A slimmed-down, healthier-looking Speaker Robert DeLeo is clearly not in a rush to hand the gavel over to a successor any time soon, according to a consensus of his colleagues — some who seem miffed with his apparent decision to keep a tight grip on the House.
DeLeo set the stage for his enduring tenure last January when he pushed through the repeal of the eight-year term limit previously imposed on speakers. But many at the State House thought his move was designed to buy some short time.
DeLeo is not showing his hand. One sign that he is not leaving any time soon is his voracious fund-raising. The speaker has vacuumed up over $400,000 in the first six months of the year, much of it from the usual suspects, looking for access and favorable decisions from him.
Still, his decision to settle in has set off a lot of behind-the-scenes talk about why he is hanging on in a politically demanding job that most speakers flee by this time in their tenure — some with a grand jury on their trail, others just tired from the hassles of the job and looking for greener, more lucrative pastures.
In DeLeo’s case, his colleagues say he seems to be enjoying the job more than ever and wants some more years. But there is also the issue of a federal grand jury and an aggressive prosecutor.
The very fact that Assistant US Attorney Fred M. Wyshak has hauled an immunized former state probation commissioner John J. O’Brien before a grand jury, presumably targeting politicians who used an illegal hiring scheme, has to be nerve-rattling for the whole Legislature.
But whether DeLeo is a target seems questionable. His top advisers insist he has no legal liability in the ongoing case, namely because the statute of limitation has expired and because, having never testified in a trial or before a grand jury, he could not be charged with perjury.
In any case, Wyshak still rattling the cages on Beacon Hill. “Wyshak has a bone,’’ said one DeLeo supporter. “It’s unnerving.”
If he hadn’t changed the rules, DeLeo’s eight-year term limit would have come up in January 2017, meaning he would be an increasingly lame duck over the next year. And that could have put a tight crimp on his fund-raising for his campaign committee, which has taken care his huge legal bills during the federal investigation that was sparked by a series of Globe Spotlight team stories.
For the two-year period — 2013 and 2014 — DeLeo’s committee paid some $500,000 in legal bills he racked up during the federal investigation. That’s a lot of hours, even considering the work was done by the high-priced, white-shoe law firm Mintz Levin. Senior partner Robert Popeo, who has a history of outgunning the US Attorney’s Office, coordinated DeLeo’s defense team.
Without access to the sort of political donors that a Beacon Hill powerbroker has, that would be a huge financial burden on the speaker.Frank Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.