Holmes laments life in DeLeo’s ‘kingdom’

Holmes speaks at a live taping of The Horse Race podcast. Photo by Llyr Johnson/MassINC

State Rep. Russell Holmes of Mattapan launched another broadside against the leadership of the Massachusetts House of Representatives last week, describing the legislative body’s top-down approach as isolating for those who do not go along.

Clearly frustrated with the way Speaker Robert DeLeo runs the House, Holmes, who first took his seat in 2011, used the occasion of a live taping of The Horse Race, a Massachusetts-centered political podcast, to expound on his feelings after he was asked to do so by Reporter news editor Jennifer Smith and Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group.

“It’s not been run,” said Holmes. “That’s my objection. It’s really been a dictatorship from the time I’ve gotten there.”

He followed Senate President Karen Spilka on the podcast, and noted that she had talked about her plans to delegate many decisions to her chair people. The Senate has a reputation for having a less concentrated power structure than the House, which Holmes described as a “kingdom.”

As Holmes puts it, all 160 House members were elected by their districts and voting for the speaker should not mean ceding all of their powers. He said there was an imbalance in expertise and power when delegations whose constituencies feel the brunt of a certain pressures or industries like ride-shares are not given enough clout to advocate on their behalf.

“When you are the chair of a committee that’s going to release this bill, you would think that the majority leader, who lives in Quincy, wouldn’t be the person who’s making all the decisions,” said Holmes.

His clashes with House leadership have left him feeling out in the cold, he said, but, he noted, the wave of new faces from the 2018 midterms was a blessing.

“I used to feel like I’m on an island,” said the former vice-chair of the Housing Committee, who was brushed out of leadership in 2017 after speaking publicly about his conflicts with the speaker. DeLeo told the Boston Herald at the time that the move was not political retribution.

“And now,” said Holmes at the taping, “all of a sudden I’ve had six or seven people come and say, ‘Hey, we want to join you.”

He gave shout-outs to two freshmen reps in the room— Maria Robinson of Framingham and Patrick Kearney of Scituate— for joining him on his island. They were among a handful, including Holmes, who voted in favor of the election of the speaker’s by secret ballot, a proposal that was roundly defeated by a majority of the House.

Two key members of DeLeo’s leadership team were ousted in the November midterms.

Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Rep. Byron Rushing, the assistant majority leader, were beaten at the ballot by Nika Elugardo and Jonathan Santiago, respectively.

After the votes were in, Holmes told Commonwealth Magazine that the election was “clearly a rebuke of the speaker and the way he’s doing things.”

He says he feels secure in his Sixth Suffolk District, which covers parts of Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and Roslindale. He noted that four of the names in contention for an at-large city council run this year live in his district. He also noted that he has only $395 in his campaign account, although he works at a job at Baystate Financial in addition to his legislative duties.

“It is clear to me that you always have to stay connected to your district,” Holmes said. “And people always say, ‘Why doesn’t anybody run against me?’ I don’t have any money in my account. I tell you, it’s not simply because people are not interested in running. They don’t run because of the fact I stay focused on my district.”

He added: “The reason I feel my district will never be shorted is that there is no vote more reliable than the Democratic vote from my district.”

The district is about 90 percent black and Latino, and its residents vote overwhelmingly and consistently for Democrats.

“I am [representing] the most reliable Democratic voting district in the Commonwealth… there’s no time I walk in where I ever feel I’m going to be short shrift on anything.”

Holmes says he has a strong relationship with Gov. Baker and Mayor Walsh, both of whom he said would “take care” of him. He spoke proudly of at least one state-funded project coming to fruition in his neighborhood soon — the Blue Hill Avenue station on the Fairmount Line, in the neighboring district but a longtime project of Holmes and other local elected leaders, which should start serving commuters in the next several weeks.

His clashes with the speaker are not likely to end anytime soon, and Holmes said he hopes someone else will challenge DeLeo next term. If not, he said, he’ll do it, but he is pulling for a representative like Speaker Pro-tem Patricia Haddad of Somerset.

To listen to the full live episode of The Horse Race and prior podcasts, visit soundcloud.com/user-72751714 or subscribe on iTunes.


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