to even think about Rosenberg reassuming that position, so they went with Chandler permanently.

In the past, if you look most recently when former Senate President Therese Murray was nearing her term-limit as Senate President -- she was not seeking re-election, she had been elected to her final term -- and Senator Rosenberg had wrapped up the votes to succeed her a full year and a half before she was scheduled to go, but there was never any talk of making that switch earlier.

Senate President Murray was the president elected by the body, and she was going to continue, and that was never disputed until she passed over the reins to Rosenberg, as she departed the Senate.

This is a much different scenario, given that Chandler was always kind of a temporary fix to steady the rudder for the Senate, as they’ve tried to get through, and focus back on policy rather than all of the politics that have been consuming the building.

Now there is a desire, it appears, by some, at least by Senator Karen Spilka, to usher in the new era.

What are the issues you’re anticipating will make the headlines coming out of Beacon Hill this week?

The long-awaited criminal justice reform bill -- the compromise bill between the House and Senate – was filed on Friday. That cannot be amended. That will be an up or down vote that should be moving to the floor quickly. It will be interesting to see, with a lot of moving pieces in this bill, how the Governor [Charlie Baker] views it. 

We expect that the Senate may try and tackle some net neutrality rules this week in response to the Federal government’s repeal of the federal clause that prevents internet providers from “tiering” internet service for customers, so some things are starting to happen on Beacon Hill.