A Post-Rosenberg Legislature Looks Forward: Beacon Hill In 5

May 7, 2018

Last week saw the resignation of Massachusetts state Senator Stan Rosenberg, following the release of an ethics report that chastised the Amherst Democrat for a "failure of leadership." This week, the Senate tries to move on. 

Matt Murphy, State House News Service: I think Senator Jim Welch put it succinctly last week, as he was heading into a caucus on Thursday, before [Rosenberg] resigned. He said it is “these situations where you have to throw politics and loyalty out the window.”

[Senators] were concerned [by] numerous victims of both of physical/sexual assault, as well as verbal abuse and other transgressions by Rosenberg’s husband, Brian Hefner. This was a detailed account by the private investigators where Rosenberg knew of things going on and didn't do enough to stop them. And this, for Senators, this was really a breach of trust from the former [Senate] president, whom they had entrusted as their leader back in 2015 when they elected him president.

Where they go from here, I think is a question. Minority leader Bruce Tarr has suggested that the rules need to be reexamined because, as we know, Rosenberg was not found to have violated any Senate rules. The main applicable rule, known as Senate Rule 10, deals primarily with financial transgressions -- whether or not people using their office to benefit themselves -- and that was not the case here. But when you look at the Senate president giving access to his email, his private papers, confidential Senate material to a spouse who has been using that for political reasons and to kind of curry favor and influence within the Senate -- a body that he wasn't even a member [of] -- I think that's where senators may take a look and see if they can strengthen that -- or at the very least check how their own office operates and maybe put in place some internal controls.

Carrie Healy, NEPR: Another part of the report that sticks with me is the racially charged comments that Hefner made to one of former Senator Stan Rosenberg's aides. Do we expect to see incoming Senate President Karen Spilka to really step up and take a lead role in righting some of these wrongs described in that report, and is now a good time for that?

I think it is a good time for that. Certainly that added a different dimension to this. We had already known and read about some of the sexual incidents involving Hefner. He's obviously been indicted for assaulting four different men with business ties on Beacon Hill. The racial element was an added dimension. If you look to the joint statement that Senate President Harriette Chandler read on behalf of the entire Senate, she talks about, and I’ll quote here: “working diligently and swiftly to fortify the Senate systems for preventing an intervening in  harassment in all its forms.

Now, we don't really know what shape that will take or whether or not Harriette Chandler will get that done in her remaining couple months in office, or if it will fall to incoming president [Karen] Spilka. But I think it's probably not the last we’ve heard on this.

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, onetime leader of the Massachusetts Senate chamber, left Beacon Hill under duress after a three-decade career.
Credit Sam Doran / State House News Service

Now that this months-long, now former Senator Rosenberg investigation is complete, is there more air in the room, and do we expect to see the Senate tackle legislation with a renewed focus and greater speed? What will they be working on?

I think so. We’ve been hearing... since December, when Rosenberg stepped aside, every little step was them trying to turn the page and they hoped that it would be enough to refocus and remove the cloud. But I think we always kind of knew that until this report was out and the future of Senator Rosenberg decided, that the Senate was really not going to be able to move on.

With Rosenberg’s resignation effective last Friday at 5 p.m., I think it closes this chapter. And incoming president [Karen] Spilka, who is still the Senate budget chief, will be releasing her FY19 budget proposal on Thursday. I think that will be a good opportunity for the Senate to refocus itself and regroup and look at the remaining policy and legislation that they need to tackle before the end of July.