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House calls


Bill Clinton should have taken a look at this guy’s playbook. Tom Finneran, Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has served in his powerful post under an eight-year term limit — just as Clinton did. Finneran’s term was set to expire in 2004. That is, until his deputies orchestrated a vote last week to repeal the term limit. Best of all, Finneran, who didn’t appear on the floor during debate on the measure, has been able to deny that he had anything to do with it. Yeah, right.

In the days since, Finneran seems to have used his renewed power to punish many of the 15 Democratic legislators who joined with their Republican colleagues in voting against the repeal. For instance, Representative Byron Rushing of the South End was booted off the Transportation Committee, where he had advocated for better public transit in his district. And Representative Jim Marzilli of Arlington, an outspoken proponent of the term limit, lost his Taxation Committee seat, a spot he had held for 10 years.

Since Speaker Finneran may be around for a long time — the Boston Herald recently dubbed him “King Tom” — we thought we’d find out why area representatives voted the way they did. Of the representatives from Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville, only Paul Demakis of the Back Bay, Pat Jehlen of Somerville, Byron Rushing of the South End, and Frank Smizik of Brookline voted against the repeal. Here were the responses of the reps who returned our calls:


Paul Demakis, Back Bay (against repeal): “My vote was consistent with a long-held position I articulated when I first ran for office in 1994, before I ever met Tom Finneran — I’m for keeping term limits for legislative leadership positions.”

Gene O’Flaherty, Charlestown (for repeal): “I took that vote confidently. Philosophically, I’m opposed to term limits. The term limit we had in place was something that we should decide ourselves — I don’t feel we should be bound by a rule made previously. I made that vote with no qualms at all.”

Byron Rushing, South End (against repeal): “I voted to keep the rule the way it was. Why not? It is obvious why I voted the way I voted.”

Martin Walsh, Dorchester (for repeal): “I’m not a believer in term limits. It wasn’t a vote for Finneran, it was a vote against term limits. For the voters, every two years we have a term limit — it’s called an election. Every two years we can vote for people. The same goes for in here — if people feel that the Speaker isn’t doing a good job, I have an opportunity to either run or vote against him.”

Brian Golden of Brighton and Liz Malia of Jamaica Plain didn’t vote on the measure. Marie St. Fleur of Dorchester returned our call — but we missed it. Every other rep in Boston — Salvatore DiMasi of the North End, David Donnelly of West Roxbury, Kevin Fitzgerald of Jamaica Plain, Gloria Fox of Roxbury, John Hart of South Boston, Kevin Honan of Allston-Brighton, Liz Malia of Jamaica Plain, Shirley Owens-Hicks of Mattapan, Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, and Anthony Petruccelli of East Boston — failed to return repeated phone calls asking them to explain their votes.


Surprisingly, both of the progressives from the People’s Republic — Alice Wolf and Jarrett Barrios — voted to repeal the limit. But they each had plenty to say about why they did. Tim Toomey, Cambridge’s more moderate representative, also voted to repeal the limit. But he had nothing to say about it — at least, not to the Phoenix.

Alice Wolf (for repeal): “I went into the day not being sure [how to vote]. After discussion with fellow members, I came to the conclusion that the eight-year rule is really looked at as an eight-year term, not an eight-year term limit. We’re just as well off not having a term limit.

“As a strong progressive, I’d love to have a progressive Speaker — frankly, the leadership does reflect, in terms of its progressivity, a strong bent in the House — that’s the underlying issue. Because people were looking at this as an eight-year term, not as a term limit, it would be very difficult to do that [vote against the repeal]. I think in the long run ... if people are unhappy, they’ll be able to do more about it. Historically, there have only been two Speakers who have gotten more than eight years.”

Jarrett Barrios (for repeal): “Like most liberals, I have cringed more than once at the conservatism of our Democratic House of Representatives. And though I have found no tape recorders lurking about the Speaker’s office, I have wondered at the terribly Nixonian feel of the place. Why, then, would a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat frustrated with the right-leaning policies of the House leadership support an effort to repeal its term limit?

“Term limits are not the proper response to our frustrations with an undemocratic institution if our goal is to promote lasting democratic change. Defending vigorously our Clean Elections Law is. So is using the elected office as a bully pulpit to inspire all voters to participate both in electoral and legislative efforts. There are countless other means of bringing more change agents to the table. But not term limits....

“I have little to gain from my vote. I am routinely in the minority on important votes — indexing the minimum wage, opposing charter schools, or the abolition of our high standard for special ed, and more. I will ‘gain’ nothing, except maybe the abstract satisfaction of knowing that my actions as a legislator remain consistent with my opposition, on principle, to right-wing populist notions of what is and isn’t democratic.”


Pat Jehlen (against repeal): “It’s different from a regular electorate. It’s a very limited group of people. It’s impossible for me to have as much discipline over my constituents as a Speaker can over the members. I have never gotten any of the things I’ve requested — it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Vincent Ciampa did not return repeated phone calls.


Frank Smizik (against repeal): “I believe that if those were the rules that were set for a reform several years ago, we should keep that until there’s a new leadership so that it doesn’t seem like it’s applying to this leadership. If you have a board of directors in a church or synagogue, they change every few years. It’s good to have new blood once in a while.”