BOSTON (State House News Service) – In addition to waiting to swear in two Democrats who won their elections via narrow recounts, House Democrats also moved Wednesday to keep in the office, at least for a bit longer, a Republican representative who lost one of those contests.
A special committee tasked with reviewing the returns of votes issued a report during the first session of the 2023-2024 term recommending that GOP Rep. Lenny Mirra of Georgetown continue to represent the Second Essex District until a final determination is made about the race’s winner.
The House, where Democrats hold a supermajority, adopted that report, keeping Mirra in place and leaving vacant another seat also decided by a tight recount under legal challenge.
Mirra has been fighting his one-vote recount loss in court, so far unsuccessfully, by arguing that some ballots should not have been counted or should have been counted differently. He said Thursday morning that he now expects that the three-member House panel, not a judge, will make the final decision about his fate.
“We’re confident that once the committee looks at these contested ballots, we’ll prevail,” Mirra told the News Service. “The understanding is the courts seem to think it’s not in their jurisdiction. The Constitution seems to support that at this point … It is in the jurisdiction of the House committee.”
Mirra said he did not take a formal oath of office Wednesday as the rest of the House did, and he added that he was instructed not to enter the House chamber for the formal swearing-in. He also said he believes he still has the full capabilities of a sitting lawmaker and could cast a vote should the chance arise.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano announced Tuesday evening that he would temporarily delay the inauguration of Mirra opponent Kristin Kassner of Hamilton and fellow Democrat Margaret Scarsdale, who won her race by seven votes following a recount. Scarsdale’s opponent, Republican Andrew Shepherd, also challenged the outcome in court, and a judge has not yet ruled in that case.
The Governor’s Council certified results in both recounts on Dec. 14.
Following Wednesday’s inaugural session, Mariano told reporters he has not given the special committee — whose members are Democrat Rep. Michael Day of Stoneham, Democrat Rep. Daniel Ryan of Charlestown, and House Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading — a deadline to complete its review of the recounts and legal challenges.
“I haven’t paid that much attention to the details of their cases, so we’re just following the law. They still had legal options. We don’t want to take an option away from anyone,” Mariano said. “We felt that everyone should have the opportunity to explore the full length of legal options that come with the decisions.”
None of the three lawmakers on the special committee could be immediately reached for comment Thursday morning.
Mirra initially appeared to secure a sixth term by a narrow margin of 10 votes over Kassner, a Democrat. Kassner filed for a district-wide recount, which led to an 11-vote swing that gave her victory by a single vote.
Mirra filed a lawsuit challenging some of the ballots, which an Essex Superior Court dismissed. When Mirra appealed the case, an Appeals Court judge declined to issue an injunction, and Supreme Judicial Court Justice Elspeth Cypher on Wednesday denied the five-term representative’s emergency petition to vacate the Appeals Court ruling.
Mirra said he does not see the case as closed, arguing that the decisions indicate the courts believe jurisdiction is with the House and not the judicial branch.
“We’re going to accept whatever the committee decides,” Mirra said, adding that he would “absolutely be open” to a new election.
In a statement Wednesday evening, Kassner said she was “disheartened” not to be sworn in alongside the rest of the House for the 2023-2024 term and argued that a lengthy delay will impact tens of thousands of constituents — many of whom are new to Mirra in the wake of the redistricting process.
“I truly hope the temporary delay to Examine the Returns is expeditious to ensure the Second Essex District representation. The deadline to file legislation is January 20, and it’s imperative that we meet that deadline,” Kassner said.
Her statement linked to the bill history for an American Rescue Plan Act bill the House debated in October 2021, which featured 1,131 amendments. Mirra did not file any amendments himself, though he co-sponsored several others.
“The incumbent did not participate in the Fall 2021 distribution of ARPA funds, and the district missed out on millions of federal funding. Inaction is not acceptable,” Kassner said. “That must not happen again.”