BOSTON (AP) — Amid new twists and turns in the wide open race to be the next leader of the Massachusetts Senate, lawmakers are struggling to stay focused on major legislation pending in the current session.
Democratic Sen. John Keenan, of Quincy, is the latest member to signal his interest in becoming Senate president, one of the three most powerful positions on Beacon Hill along with governor and speaker of the House.
While the next president won’t be chosen until January, hopefuls must typically begin lining up support from their colleagues months in advance. Such internal jockeying can distract from other important business at hand.
There’s even a chance Republicans, though heavily outnumbered by Democrats in the chamber, could wind up a spoiler in the leadership fight.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Democratic Sen. Stan Rosenberg, of Amherst, stepped aside as president in December as the Senate Ethics Committee launched a probe into whether he violated any Senate rules in connection with allegations — first reported by The Boston Globe — that Rosenberg’s husband had sexually harassed or abused several men, some of whom had business before the Legislature.
Then-Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, of Worcester, was initially named acting Senate president for the duration of the probe. The Senate later dropped “acting” from the title and agreed that Chandler would remain president with full powers through the remainder of the current session. She’s made clear she will not serve in the post beyond 2018.
WHO’S IN THE MIX?
Anyone serving in the Senate can run for president, regardless of seniority.
Keenan, considered a moderate, is among several Democrats in the mix, and others could still jump in.
Senate Ways and Means Committee chairwoman Karen Spilka, of Ashland, was among the first to signal interest. Spilka’s clout is significant as her panel is responsible for drawing up the Senate version of the state’s $40 billion budget.
Other contenders include Sen. Sal DiDomenico, of Everett, whom Chandler recently named assistant majority leader; Sen. Eric Lesser, of Longmeadow, who at age 32 would represent a generational change; and veteran Sen. Eileen Donoghue, though she is also reportedly in contention to be Lowell’s next city manager.
Sen. Mark Montigny, of New Bedford, has considered throwing his hat in the ring.
WHAT ABOUT ROSENBERG?
He remains in the Senate, intends to run for re-election in November and has not — publicly at least — ruled out trying to reclaim the presidency.
Rosenberg has separated from his husband, which could ease any fears among colleagues of Bryon Hefner being a distraction in the future.
Still, a return to the president’s office by Rosenberg under any set of circumstances seems a longshot, at best.
Republicans hold only seven seats in the 40-member Senate, a number unlikely to change much in the fall election.
By tradition, the GOP caucus usually votes for its own leader in the election of a president. Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, has said he expects his name to be placed in nomination. But what if Republicans chose a Democrat to throw their support behind, adding some potentially crucial votes in a close race?
Such a scenario is not unprecedented on Beacon Hill. In 1996, support among House Republicans helped tip the scales for Democrat Tom Finneran in his hard-fought race for speaker against then-House Majority Leader Richard Voke.
The uncertainty over future leadership only adds to a chamber already undergoing major changes. Four veteran Democrats — Linda Dorcena Forry, Thomas McGee, James Timilty and Jennifer Flanagan — have left the Senate for other political or professional pursuits during the 2017-2018 term. Another Democrat, Kenneth Donnelly, died of cancer last year.
Senators privately worry this lack of stability places them at a disadvantage in legislative negotiations with the House, where Democrat Robert DeLeo has held sway as speaker for nearly a decade. Such concerns could intensify efforts to unite around a single candidate for Senate president, avoiding an otherwise fractious fight.
Copyright 2018 Associated Press