Lawmaker says he was demoted after commenting on speaker’s succession

Holmes said in an interview: “We should do this together, so our voices are heard.”
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File 2012
Holmes said in an interview: “We should do this together, so our voices are heard.”

Amid a broader shake-up on Beacon Hill, state Representative Russell E. Holmes was demoted from a leadership position, he says, because of comments he made to the Globe last week about who might be the next House speaker.

Speaker Robert A. DeLeo named Representative Jeffrey Sánchez as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee this week — making him one of the most influential Latinos in the state government’s history.

But along with that transition, DeLeo also removed Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, as vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, nominating Representative Joseph W. McGonagle Jr. of Everett in his stead.


House Democrats approved the change Monday morning — a vote that was essentially a rubber stamp in a legislative body tightly controlled by the speaker.

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In an interview Monday, Holmes said DeLeo decided to oust him due to remarks he made after Brian S. Dempsey — the budget chairman, who was often considered next in line for the speakership — announced his departure for a lobbying firm.

“I believe now is the time for the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, the Women’s Caucus to be strong and united in our selection of the next speaker of the House,” Holmes said at the time. “We should not do this individually; we should do this together so our voices are heard.”

Holmes, a member of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said Monday that these words drew the speaker’s ire, and led DeLeo to remove him from the vice chairmanship. DeLeo has made no indication he plans to step aside anytime soon, and in 2015, at his urging, the House elminated term limits for the speaker.

“My thought is it happened only because of my comments last week, and that I believe that this really talks about the state of this country, where you really have to pledge your loyalty to leadership in order to be promoted,” he said. “I think it’s a sad day when my advocacy for my constituents leads me to be demoted.”


DeLeo said Monday that the change was an effort to enhance the House’s leadership corps.

“When you make decisions in terms of putting folks into various positions . . . you just look in terms of putting the best team together that you see, and fitting people into places with their expertise and whatnot,” he told reporters. “So that’s quite frankly just what I decided — nothing more, nothing less than that.”

Asked if Holmes’s comments played a role in his decision, DeLeo said: “No, no, not at all.”

“Again, you have to look at this as a holistic approach, and you have to look at the team as a whole in terms of what is best to serve the House,” he said.

The vice chairmanship comes with a salary bump of $5,200 and more political clout. Until this week, Holmes was one of three black representatives among the 87 House leaders. Now, only two remain: Assisant Majority Leader Byron Rushing of the South End and Representative Evandro Carvalho, a Dorchester Democrat who is vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health.


Holmes, who called the demotion an attempt by DeLeo to “silence” him, has served as the housing committee’s vice chairman for the two terms.

“My constituents demand that I have a strong voice at the State House, and that voice does not mean that I’m loyal to the speaker, but that I’m loyal to them,” Holmes said.

Claire Parker can be reached at claire.parker@globe.com. Reach her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.