Incoming Mayor Was in Good Position to Laugh as GOP Took Aim, and then...

Friday, November 17, 2017

PREFATORY NOTE: I have the timing of a clumsy brother disowned by a family of trapeze artists.  Not one hour after I put up this post, word came from the State House that the main character in this story had, after all, decided to resign from the House of Representatives.

Paul Heroux, the Democrat state representative in the 2nd Bristol District, was elected the next mayor of Attleboro on Tuesday, November 7, ousting a 14-year incumbent, Kevin Dumas, by a margin of 54% to 46% -- what you call a strong showing.  Ever since, Heroux’s been fending off attacks from Republicans who object to his continuing to serve in the House through 2018 while also holding down the mayor’s job, as Heroux has long said he intended to do.  The people of Attleboro knew this before the election.

“I think it’s incredibly insulting, to the voters and to the mayors and to the legislators who take their job as a full-time job seriously, that he would even consider this,” Governor Charlie Baker has said of Heroux.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones announced this past Tuesday that he and his Republican colleagues will soon file a bill that, if enacted, would force Heroux to choose between serving either as Attleboro’s state rep or its mayor.

Jones and other members of the GOP have been citing what happened in November of 2009, when Democrats filed a bill that would have prohibited anyone from serving simultaneously in the legislature and in the chief executive position of a city or town.  The bill was aimed at William Lantigua, a Democrat rep who had just been elected mayor of the City of Lawrence and was planning to hold both jobs through 2010. 

Many of Lantigua’s fellow Democrats did not like or trust him.  Due to his, uh, “controversial” ways, they felt “Willy” made the rest of them look bad. They wanted him and his sketchy reputation gone from Beacon Hill.  Lantigua ended up relinquishing his House seat before the bill against him was acted upon.  He saw the handwriting on the wall.
Republicans are also pointing to state Senator Tom McGee as someone in the same situation they feel is doing the right thing.  Right after McGee won the November 7 mayoral election in the City of Lynn, he announced his resignation from the Senate, effective January 2, 2018.

Today, New England’s largest newspaper, The Boston Globe, published an editorial urging Heroux not to hold both positions.  The editorial was headlined, “Mayor or state rep – Heroux should do one job or the other, not both.”  Just because it’s legal in Massachusetts to serve in some dual offices simultaneously, the Globe huffed, doesn’t mean someone should.
Heroux, age 41, has termed the Republican initiative to drive him from the House “laughable.”  As long as his fellow Democrats keep standing firmly behind him, which they’ve quietly been doing, he can keep laughing.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo is on record as preferring to leave the decision on holding both jobs entirely up to Heroux.  Questioned the other day by the State House News Service, DeLeo cited what happened back in 2009 with Mayor-elect Lantigua. 
“Ultimately,” said the Speaker, “it became Representative Lantigua’s decision what to do and I would say it would be the same with Representative Heroux.”

Heroux has made no bones about wanting to stay in the House next year, in part, to give a putative Democrat replacement a better chance of winning his seat.  The thinking goes that (a) the 2d Bristol District has a lot of Republicans; (b) Republicans hold several House seats in the immediate vicinity of the 2d Bristol (Hello There, Jay Barrows, Shaun Dooley, Joe McKenna, Shauna O’Connell, Keiko Orral & Betty Poirier!); and (c) a Republican candidate would have a better chance in a special election to replace Heroux because of traditionally lower turnouts in special elections.
Why would Speaker DeLeo want to do anything to push Heroux out of the House if the resulting special election to replace him gave Republicans a leg up? 

Minority Leader Jones fully appreciates that, of course, but why would he pass up an easy opportunity to put a lit match to Democrat posteriors through the media attention he gets when promoting a bill to jam Heroux?   
I don’t buy the argument that a person cannot be simultaneously both a mayor and rep.  Yes, Massachusetts legislator is generally seen as a full-time job, and, yes, many legislators put more than full-time hours into it.  But the times when the legislature is actually in session do not come close to being full-time. 

As of this past Wednesday, November 15, for example, the legislature formally adjourned until after the new year; there will be only brief, intermittent informal sessions, attended by only a rotating handful of reps and senators, from now until then.  Likewise with legislative committee work: At any given time, there can be a lot of it, or a little, depending upon the number of committee assignments one has, how much work one wants to do, and how long one is willing and able to slog through it all. 
No one makes a legislator, except for those who serve as committee chairs, do anything.

Every state rep has at least one staff person to help with constituent services, among other tasks.  Heroux, no doubt, is thinking he’ll still be able to cover a lot of ground at the State House when he’s mayor because his staff will be on the job every day.  He’s right.
In our country, the typical citizen does not work at two different full-time jobs every day.  But plenty of citizens do.  They’re admired by the rest of us.  We call them go-getters.  We marvel at their work ethic. We maybe praise them for their big dreams of entrepreneurial success and willingness to pay the dear price of success, in toil and stress.

To say that one cannot be a good legislator and a good mayor is to sell the human spirit short.
On a less lofty level, I can argue that Heroux is doing the right thing for the treasury and taxpayers of Attleboro by not quickly resigning from the House, since it will cost the city tens of thousands of dollars to hold a special election to choose the person who will serve out the remainder of his term. 

I don’t know how much exactly a special election would cost Attleboro. Based on what I’ve seen such elections cost in other communities recently, it could easily top $40,000.  The result would be a freshman legislator who’d hold the job for less than a year and be pre-occupied with getting re-elected most of that time.
When, in the coming days, you read and hear about the pressure directed at Heroux to quit the House, I ask you to reflect upon the following observations, which were expressed so well in a State House News Service article published last Friday, November 10.  The article, a round-up of last week’s legislative actions, was written by the estimable Craig Sandler, the top guy (in more ways than one) at the SHNS. It began as follows, and all I need to quote is the first four paragraphs:

You know the old saying: “There’s no time like the last possible second!”
That’s the time-honored credo of the Massachusetts Legislature, and it was in complete effect as the last full week (Nov. 6-10) of formal legislative sessions arrived – for 2017 that is.

Why it should be necessary to wait 10 months to pass statutes for which everyone acknowledged a need in January can only be explained by the legislators themselves, and let’s face it, the explanations are never really that good. “Many stakeholders” and “input from the members” and “listening sessions” are the canards of choice under the Dome – the legislative equivalent of “giving 110 percent.”
Whatever the ultimate reason (human nature, justification for a full-time Legislature, and a lack of absolute deadlines are suspected), the House and Senate again headed into the final few days of formals for the year having put off for November what they could have accomplished in February, May or September.


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