And so ends the Senate presidency of Stan Rosenberg.
That’s not the official line, of course.
At this point, Rosenberg is supposedly just surrendering the gavel for the duration of the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against his husband, Bryon Hefner.
But make no mistake, he is done.
When you step aside, you don’t step back, and Rosenberg knows as much.
“There is a clear recognition that returning is probably tough,” said one member of his inner circle.
He’s not the only one who knows. Although Rosenberg has been a popular president, Senate Democrats also realize it’s over. Indeed, almost since the revelations first broke about Hefner’s alleged behavior, three senators have been phoning around, trying to line up votes to become the next president.
Rosenberg originally hoped to weather the crisis by calling for the Senate to hire an investigator and putting majority leader Harriette Chandler in charge of overseeing it. He announced that move on Friday. But it quickly became obvious that having a member of his leadership team in charge of an investigation that dealt with both his husband’s conduct and whether Hefner had any political influence on Rosenberg simply wasn’t tenable.
Rosenberg apparently hopes to stay on in some sort of important leadership position. As the Senate mulled all this Monday, it wasn’t immediately apparent whether they would agree. But it’s a distinct inside-the-building perspective to think that such an arrangement would pass muster. It would look like little more than an effort to keep more than a committee chairman’s salary so as to position himself for a higher pension, which is based on the top three years of pay.
Among senators, Rosenberg is well liked, but in the new era of zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual misbehavior by his husband had made it untenable for him to remain at the podium. As the Globe’s Yvonne Abraham documented in a meticulously reported account last week, four men had credibly said that Hefner had harassed them. Further, they had worried about coming forward to cooperate with an investigation if Rosenberg were to remain as president.
Rosenberg’s relationship with Hefner, a troubled man who apparently has an alcohol problem, was always a ticking time bomb for the Senate leader. Worries about Hefner’s erratic behavior had circulated widely among senators several years ago, prompting Rosenberg to promise to build a firewall between Hefner and his own official role.
It was a firewall that Hefner obviously had little interest in respecting. On Friday, Rosenberg insisted that Hefner had had no influence on his decisions as the Senate’s leader. That may well be true, but it’s also true that, as Abraham has written, the men he sexually harassed and assaulted thought otherwise.
As Rosenberg leaves under a cloud of Hefner’s creation, it’s worth noting that he does have a positive legacy as Senate president. His “shared leadership” model, in which he delegated large amounts of authority to the members to take the initiative in developing policy, was unlike anything we’ve seen in recent decades at the State House.
The Senate was actually starting to function the way a legislative body should, conducting listening tours to hear from voters and developing legislation in response, with committees taking real responsibility for crafting policy. It remained to be seen whether that model was up to the task of making the tough decisions that public policy makers sometimes must. Still, it had already rendered the Senate a much livelier and active chamber. For whoever emerges as the next Senate president, it’s a model worth preserving.
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