By Bob Katzen
THE HOUSE AND SENATE: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week.
A BEACON HILL ROLL CALL EXCLUSIVE
BLINDLY FOLLOW THE LEADER? – The House uses a large electronic voting board that shows how each representative votes on a roll call. Members press a button at their desks and their vote appears next to their name on the board for everyone to see. When a representative votes “yes,” a green light appears next to his or her name. When he or she votes “no,” a red light appears next to his or her name.
On January 30, the House was debating the joint rules under which the House and Senate would operate in 2019-2020. House Speaker Bob DeLeo (D-Winthrop) rarely presides over a session and this day was no different as Rep. Tom Petrolati (D-Ludlow) was the acting speaker and the presiding officer calling the shots.
As the debate dragged on, House GOP Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading) offered an amendment that would repeal a rule, used for the first time in 2018, that prohibited the appointment of a conference committee after July 17, 2018. A conference committee is a six-member committee appointed by the House speaker and the Senate president to work out a compromise version of a bill when the House and Senate approve different versions of the measure.
Jones spoke in favor of his amendment and no one spoke against it. His amendment seemed non-controversial. Rep. Jones said that the new rule, pushed by the Senate leadership in the rules adopted for the previous 2-year session, was designed to have more legislation acted upon and more transparency. The rule forces lawmakers to appoint a conference committee well before July 31 after which the rules basically make it impossible to appoint a conference committee because the House and Senate meet only in brief, informal sittings a couple of days a week until the annual session ends at the beginning of January 2019. The rationale was that a conference committee often takes weeks to hammer out a compromise bill and any committee appointed after July 17 would likely not have time to reach an agreement.
Critics say that the new rule backfired and failed to accomplish its intent. Each branch had approved different versions of an important $666 million economic development package but it was after July 17 – too late to appoint a conference committee under the new rule. The House and Senate on July 23 began meeting behind closed doors and then sending different versions of the bill to each other until the Senate ended up accepting a new House version which neither House or Senate members had any time to read. Despite that, on July 31, the House approved the package 151-0 and the Senate passed it 36-0. Gov. Baker signed the bill after vetoing several sections.
Seconds after the roll call on the Jones amendment began, Acting Speaker Petrolati and Speaker DeLeo both voted “no” and a red light appeared next to their names. According to House rules, the acting speaker (Petrolati) actually casts the vote for the speaker and a court officer casts the vote for the acting speaker.
As is often the case, many Democrats quickly took their cue from DeLeo and Petrolati and voted “no” as well. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the House. In this case it was at least 63 Democrats who played “follow the leader” and voted “no.”
As the board began to fill up with “no” votes, Petrolati apparently took notice and talked into a microphone he didn’t know was on. “It’s a yes?” “Switch ‘em. Yes, yes, yes, yes yes, Mikey,” shouted Petrolati to Division Leader Mike Moran. Suddenly, DeLeo and Petrolati’s votes switched to “yes.” And then all 63 Democrat who had initially voted “no” suddenly switched his or her vote to “yes.”
The House’s only unenrolled non-party affiliated member Susannah Whipps (U-Athol) had also voted “no” and then switched to “yes.”
There may have been more than 63 Democrats who first voted “no.” While the “no” votes appeared on the electronic voting board for a brief time, once the switchers changed their vote to “yes,” there was no longer a permanent record of the “no” vote. Beacon Hill Roll Call watched a video tape of the session in order to see who voted “no” at the beginning. The camera pans the scoreboard a few times but there is no guarantee we were able to spot every red light.
You can see the story unfold by watching the video of the January 30 House session at https://malegislature.gov/Events/Sessions/Detail/3297 Fast forward on the counter to 5:35:49 and watch it until 5:37:39. It all happened in a little over two minutes.
To the reader and viewer, this appears that these 63 Democrats simply watched how DeLeo and Petrolati voted and blindly followed their lead and voted “no.” And then switched to “yes” when DeLeo and Petrolati switched to “yes.” Did these 63 even know what they were voting on? Did they care? What would cause them to switch their votes other than they decided to follow the “suggestion” of the speaker?
Beacon Hill Roll Call set out to find the answers and over the course of three days, sent two e-mails to each of the 63 Democrats who had flip-flopped. The only response was from Rep. Paul Donato, a member of the leadership team who also usually acts as the acting speaker and presides over the sessions. Donato gave a brief explanation basically saying that there was confusion surrounding the vote and some members mistakenly voted “no” and then had to switch to “yes.” Not a single one of the other 63 representative responded to our e-mails.
Beacon Hill Roll Call also reached out twice via e-mail to the four key players in this incident: House Speaker Bob DeLeo, Acting Speaker Tom Petrolati, House Minority Leader Brad Jones and Rep. “Mikey” Moran. None of them responded to our e-mails.
Here are the 63 Democratic representatives and one unaffiliated non-party member who switched their votes from “no” to “yes.”
James Arciero (D-Westford), Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow), Bruce Ayers (D-Quincy), Christine Barber (D-Somerville), John Barrett (D-North Adams), Jennifer Benson (D-Lunenburg), David Biele (D-South Boston), Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford), Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn), Daniel Carey (D- Easthampton), Gerard Cassidy (D-Brockton), Michelle Ciccolo (D-Lexington), Claire Cronin (D-Easton), Daniel Cullinane (D-Boston), Mark Cusack (D-Braintree), Marcos Devers (D-Lawrence), Daniel Donahue (D-Worcester), Paul J. Donato (D-Medford), Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton), Carolyn Dykema (D-Holliston), Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth), Carole Fiola (D-Fall River), Sean Garballey (D-Arlington), Colleen Garry (D-Dracut), Kenneth Gordon (D-Bedford), Jim Hawkins (D-Attleboro), Stephan Hay (D-Fitchburg), Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown), Kevin Honan (D-Boston), Louis Kafka (D-Sharon), Mary Keefe (D-Worcester), John Lawn (D-Watertown), David LeBoeuf (D-Worcester), Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), David Linsky (D-Natick), Jay Livingstone (D-Boston), Elizabeth Malia (D-Boston), Ronald Mariano (D-Quincy), Paul Mark (D-Peru), Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth), Joseph McGonagle (D-Everett), Rady Mom (D-Lowell), Frank Moran (D-Lawrence), James Murphy (D-Weymouth), David Nangle (D-Lowell), Harold Naughton (D-Worcester), James O’Day (D-West Boylston), Jerald Parisella (D-Beverly), Smitty Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury), Paul Schmid (D-Westport), Alan Silvia (D-Fall River), Theodore Speliotis (D-Danvers), Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham), Jose Tosado (D-Springfield), Paul Tucker (D-Salem), Chynah Tyler (D-Roxbury), Andres Xavier Vargas (D-Haverhill), Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke), John Velis (D-Westfield), RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere), Thomas Walsh (D-Peabody), Susannah Whipps (U -Athol)
Beacon Hill Roll Call sent an e-mail to and asked the opinion of the 94 representatives who had not switched their votes and seemed to vote “yes” from the beginning and to the three members who were absent from the vote. Only four of those members responded. Beacon Hill Roll Call also asked some lobbying groups what they thought.
Here are some responses:
Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton): “I was proud to have voted in favor of this amendment along with a handful of other Democrats and several Republicans from the get-go. I was as surprised as many watching from the gallery that many changed their vote after the speaker’s vote was cast. As a first-year representative at my first formal session, I had not witnessed something like that before. I firmly believe we should always vote on bills, and amendments, based on their merit and, thankfully, I can say that each vote I cast was done with my district’s best interest at heart. My district has been very vocal in its support of making the legislative process clearer with more room for civic participation and greater transparency.”
Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston): “Welcome to the House of Representatives. This is exactly how the House runs itself and the members should be ashamed. The speaker is like a shepherd leading a flock of sheep.
Some members may have known what they were voting on and may have even agreed with Brad Jones. However, agreement with Brad does not matter if it conflicts with the speaker. This is particularly the case in the rules debate as the speaker has given orders to all Democrats that he wants no changes and that he is taking notice for consideration of leadership and committee assignments. We term the statements and speeches in rules debate as ‘community auditions.’
The public is well informed. Many know that the only reason these Democrats changed their votes is because they await their instructions on all votes from the speaker. Members do not think of what is in the best interest of their districts but instead they consider what is in the best interest of themselves by voting with the speaker. This disenfranchises the voters who sent them to the Statehouse. I refuse to arrive in the building and hand over the voice and power of my constituents to the speaker.
The best way to eliminate this hypocrisy is to bring pay equity to the building and pay all the members the same regardless of positions in leadership or committee. I was a ‘yes’ vote and voting with Brad before seeing how the speaker voted. Ideas should rule the day.”
Rep. Joe McKenna (R-Webster): “I think that every representative has had the experience at one time or another of casting a vote only to have a colleague come and talk to them and explain an issue perhaps in different terms which may cause them to change their mind. I think that is okay. Unfortunately, what we saw during the rules debate is entirely different and is something that we have seen numerous times in my two plus terms. It’s simply a ‘follow-the-leader’ mentality where members seem to take their sole direction from the color of the light next to the speaker’s name with apparently little awareness or concern for the matter being voted on or its content. Leaning on colleagues for guidance and advice is okay; but the type of blind following we saw takes it too far.”
Rep. Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk): “Thanks for doing a story on this. Seen it happen quite a few times during my tenure. I think the fact that this happened during the rules debate, while only a handful of legislators were fighting for greater transparency and communication, was quite ironic.”
Rep. Mike Connolly (D-Cambridge):“I cannot speak for anyone else’s decision-making process, but I am proud to say that I immediately voted in support of this amendment based on its merits and therefore was one of the few Democrats who voted in support of it before the speaker changed his position.”
Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation: “Captured red-handed on video doing what The Best Legislators Money Can Buy do best – mindlessly following the leader. What a real-time votes tote board exposed through an embarrassing glitch is revealing of what’s so wrong on Beacon Hill. Good catch Beacon Hill Roll Call.”
Paul Craney, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance: “Even during the important rules debate, when issues of transparency and process are supposed to be debated out in the public, some lawmakers don’t even have the interest in knowing what they are voting on and instead rely on the speaker for instruction. This type of blind voting by some lawmakers is how the Legislature finds itself as the least transparent legislative body in America.”
Jonathan Cohn, Chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts: “Too often, House Democrats will vote in lockstep with the speaker, whether he’s right or wrong, without doing their own due diligence about what they are, in fact, voting on. Legislators should come to their own conclusions about bills and amendments based on their own promises and principles and the input from advocates, policy experts, and their own constituents — not just on how the speaker chooses to vote … The House had a long debate about its rules, but for the rest of the session, there needs to be a serious debate about the norms by which the chamber operates and how badly they are in need of a change.”