BOSTON – After being elected to lead the House of Representatives for the second time in about a week, Speaker Ronald Mariano sketched a rough outline of the agenda the House brings into the 192nd General Court and reiterated his pledge to make his leadership team reflective of the increasing diversity in the House.
The speaker began the new legislative session by holding a moment of silence for the more than 12,000 Bay Staters who have died of COVID-19 and then made clear in his speech that the ongoing pandemic, efforts to vaccinate residents against the coronavirus, and measures to help people and businesses affected by the pandemic will loom large in most all matters the House considers.
“We find ourselves in a moment of reckoning and before we can build a stronger Massachusetts, we must first meet the basic needs of each resident during this time of crisis,” he said.
Mariano said the House’s “ongoing task” is to monitor how the COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out and to support the state’s vaccination plan, which Mariano told a TV reporter last week that he had “no idea” how it was going. He said the House will need to make sure that businesses and especially restaurants “are getting enough support to weather these hard times” and that people who have lost their jobs during this recession “are given the benefits they need, and that the unemployment rate isn’t worsened by crushing labor costs on employers.”
The speaker also highlighted the expiration of the state eviction moratorium, which lapsed in October though a federal moratorium on some evictions remains through Jan. 31, and said the House under his leadership will “have to make sure our eviction diversion program is doing enough to keep people in their homes.”
And the former Quincy elementary school teacher said the House will need to support the students, teachers and parents coping with remote learning, but also voiced his support for expanding in-person learning.
“We need to get students back into the classroom. But when they do, we need to make sure they are prepared in their grade level and if they’re not, we have to provide the support systems to make sure they get there as quickly as possible,” he said. “These are just some of the challenges that we now face together in the House of Representatives and with our partners in the Senate.”
Mariano ascended to the speakership last week upon the resignation of Robert DeLeo, the longest-serving speaker in Massachusetts history, and the new House honcho picked up four votes of support since then. Last week, 123 members voted for Mariano as speaker and on Wednesday he was re-elected with 127 votes.
Rep. Russell Holmes was the only member to publicly contemplate challenging Mariano for the speakership and he suggested that the handoff of power from DeLeo to Marino, his top deputy for a decade, was evidence of structural racism on Beacon Hill. After his short candidacy, Holmes wound up nominating Mariano for the speakership in caucus, saying he hopes Mariano elevates more minority lawmakers into the ranks of leadership.
On Wednesday, Mariano pledged “that my leadership team will reflect the growing diversity of the body” though leadership positions and committee chairmanships are typically not doled out in the House until late January or February. Mariano said his Quincy district is a good example of the diversity of Massachusetts.
“Our diversity is our strength and it is celebrated. My district speaks more languages than I even knew existed — as a school committee member, I went into an elementary school and found out that there were 51 languages represented in that school. I didn’t know they were 51 different languages. My constituents worship at churches, mosques, and I have a Buddhist temple throughout my neighborhood,” he said. “In short, I grew up and live in a place that looks a lot like Massachusetts and America as a whole.”
With each new legislative session, Mariano said, the House gets “closer and closer to a body that is more representative of all the people of Massachusetts.” He said he is proud that the House that was seated Wednesday continues that progress.
“This representation matters as we continue to respond to the pandemic and build a recovery. The Legislature’s task is to make large-scale decisions touching every aspect of our society,” Mariano said. “Our job is a deliberative one. It’s a balancing act. That makes each of our voices important and it’s why open dialogue and relationships are so critical to our work here. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”