Senate Will Miss the Judicious Mr. Barrett as He Deals with Threat to His Health

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lexington’s Michael J. Barrett, a member of the Massachusetts Senate from the 3rd Middlesex District, was just diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APS) and will be confined to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston while undergoing treatment.  Because the disease has compromised his immune system, Barrett needs to avoid everyday situations where one may be exposed to bacteria and viruses, and, in particular, crowds.

“My doctors tell me I won’t be leaving the hospital for a month, and that, for some additional period of time, I’ll need to avoid crowded situations where people may have bad colds, etc.,” Barrett told the State House News Service on February 13.
The good news is:  APS is curable and Barrett, a trim and vigorous 69-year-old, is likely to make a full recovery.  “With the help of my fantastic staff, I expect to advance my legislative agenda quite effectively throughout my convalescence, and to resume my duties in full thereafter,” he said.

A graduate of Harvard and Northeastern University law school, Barrett takes his role and duties as a senator seriously every waking hour.  When confronted with a problem or big decision, he puts his emotions aside and methodically collects and weighs the facts.  He would make an excellent judge.  Consider, for example, how he handled himself on February 6 when the State House News Service came calling, but first a little background…
On February 3, The Boston Globe reported that Bryon Hefner, husband of former Senate President Stan Rosenberg, had allegedly been given access to Rosenberg’s Senate email account and had lobbied legislators in 2017 for funding of a social services program he was connected to professionally.  (Before being elected president, Rosenberg promised his colleagues there would be a “firewall” between Hefner and the business of the Senate.)  The February 3 article was the second Globe expose about Hefner within 10 weeks.

Because Barrett had sponsored the budget amendment that provided funds to the Hefner-favored program, the news service wanted to know if Hefner had personally lobbied him.  “I was totally clueless about his apparent interest (in the budget amendment),” Barrett responded. “…I happen to be a state senator that he hasn’t lobbied on anything.”    
On February 6, you could still find many at the State House who believed that Rosenberg, who relinquished the gavel to Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler on December 4, had a plausible path back to the presidency if ongoing investigations produced no evidence of official wrongdoing.

No one seems to be thinking that way now. But, it was reasonable for Barrett to be discussing on February 6 how Rosenberg could become president again.

“I hate to think that he (Rosenberg) might be entirely innocent and yet thrown out of the job. That would disturb me,” Barrett said that day. “I would have felt like I quailed due to the pressures of the moment and I don’t want to believe that I would do that.  Still, it looks difficult.”
Barrett continued, “If he’s exonerated by an independent investigator, yes I do (think Rosenberg could reassume the presidency). 

"Does the weight of circumstantial evidence become heavier and heavier?  Yes, it does…

"Constructing a narrative that permits Stan to return as Senate president becomes more and more difficult.  I could still construct one, and when I say construct one, I don’t mean a fantasy, but a possible sequence of facts.”

Because Barrett allows the members of his own staff to keep tabs on his Senate emails, he said the sharing of access with a spouse “isn’t the killer violation for me.”
He continued, “I’m looking for the smoking gun.  It’s corruption.  It’s skewing the Senate’s business because you promised someone sexual favors.  That would be an indictable offense and a condemnable one. 

"Am I happy about the prospect of sending him (Rosenberg) packing because the weight of circumstantial evidence seems too much to bear and because I feel that his performance would  be impaired?  I would not be happy doing that.”

If proven innocent, Rosenberg could “survive” in the president’s office, Barrett said; however, he doubted the investigations would have such clear-cut results.
“I think it’s going to be a gray-area thing,” Barrett said.  “I don’t think he (Rosenberg) is as guilty as his critics would wish or as innocent as some of us would wish.  I suspect he gave a spouse, a kibitzer, things to do that he probably desperately regrets, and what am I to do about that?  I don’t know.”  

Shortly after Barrett’s February 6 discussion with the State House News Service, it became clear the Senate was in a kind of paralysis due to (a) the latest journalistic allegations against Hefner, and (b) the behind-the-scenes maneuvering by at least three senators who hoped to replace Rosenberg if the Senate Ethics Committee, the Attorney General or some other investigatory body came up with a case against him.
To end the paralysis and to put the Senate in shape to deal effectively with a number of major, pressing issues, Democrat senators, including Rosenberg, voted on February 7 to remove “acting” from the title of Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler.  She’ll serve as a fully empowered president through the end of the 2018.

In the fall of this year, statewide legislative elections will be held, meaning there will be a new House and new Senate when the legislature convenes the first week of January, 2019. 
There’s not much point in any senator trying overly hard to collect votes for the presidency following that of Chandler -- who has vowed not to seek the post next session -- if this fall’s elections could significantly change the Senate line-up.  And they could.  Nor is there much chance Rosenberg could recapture the presidency in the reconfigured Senate of 2019-20, assuming he's re-elected in his Pioneer Valley district, where he remains popular and retains wide support.

The Boston Globe has thrown a large, dark cloud over Stan Rosenberg, but not one piece of evidence against him that could be introduced in court has yet been presented by the Senate Ethics Committee or any other entity or authority.  All who have been quoted in the Globe saying damning things about Rosenberg’s husband were given the cover of anonymity.  Nevertheless, Rosenberg has had to leave one of the three most powerful positions in state government, a job he loved and was good at, because public officials are often held to standards higher than the law and to expectations that exist beyond the realm of their public duties.  Public officials should be held to such standards and expectations.  Still, I feel badly for Rosenberg because he is an exceedingly kind and decent human being; he cares sincerely about enacting good laws and instituting good policies; he was a highly effective Senate leader; he ran the upper branch collegially: members were respected, listened to, and given genuine sway within their areas of expertise and specialization.  Also, I'm convinced he's an ethical person: I believe no investigation will find that he "skewed the Senate's business" or became corrupt under the influence of his husband, from whom he is now separated, or anyone else. I understand why he’s out as president and won’t be back in, but I feel very badly about all that has befallen the man since early-December.

ADDENDUM: Rosenberg is gathering signatures on the papers he must file to be a candidate for re-election in the fall and is "looking forward to the resolution of the ethics investigation," MassLive's Shira Schoenberg reports in an article published yesterday, "Former Senate President Stan Rosenberg: 'I have a vote and a voice.' "  The article delves into the issues Rosenberg is committed to working on for the remainder of the 2017-18 legislative session, such as a climate change.  It may be found at:








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