Senate Democrats on Wednesday made the best of a difficult situation, deciding to keep acting president Harriette Chandler in that post as full president until next year, at which point the newly elected Senate will select a new leader. Chandler has pledged she won’t be a contestant.
With that decision behind them, over the next 11 months senators should elevate the leadership-selection process to ensure they get the best person for the job. The Senate presidency, after all, is a powerful post, one that in many ways carries the prominence and prestige of a statewide office. That being the case, the leadership contest shouldn’t be just another behind-the-scenes campaign of promises, deals, handshakes, and winks, but rather one that asks the various aspirants to outline their priorities and describe the leadership style they would pursue if elected Senate president.
In the early jockeying, no candidate has seemed particularly prepossessing. A longer gestation period, with more scrutiny and a detailed explanation of how each prospective president would run the Senate, makes it more likely a thoughtful, high-minded consensus leader will emerge. After all, one of former president Stan Rosenberg’s most appreciated accomplishments has been the “shared leadership” process that has pushed considerable policy-making authority down to the committees, empowering individual members. That’s a stark change from the way the Senate has traditionally operated, with the president and his or her leadership team — and particularly the Ways and Means Committee chairman — determining not just the policy direction, but most of the specifics. Although it’s now unlikely that the embattled Rosenberg will return to the presidency, his democratizing changes should endure.
The change in Chandler’s status and tenure came as a result of heightened concern about the situation with Rosenberg, who in December took a leadership leave while the Senate Ethics Committee investigated whether he had violated any Senate rules in connection with the controversies that surround his husband, Bryon Hefner.
That investigation came after the Globe’s Yvonne Abraham reported that several men have accused Hefner of sexual assault and harassment. Hefner had reportedly boasted of his political clout with Rosenberg and made it seem as though he was very involved with Senate decisions, leaving his victims fearful of retaliation if they reported Hefner’s sexual misconduct. Rosenberg, who before taking office had promised his colleagues he would institute a “firewall” to keep his troubled partner out of Senate business, has insisted Hefner had no influence over his Senate actions. On Sunday, however, Abraham reported that Hefner had full access to Rosenberg’s Senate e-mails, that he instructed and scolded Rosenberg’s staff via text, and that he lobbied other senate offices on a budget amendment.
Although Rosenberg claims the story “contains a number of significant factual inaccuracies,” he has notably failed to specify any. A spokesman says that’s because he wants to respect the Ethics Committee investigation. That’s his prerogative, certainly, though he is not constrained from speaking publicly if he chose. That investigation should go forward in a thorough and methodical way.
The last two months have been difficult for senators. But if they move forward in a thoughtful and deliberative way, with a leadership-selection process focused on what’s best for the body as a whole, the Senate can emerge from this period in a better place.