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Berkshire State Reps. Prepare For Possibility Of DeLeo Exit

A group gathered for a press conference
Paul Tuthill
Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert DeLeo

Berkshire County state representatives are reacting to signs that long-serving Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo is preparing to step down after over a decade.

DeLeo, 70, represents the 19th Suffolk District, and became speaker in 2009. Mid-December news that he is in talks for a job at Northeastern University – his alma mater – made shockwaves in the state.

“Well, it was a surprise, people have been saying these rumors really since my first year in office back in 2011. So to hear it actually has a lot of validity and is, I think now likely to happen was surprising to me, especially where we're in a unique session," said 2nd Berkshire District State Representative Paul Mark, a fellow Democrat. “We’re in a session that has had formal sessions all the way through, probably right to the last minute on January 5th, and a new session is going to begin on January 6th. So it's a time where there's obviously a state of emergency, there's a lot going on, we're finishing a budget still for Fiscal Year ‘21. So to have a changeover now is definitely not what I was expecting.”

DeLeo is the House’s longest serving speaker, dating to its mid-17th century origins.

“As strange as it may sound, he's a historic figure," said Mark. "He is somebody that people will hopefully look at and look at how he has conducted himself and how he has been able to keep the support of 159 other House members for such a long time. And as someone who has studied political science and policy and law for a long time, and actually teaches civics and government at times, it's actually extremely impressive. And I was very lucky that I missed- I know three speakers left under a cloud before my tenure in office. And so to have a speaker who was able to take that, and restore a sense of stability to the body, to the House of Representatives, and to stay out of any kind of trouble like that for such a long time, and just do a really, I think a really steady really excellent job, especially for people out here in Western Massachusetts.”

Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Democrat of the 3rd Berkshire District, is also a fan of the speaker.

“Bob DeLeo gets to leave the speakership, when Bob DeLeo wants to leave the speakership in that, you know, when he gets to make that final decision, and until that decision is made, he is my speaker, and he'll have my support," she told WAMC. "That being said, we have to get ready in case there is a change. And I have thrown my support behind the majority leader, who is Ron Mariano out of Quincy.”

“Ron Mariano has been a part of every negotiation going on," said Mark. "He's part of multiple conference committees. He's an expert in health care. He's an expert in budgeting, and so that seems to be the likely choice. It sounds like he has not unanimous support, but overwhelming support from everything I've been hearing and reading.”

If Mariano, of the 3rd Norfolk District, is to succeed DeLeo, he would continue a long unbroken chain of white men to hold the position.

“I think it's something that needs to be explored moving forward," said Mark. "I mean, you look over at the Senate, and they've had three female Senate presidents already. And you're correct that the House has not had a woman as a speaker yet at this point, and we're in year 390. So that is a problem, that is disappointing.”

Massachusetts has also never elected a woman as governor.

Mark says the seeds of change have already been sown for the House.

“Starting with the class in 2012, you've seen a more progressive membership come in, you've seen a more diverse membership come in, you've seen more women elected, you've seen the first Cambodian American elected, you've seen the first Vietnamese American elected, you've seen the first Brazilian American elected," he told WAMC. "And so I think as a natural consequence of that, as the House reflects the state more accurately, which is, of course, what it should do, and what we all want it to do, as people get experienced, as they become known, it's just a matter of time that there's going to be a more diverse leadership.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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