Two weeks from today, the Massachusetts Senate will have its third president in the span of eight months, capping off a tumultuous session for the chamber during which senators grappled with instability in the top ranks of its leadership.
Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat who is currently enmeshed in protracted negotiations with the House over a late fiscal 2019 budget, is expected to be elected Senate president by her colleagues on Thursday, July 26.
According to people familiar with the transition planning, the vote will take place at 1 p.m. when the Senate will pause what is normally a busy period of lawmaking in the waning days of the two-year session to inaugurate a new president.
Senate Democrats were informed of the transition plan on Wednesday during a private caucus. Spilka has invited friends, family and supporters from her district for the vote and ceremony where she will also deliver remarks, according to an advisor.
Spilka will take over from Chandler with just five days left on the formal legislating calendar. As chairwoman of the Ways and Means committee, she is intimately involved in almost all legislation moving through the Senate at the hectic end of session.
Currently serving on two conference committees – – one for the 12-day late state budget and the other a negotiation over short-term rental regulations – Spilka is not expected to relinquish those duties if both conferences are still active when she becomes president, according to an advisor.
She is also not planning to assign new chairmanships or reshuffle the leadership chart in any way before the next session begins in January, an aide told the News Service.
Sen. Joan, Lovely, a Salem Democrat and the vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, is expected to be the point person for the Senate on any legislation moving through the committee during informal sessions after July 31, but it is not expected that she will not take on the chairmanship title this year.
Spilka has also said that Chandler will remain “a valued member of my leadership team,” but what that means for this year and beyond is still unknown.
“The Senate has been a leader in the state in progressive values and progressive ideas and this will not change as the year goes forward under the leadership of all of us here working together,” Spilka said in March, listing social justice, economic justice, income inequality, education, civil rights, transportation, global climate change and net neutrality as issues she was interested in addressing.
She also pledged to continue a style that has come to be known in the Senate as “shared leadership,” a less top-down approach that empowers individual senators to help steer the policy direction of the branch.
“I think it’s important that we continue to build on the foundation, the groundwork that was laid. Out of that I believe the Senate and Massachusetts can continue to be a leader not only on policy in Massachusetts but on the nation and I think that’s very exciting for all of us to be a part of here,” she said.
The timing of the transition comes at an unusual point in the session, and will add another chapter to the unusual circumstances that the Senate has had to navigate over the past year.
Former Sen. Stanley Rosenberg resigned the presidency last December after just three years wielding the gavel amid allegations of sexual misconduct against his husband Bryon Hefner and an Ethics Committee investigation into whether he had enabled his husband’s alleged behavior.
The Senate turned to Harriette Chandler, a veteran Worcester Democrat and majority leader, to steady the ship, first making her interim president and then removing interim from her title altogether.
Chandler, however, made clear from the beginning that she had no intention of seeking the post-full-time, sparking a competition for votes among at least a handful of Senate members to lead the body for years to come.
By March, Spilka had sewn up the race and announced that she had the support of her colleagues to become the next Senate president. After an awkward period of negotiations between Chandler and Spilka, the two women agreed that the handoff would take place during the last full week of formal sessions.