Rep. Russell Holmes said Friday morning he intends to challenge Majority Leader Ron Mariano for control of the House if Speaker Robert DeLeo steps down, as expected, in the coming weeks, offering an alternative to DeLeo's top deputy and altering the course of what was shaping up to be a smooth leadership transition.
Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat and past leader of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said he made his decision Thursday night after speaking with Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, who told him she did not intend to run.
"I have been supportive of having a speaker's race to have a broad conversation about what the building would look like after DeLeo," Holmes told the News Service in an interview Friday morning. "At least we won't just roll over and hand over the speakership in another backroom deal like they did 12 years ago."
DeLeo is widely expected to announce soon that he intends to step down after 30 years in the House and 12 years as speaker. The Winthrop Democrat has not said anything about his plans, but reports and those close to him believe he will soon enter negotiations to join his alma mater Northeastern University.
If DeLeo does resign, people close to Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, have said he has the votes to succeed DeLeo. Holmes said he believes that might be true, based on calls he has made to colleagues, but intends to run nonetheless.
Holmes traced Mariano's ascension to the edge of the speaker's chair back to former Speaker Sal DiMasi, who put DeLeo in a position to succeed him before he resigned in 2009 ahead of his indictment on corruption charges. He said he sees the same thing happening now between Mariano and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz, a Mariano mentee who is expected to remain in the powerful budget-writing post if Mariano prevails.
"It's a pattern. It literally does not matter. Many of us have been elected since DiMasi, and still his corrupt poisonous tree still determines who the speaker is 15 years later. That's unacceptable to me. It's like none of us matter. This is what I call structural racism personified."
Holmes had been critical of DeLeo in the past, and lost a committee vice-chairmanship in 2017 after suggesting that the Black and Latino Caucus, the Women's Caucus and the Progressive Caucus should unite to help pick the next speaker, after Brian Dempsey resigned. Dempsey, a Haverhill Democrat and Ways and Means chairman at the time, was considered to be the speaker-in-waiting at the time.
Holmes said he would not be running if Haddad had decided to challenge for the speakership. Even if DeLeo does not step down now, Holmes said he will keep his name in the running for speaker in January.
As speaker, Holmes said, he would rein in stipends for leadership positions, which are wielded by the leader of the House and can be used as a tool to keep people in line. He has long advocated for a more equitable and transparent pay structure and process for assigning offices and other perks, and he said the House would be a place that encourages people to continue their careers outside the State House.
"We should bring our careers and life experience to politics. Not have politics be our careers," Holmes said.
He also said he would respect members who bring different perspectives than his from their districts to policy debates, and not retaliate against members who vote against his legislative priorities.
"We don't just come here and kowtow to you because you were appointed by some corrupt dude 12 years ago," Holmes said. "I hear many white people say, 'I don't know what structural racism is.' This is it. This is structural racism."
Holmes said he didn't know if he could put together a coalition to win the race for speaker. Based on calls he made Wednesday night, he said many legislators have already committed to Mariano after the leader has spent years lining up votes for the eventuality of DeLeo's exit.
"It will be difficult, but I believe in the power of prayer," Holmes said. "You never know how the Lord wants to bless us."