Mariano's Acceptance Speech a Good Map of Where He Wants to Take House

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Yesterday, December 30, Ronald Mariano of Quincy, a former public schoolteacher who has served as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives for nine of the 11-plus years of the speakership of Robert DeLeo, was elected to succeed DeLeo, who is leaving the House for a job at Northeastern University.  As is the custom in the legislature, Mariano delivered an acceptance speech on the occasion.  Reading the excellent transcript of that speech on the State House News Service, I was struck by how specific Mariano was on so many policy points, although I was not surprised, given his long experience on Beacon Hill and his reputation for skillfully negotiating the final shape of bills whenever he served on House-Senate conference committees -- and he served on many of  the major-law/major-issue conference committees of the last three decades.  As a look into the mind and heart of Speaker Mariano, now one of the most powerful and influential figures in the Commonwealth, I broke his speech into blocks and introduced each one, as follows, with a brief explanation or comment (in boldface).

First, he recognized by name all of the House members who, mainly through retirement, will not be returning to the legislature in January.  Because of the pandemic, departing members will not be able to give traditional farewell speeches during the final House sessions of  2020.

"...I am very grateful for the opportunity to mark this occasion with you all, whether you are in the chamber or watching from home.  But I am also mindful that we will not be able to celebrate several distinguished careers with farewell addresses.  Those members include: Reps. Crocker, Cullinane, Hay, Hecht, Kafka, R. Hunt, Nangle, Naughton, Petrolati, Poirier, Provost, Speliotis, Tosado, Vega and Vincent.*  And I want to pay special attention to the dean of the House (Scaccia), who is retiring after 23 terms."

He was gracious toward the dean of the House, Rep. Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park, who was a thorn in the side of Speaker DeLeo and his leadership team.  As the current longest-serving member of the House, Scaccia served as presiding officer during the voting for new Speaker.

"I want to thank Angelo Scaccia, forever the gentleman, for joining us today.  As many of you know, this man is a Marine and a decorated veteran of Vietnam, who came home and decided to continue to serve his community by seeking elected office.  For decades he has been a steadfast champion of social services and of the many programs that are a quiet lifeline.  We've served together for a long time and during that time, we have been on the same side of many issues.  We haven't been in agreement on every issue.  I was lucky enough to prevail through debating techniques.  But I've always, and will always, hold a deep respect for his service to our country."

He artfully tied his personal history to the history of his hometown and the Commonwealth, using one of the five "Milestones on the Road to Freedom" murals in the House chamber to make his point: John Adams drafting the Massachusetts Constitution at his kitchen table in Quincy in 1779.

"It's a true honor to be elected Speaker of the House and to have earned the trust and confidence of my esteemed colleagues.  And it's not lost on me that I accept this great honor in an historic chamber that is nearly empty.  But even with our members scattered throughout the Commonwealth, these walls still inspire a sense of awe and reverence.  As I stand at this rostrum as your next Speaker, I'm reminded of my very first day in this chamber.  I was born and raised by the shipyards of Quincy, where my father earned his living, after his father left Italy with his sights set on the American dream.  When I first took the oath of office, I did so on their shoulders, and under the watchful reminders of our founding moments, depicted in the scenes above me.  One of them is in Quincy.  These scenes reflect an undeniable truth that should both humble and inspire us: America follows Massachusetts's lead."

He placed his service in the House within the context of the Commonwealth's history of innovation and of developing new solutions to public policy questions.

"From the founding years of this country to the social and scientific advances of modern times, Massachusetts has always been the spearhead of progress.  As the state representative for Quincy, Weymouth and Holbrook, and as Majority Leader, I have had the privilege of serving my constituents in this House and playing a part in that Massachusetts mantle of leadership.  It was not too long ago that access to high-quality, affordable health care was out of reach for hundreds of thousands of uninsured people in our Commonwealth.  But our Health Care Reform Law of 2006 changed that, and it went on to serve as a template for the Affordable Care Act nationally.  I was chairman of Financial Services at that time and served on the conference committee that got that law to the governor's desk.  Massachusetts is the greatest incubator for innovative thinking, in our world-class universities and research institutions, and right here in the House of Representatives.  Whether it's health care policy, the groundbreaking victory of same-sex marriage, or implementing the toughest gun laws in the country, other states turn to Massachusetts for leadership in matters of public policy."

He spotlighted the impact of his predecessor's "steadfast fiscal leadership."

"In recent years, the House has much to be proud of.  And, for that, every member of this body and all of the residents of the Commonwealth, owe a debt of gratitude to Speaker Bob DeLeo.  During the nearly 12 years of his leadership, Speaker DeLeo brought to this chamber an unprecedented level of stability, respectful debate, and consensus-building.  The result of that has been an impressive list of accomplishments.  After years of disciplined investment in our Rainy Day Fund, his steadfast fiscal leadership made possible a strong Fiscal Year 2021 budget in an otherwise struggling economy.  The rainy day has come, and those funds have been used to avoid major cuts to vital programs."

He went on to praise DeLeo's accomplishments in a number of areas. 

"He (DeLeo) also helped establish Massachusetts as a model for gun control laws, raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and guaranteed paid sick leave for workers.  He worked to protect the rights of transgender people and then helped beat back a referendum seeking to repeal that law.  He put us on the path toward racial justice with comprehensive criminal justice reform and guided us through the adoption of modern standards for training and accountability in law enforcement.  Public school teachers, like my wife Eve and I, know more than anyone the dire need to increase state support for our schools.  The Student Opportunity Act makes a long-overdue update to the current funding formula, along with increased support of other vital education aid programs.  And we must renew this commitment to our students during our economic recovery."

He identified "job number one" as "meeting the needs of each resident" during the pandemic.

"But, while we may be proud of our history of leadership and the gains we've made, there is no question that we find ourselves in a moment of reckoning.  No family, no community, no one has been left untouched by this pandemic.  Ten months in, we remain in a state of uncertainty and, in far too many cases, dealing with grief or job loss.  All of us have faced challenges, whether it be with at-home learning, providing for the oldest and youngest in our care, or with maintaining our own mental health.  Certainly, no one has sacrificed more than our frontline health care workers, public safety personnel, and even our grocery store clerks.  The climb back to where we were just one year ago will be a long one, but this is job number one: meeting the needs of each resident through this time of crisis.  This has been the focus of our work over these past 10 months."

He committed to striving for "lasting, positive change" on racial injustice and economic inequality.

"The members of our COVID-19 Working Group have guided us through the daunting logistical challenges of gathering virtually.  Their work allowed us to pass crucial legislation in response to the ongoing pandemic.  We provided tax relief to small businesses.  We increased unemployment benefits and implemented the strongest eviction and foreclosure moratorium in the country.  We've made telehealth a permanent fixture in our health care system and expanded the options available for voters to cast their ballots.  But, make no mistake. Getting back to where we were a year ago is not enough.  There is another crisis this pandemic has revealed: the great divide between rich and poor, Black and White, rural and urban, has been made all too obvious.  The disproportionate suffering of communities of color, in particular, has exposed the frailty of our safety net and the inequality that has been hiding in plain sight.  We must turn this crisis into an opportunity to make lasting, positive change."

He asked Joe Biden to "look to Massachusetts" for inspiration as the new president "builds back better."

"President-elect Joe Biden has said that his presidency will be focused on 'building back better.'  Well, I say, 'Look to Massachusetts, Mr. President!'  It's a Massachusetts company that has given the world one of the vaccines that promises a return to normalcy.  And it was this legislature that made the billion-dollar investment so that the biopharmaceutical industry could take root right here.  We should be proud to say this recovery will be 'Made in Massachusetts.' "

He categorized broadband access and high-speed internet among infrastructure improvements Massachusetts needs.

"The recovery begins by getting people back to work and investing in our community colleges, placing them at the center of the retooling of Massachusetts workers.  And when young people do go back to work, there's no reason that anyone's commute should be longer than one hour.  That means strengthening our infrastructure.  Not just the rails, roads and bridges that carry workers to their offices and job sites, but also the broadband and high-speed internet that will allow more people to work from home.  We've invested millions in laying cable to reach the rural and oftentimes overlooked areas of our state.  But we have failed to appreciate the depth of the digital divide in our most populated cities."

He emphasized "meaningful zoning reform" at the local level to address "our housing infrastructure," which he declared is "at a breaking point."

"We are also at a breaking point in terms of our housing infrastructure.  People want to live and work in Massachusetts, but we don't have the housing stock to welcome them.  Meaningful zoning reform can change that.  The one-hour-or-less commute also means we can't create all the jobs in one small corner of the Commonwealth."

He saw the development of our "green economy" as the main way to create "new opportunities" in every part of the state.

"We need to create opportunities in each county, from Berkshire to Barnstable, and everywhere in between.  The path to that reality is making Massachusetts a leader in the green economy.  We are on the cusp of an offshore wind energy revolution, and it will begin off our shores."

He put teaching hospitals on notice that he's sticking to his position in favor of greater state funding for community hospitals.

"It also means strengthening our community hospitals, which not only form an important part of our health care landscape but are also critical economic engines in the Gateway Cities where they're located."

He put drug companies on notice that he's determined to address the "skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals."

"I'm also committed to addressing the biggest health care dilemma facing this country: the skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals.  The challenge we face is curbing the cost of the generic drugs millions need to live, while also encouraging the scientific breakthroughs that are giving new hope to people suffering from serious diseases.  This is a tall order, but I know how the work gets done: by listening first and understanding where people are coming from.  Only then can we build consensus around legislation that can make the lives of people better -- and that can be passed and signed by the governor.  This is often frustrating work.  But it does work."

He let dissenters know that he bears no grudges.

"The House benefits from a wide range of passionate voices.  After years of frustrating results from Washington, a new generation of advocates have focused their energies on state government.  We have, and we must continue, to rise to the occasion.  Although we may approach issues differently, it is our partnership that gets things done.  I welcome those new voices, hungry for change, who are not afraid to press for more, and who expected us to be bold.  But it's also my job to know that just agreeing in principal to calls for bold change is not enough."

He invited every rep to join him in the conversations "where all important change begins." 

"In the reality of governing, we must live in the world of the possible and not make perfection the enemy of progress.  While this may be an introduction for most people outside this chamber, for my colleagues this isn't the first time you've heard me talk about these issues.  The truth is, one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been building relationships with each of you.  I've kept my door open  -- not always happy about that -- and whether you've been here for decades or only a few weeks, you've walked in to pay me a visit.  And we start where all important change begins: with a conversation.  I pledge to all of you that my door will continue to be open.  I look forward to our continued collaboration and exchange of ideas.  We have a lot of work to do together.  Thank you."

*Full names, cities/towns, and parties of departing representatives: William L. Crocker, R-Barnstable; Daniel Cullinane, D-Boston; Stephen L. Hay, D-Fitchburg; Jonathan Hecht, D-Watertown; Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich; Louis L. Kafka, D-Stoughton; David M. Nangle, D-Lowell; Harold P. Naughton, Jr., D-Clinton; Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow; Elizabeth A. Poirier, R-North Attleboro; Denis Provost, D-Somerville; Angelo M. Scaccia, D-Readville; Theodore C. Speliotis, D-Danvers; Jose F. Tosado, D-Springfield; Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke; RoseLee Vincent, D-Revere.

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