House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, trying to quell months of palace intrigue and jockeying within his leadership circle, is threatening to remove his majority leader, John H. Rogers, and send him to the back benches if the Norwood Democrat does not stop soliciting votes to succeed him, House leadership sources said yesterday.
DiMasi plans to meet with Rogers as early as today to present the majority leader with an option: Either shut down his campaign for speaker, or face a special Democratic caucus where DiMasi will seek Rogers's removal and install a reorganized leadership team.
The speaker is seeking to put to rest rumors that he will leave his post shortly, and wants Rogers to stop his organizing, which DiMasi views as a distraction at a time when the House faces myriad complex and large legislative proposals, from Governor Deval Patrick's casino proposal to education and transportation overhauls.
The confrontation could well set in motion a protracted internecine battle at the top levels of the House leadership. The only time in recent memory that a speaker has moved against a majority leader was in 1983 when House Speaker Thomas W. McGee removed his number two leader, George Keverian. After a disruptive, yearlong fight, Keverian, running on a rules reform platform, ousted McGee.
Neither DiMasi nor Rogers would comment yesterday. Rogers's supporters said the majority leader is not seeking to overthrow DiMasi but would probably rally his supporters to resist any move to force him out, setting up a high-stakes political drama that could create sharp political divisions in the House. DiMasi would probably prevail, but the fight would create a center of opposition, something the speaker has not faced in his three years in office.
To justify such a potentially dramatic shake-up at the top levels of his leadership team, DiMasi is telling colleagues that Rogers, a 43-year old Norwood Democrat, has ignored his three other warnings to stop his solicitations for votes among their House colleagues, said House leadership sources. The last warning came a week before Christmas, when DiMasi warned Rogers that he is responsible for any activities by his supporters to round up votes.
"The speaker told Rogers in no uncertain terms that he would be held accountable for his people and what they were doing, as well as himself," said a senior House source who has worked with DiMasi on the issue.
DiMasi feels that the maneuvering by Rogers and others has undermined him as speaker and has been a major distraction for the House. He has argued that it has undercut his leadership by threatening to make him out to be a lame-duck speaker and hobbling his efforts to pursue his agenda.
Rogers's supporters, most of whom did not want to speak in detail or for the record, said they were perplexed by DiMasi's tough position. They said they want a "level playing field" in the jockeying among various House factions battling over succession.
"John Rogers has been loyal to the speaker," said Representative Paul Kujawski, a Democrat from Webster and close Rogers ally. "He has also been loyal to the House as an institution."
Last fall, as rumors swirled through the State House that he would leave soon, DiMasi moved to shut down the jockeying among potential rivals for his post, telling Rogers, Ways and Means Committee chairman Robert A. DeLeo of Winthrop, and Representative Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, to cease their campaigns. DiMasi insists he is not leaving the Legislature anytime soon and points to his plans to bring a national conference of legislative speakers to Boston in the next several years.
According to sources in the House leadership, DiMasi is satisfied that DeLeo and Mariano had halted their campaigns, but believes Rogers has still been active.
Rogers is telling his supporters that he will abide by DiMasi's orders to cease organizing, but only when he is convinced his rivals have also stopped soliciting support from fellow Democratic members. His supporters are worried that Rogers could cripple his bid for the speakership if he shuts down his solicitation of votes. Some of them, who did not want to speak for the record, said they are convinced DiMasi is trying to pave the way for DeLeo, a close friend, to take over as speaker.
Rogers was always a rival to DiMasi when the two served under former House speaker Thomas M. Finneran - Rogers as Ways and Means Committee chairman and DiMasi as majority leader. They agreed to a deal brokered by Finneran in September 2004, that Rogers would take the post of majority leader and DiMasi would become speaker. Rogers supporters insist the understanding in that agreement is that he would take over when DiMasi stepped down.