Coming off negotiations for the state’s health care reform law in 2006, Rep. Ron Mariano explored the possibility of becoming House speaker. But before he could launch a campaign, a battle for speaker was already brewing between Robert DeLeo, then-House Ways and Means chair, and Majority Leader John Rogers.
The speaker at the time, Sal DiMasi, hadn’t even acknowledged he would step down and would stave off leaving until early 2009. Still, Mariano changed course and backed DeLeo as DiMasi’s successor.
“In all honesty, it didn’t last all that long,” Mariano, 74, said in an interview with MassLive. “I never got into this with the intention of being the speaker. It was an opportunity that was presented to me at the time.”
Twelve years later, the opportunity presented itself again as DeLeo confirmed reports he was leaving to seek a job at Northeastern University. Mariano, now the majority leader, is poised to become the next House speaker at Wednesday’s election.
The Quincy Democrat would start his tenure as speaker with a re-election at the start of the new legislative session in January, but assuming he wins twice, he listed community hospitals and offshore wind as major priorities for his first session as speaker.
“I am frustrated that I lost a community hospital, and community hospitals are needed,” Mariano said. “Not everyone can go to Partners [Mass General Brigham].”
In 2014, Quincy and North Adams lost community hospitals within months of each other. The closure of Quincy Medical Center made Quincy the largest Massachusetts city without an ER, the Patriot Ledger reported at the time. Berkshire Health Systems was forced by a court order to reopen the North Adams emergency room after a court order, but the facility in town isn’t a full-service hospital.
“They’re usually the largest employer, and they’re the economic engine of the gateway city, usually,” Mariano said of community hospitals, “and when we lose one it really sets the city back.”
The telehealth bill lawmakers sent to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk included a provision giving certain community hospitals that serve low-income patients higher monthly Medicaid payments for two years. Mariano was one of the lawmakers on the conference committee negotiating the final proposal.
While lawmakers are still negotiating a deal on a climate change bill, Mariano said he would like to see more emphasis on offshore wind energy in the next legislative session.
”I think it’s the clean energy of the future. We are located in a great spot,” he said. “We have very high prevailing winds off the coast of New Bedford and Fall River. We should be using those to our advantage.”
First elected in 1991, Mariano worked on multiple health care and financial bills, including the landmark health care reform law of 2006. He led the Financial Services Committee before being promoted to assistant majority leader and then majority leader under DeLeo. As majority leader, he struck deals with lawmakers across the state on casinos, marijuana, health care and transportation.
Under DeLeo, House leadership became known for its closed-door deals and control over what bills advanced in the Legislature. As DeLeo’s second in command and a key dealmaker, Mariano has received criticism in recent weeks from progressives who say he wouldn’t go far enough to pass reforms with a Democratic supermajority.
While progressive lawmakers mainly Mariano, progressive advocates supported Rep. Russell Holmes. The Mattapan Democrat briefly challenged Mariano’s run for speaker on the basis that Mariano was the latest white man to be all but guaranteed the slot.
Mariano said he didn’t agree with the criticisms about structural racism, but would have an “open door” as speaker.
“I think people don’t give me enough credit for being a listener and having an open mind. I get locked into a stereotype that I think is unfair,” he said. “I have an open door and will listen to anyone who has an idea and, if the idea makes sense and they can convince me that it’s doable, I can usually be supportive.”
Holmes gave several reasons for dropping his bid for speaker – mainly, he didn’t have the votes – but said he would still push for a more diverse House leadership team and other changes to promote equity on Beacon Hill.
When asked about diversifying House leadership, Mariano said he wanted House leadership to reflect the diversity of the body but that getting lawmakers with different viewpoints is key to getting bills passed.
“People perceive different issues differently. Obviously Russell received the police bill quite different than some of the Western Mass. representatives and you need that diversity of opinion to get to a point where you get to yes,” Mariano said. “So you want as many opinions in the room as you can muster.”