Even William Lantigua eventually did the right thing.
When the infamous politician was elected mayor of Lawrence in 2009, he refused to leave his seat as state representative, arguing that voters had elected him to both positions. For about a month, in early 2010, the Democrat held onto the two jobs, until he resigned from the State House following public outcry and pressure from the party and then-Governor Deval Patrick.
It is not illegal in Massachusetts to serve dual office-holding roles. But just because lawmakers can doesn’t mean they should. This message is completely lost on state representative Paul Heroux, who was elected mayor of Attleboro earlier this month. He announced last week that he, too, plans to keep his seat in the House for the remaining 14 months of his term while also serving as mayor.
Such dual-office tensions deserve a clear prescription: legislation that bans the practice, or at least clearer standards for the jobs politicians are allowed to hold simultaneously. Otherwise, voters will face various rationalizations of the kind Heroux has offered.
Heroux has said he wants to see his legislative priorities passed before leaving Beacon Hill. He then said he’d try doing both jobs, and if they prove to be too much, he can always resign later. On a Facebook post, he wrote: “It’s an honorable thing to try and finish the projects I started and . . . not just abandon them.”
A noble sentiment, sure. Yet, keeping his seat in the Legislature doesn’t guarantee that Heroux’s bills — including one directing the Department of Correction to measure whether its programs reduce recidivism, and another that would ban smoking in cars with young children — are going to pass. And Heroux can exert just as much pressure from the outside as mayor.
After facing criticism, Heroux defended himself, arguing he was always upfront with voters during the campaign about his intentions to double-dip and why. He said he’s not driven by money, and that he will donate his Beacon Hill salary. “The number of voters who understood that that was the plan and understood the tradeoff between these two jobs is probably very minimal,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.
Heroux also said he wants to complete his full term as state legislator so that the Democratic candidate running to replace him gets a fair shot. That’s just gaming the system. House Republicans told reporters on Thursday that they plan to file legislation before Thanksgiving that would force Heroux to choose between the two jobs.
It is probably true that there would be higher voter turnout at a regular election than there would be in a special election for Heroux’s seat. Special elections are not perfect, but that’s no excuse for Heroux not to step down as state representative in a timely manner.