Lawmakers prepare for historic expulsion vote
Lawmakers in the Massachusetts House expect to take a historic vote Thursday, planning to expel an incarcerated colleague, Representative Carlos Henriquez, over his conviction on two misdemeanor assault charges, as the Dorchester Democrat continues to insist on his innocence.
More than a dozen House members contacted Tuesday and Wednesday said the roll call would easily clear the simple-majority vote required for expulsion, and several said they had not spoken with a colleague who intended to back Henriquez.
"Right now, this case weighs heavily on all of us as members," said Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat. "For the victim, for her family, and for all families involved. None of us takes any of this lightly, and it's clear to all of us what the outcome will be, at least in terms of the vote of the House."
A day after appearing for nearly seven hours before the Ethics Committee that promptly voted to recommend his ouster, Henriquez released a statement Wednesday insisting that he had never committed an act of domestic violence and finding fault with the judicial and political processes that threaten his job.
The second-term lawmaker said the jury that convicted him had been entirely white, adding that "It is my opinion that . . . can raise doubts about fairness."
Henriquez said he "was initially saddened by how quickly some members of my community devalued, discarded and disposed of me, as soon as the jury reached its verdict. What concerns me most is that if the community will do that to me, what chance do the poorer, less educated, or addicted black, Latino, white, and Asian men and women have of returning home, needing a second chance to get back on their feet."
In an e-mail to House members, a Henriquez aide urged members not to vote on Henriquez's guilt or innocence, but on whether he had abided by House rules, and to be wary of "a vote that could set major precedent."
Lawmakers had hoped Henriquez would heed calls from all rungs of the local political hierarchy for him to resign. Some still held out that hope Wednesday. But with every indication that he planned to come to the floor of the House to face his colleagues Thursday, many appeared resigned to an emotional session.
Henriquez was convicted Jan. 15 on two misdemeanor assault charges, stemming from an episode in July 2012, when he held down and punched a woman who refused to have sex with him.
Immediately sentenced to 2½ years, Henriquez was ordered to spend six months in the Middlesex County House of Correction. He has said that he is reviewing paperwork while imprisoned.
The violent nature of Henriquez's crime marks a departure from previous Beacon Hill criminal scandals, which have generally involved corruption.
The last House member forced out by colleagues was Harry C. Foster in 1916, on bribery charges, a replay of a similar episode a decade earlier, when Frank G. Gethro was sent packing. No lawmaker from either chamber has been expelled since 1977, when Senate majority leader Joseph DiCarlo took to the floor in his own defense. Colleagues expect Henriquez could offer a similar self-defense.
Expulsion will be the first formal item taken up after the House convenes at 1 p.m., and Representative David Nangle, a Lowell Democrat who leads the Ethics Committee that recommended Henriquez's ouster, is expected to address the chamber.
Then the floor will be opened to other members, including Henriquez, House leaders said. The measure, they said, could also be amended to reduce the severity of punishment, for instance to censure or reprimand.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, who called for Henriquez to resign after his conviction and has said he will vote for expulsion, had not instructed his leadership team to count or round up votes as of Wednesday night.
Members, absent from a closed capitol in Wednesday's snowstorm, said that many were prepared to do something none of them has done before: strip one of their own of his office, and his constituents of their representative.
"We can't forget that there's a victim here, a victim who was assaulted," Nangle said. "We just can't lose sight of that."
Representative Patricia Haddad, the House's third-ranking leader, said some members were still sorting through what some have called the most difficult vote of their careers.
"I just don't know if there are people who will express the opinion that this was an issue of him being an elected official that caused all this to come forward, whether anybody will bring up the racial issue, because certainly his lawyer has said it was an all-white jury," the Somerset Democrat said. "You can never tell how people are internalizing all of this."
Representative Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said he worries about dueling precedents: allowing a lawmaker to hold a seat from prison and expelling a lawmaker who had not technically violated House rules.
"I'm not certain yet how I'm going to vote," he said.
Henriquez's sentence ends in July. The Democratic primary for his House seat does not take place until September, meaning he would be eligible to run for his seat again.