Editorial: Legislative delegation loses clout

  • The fall of Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, from the Senate presidency leaves his political future uncertain. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 2/15/2018 9:14:43 PM

The clout of Hampshire County’s legislative delegation took a powerful hit this week when longtime state representatives Stephen Kulik and John Scibak announced they are retiring after this year.

That follows Stanley Rosenberg’s departure from the Senate presidency in December under the cloud of an investigation of his husband Bryon Hefner, who is accused of sexual misconduct and claiming that he had influence in the Senate.

Rosenberg, of Amherst, became the first openly gay state senator to lead the chamber when he was elected president in January 2015. He also was the first state Senate president from western Massachusetts since Maurice Donahue of Holyoke left the post to run for governor in 1970. Rosenberg was re-elected in January 2017 to another two-year term as president.

However, he had served less than half that term when the Boston Globe reported that four men involved in state government accused Hefner of sexually assaulting and harassing them while claiming he had influence over Senate business. Rosenberg announced Dec. 4 that he was taking a leave from the presidency while the Senate Ethics Committee investigated the allegations against Hefner.

The Globe then reported earlier this month that Hefner may have been given access to Rosenberg’s Senate email account, contacts and calendar, despite Rosenberg’s promise to place a “firewall” between his professional and personal lives. That prompted the Senate to name Harriette Chandler, of Worcester, president for the remainder of this year.

Rosenberg’s stunning fall from one of three most powerful positions in the Statehouse — and leaving his role in setting the legislative agenda for the Senate — means a significant loss of political clout for the region.

Though Rosenberg has denied that Hefner had any influence over his actions or decisions as Senate president, his political future is uncertain. Rosenberg, who is running for re-election this year, has not said whether he would seek to regain the presidency if he is cleared of wrongdoing by the Ethics Committee.

It is clear that Kulik, of Worthington, and Scibak, of South Hadley, will not be on the ballot this year when all seats in the Legislature are up for election. The two men, who are both Democrats, have served a total of 41 years in the House of Representatives.

Their retirement means a loss of seniority for the Hampshire County delegation, which, among other things, plays a role in committee assignments, as well as the departure of two respected legislators who have been effective advocates for the interests of western Massachusetts.

Kulik, 67, has represented the 16 rural communities in the 1st Franklin District since 1993. Among those towns are Chesterfield, Cummington, Deerfield, Goshen, Huntington, Leverett, Middlefield, Plainfield, Shutesbury, Sunderland, Whately, Williamsburg and Worthington.

He has played a key role in shaping the state budget as vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, lobbied for money to address the concerns of rural communities and been a leader on issues including agriculture, energy and the environment.

Kulik said, “I have worked hard to increase awareness in state government of the unique challenges and needs faced by my constituents in matters like health care, transportation, school funding, broadband, economic development and human services.”

Scibak, 64, was first elected in 2002 to represent the 2nd Hampshire District, which is made up of Easthampton, Hadley, Precinct 2 in Granby and South Hadley.

He is chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education and has been an advocate for disabled people. Much of his work has focused on health care, including requiring health insurance providers to cover hearing aids for children and improving dental care for underserved populations.

The decisions by Kulik and Scibak not to seek re-election follow that of Ellen Story, of Amherst, who ended her nearly 25 years in the House when she did not run again in 2016. She was succeeded in the 3rd Hampshire District (Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby) by Solomon Goldstein-Rose, who became one of the state’s youngest legislators at age 23 when he took office a year ago.

We commend Kulik and Scibak for their long, meritorious service, and we look forward to lively campaigns to succeed them by candidates who we hope will focus on the issues of particular concern to the region.

This editorial was updated at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 16.

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