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Two Berkshire representatives get leadership posts


The Berkshire Beacon

Monday, February 25, 2013

Two sophomore Berkshire state representatives have begun the slow climb up the House of Representatives leadership ladder, each having been appointed a committee vice chair.

Rep. Paul W. Mark (D-Peru) has been named vice chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education. He was also appointed a member of committees dealing with the environment, natural resources and agriculture and tourism, arts and culture.

Rep. Gailanne M. Cariddi (D-North Adams) is the new vice chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government and will also serve with Mark on the environment committee, as well as on the transportation committee.  Both legislators were first elected in 2010.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced his committee and leadership appointments last week, one week after Senate President Therese Murray made public her leadership team for the state Senate.

As detailed in last week’s Spotlight, Sen. Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) continues as chairman of two Senate committees- telecommunications, utilities and energy and bills in third reading- along with membership on a half dozen other committees and caucuses.

Just as in the state Senate, the state House of Representatives is controlled by a large Democratic majority and Democrats hold all leadership positions and committee chairmanships.

A significant difference between the two houses, however, is that in the 40-member Senate, there are more leadership positions than Democratic senators, so every Democratic senator gets at least one chairmanship and several senators hold multiple leadership positions.

House is four times larger

But in the House, where there are roughly the same number of leadership posts but four times the number of legislators vying for them, there are not enough of these positions to go around for each Democrat. So, competition for a leadership post – which carries extra responsibility and prestige, and sometimes extra pay – is a little stiffer than in the Senate.

The rank and file members in both houses, with few exceptions, have little influence on broad-based public policy.

The third member of the Berkshire delegation, Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield) was first elected at a special election in 2011 and, like her House colleagues, she was re-elected in 2012.  Too new to be selected for leadership, she did get appointed to four different committees covering children and families, consumer protection, health care financing and climate change.

Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox) rounds out the delegation. First elected in 2002, Pignatelli is a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee, and also holds memberships on the higher education committee and tourism and arts committee, in both cases with his Berkshire colleague Mark.

It’s good for Berkshire County that two of its newest representatives have received vice-chairmanships. Even though second-in-command on these two committees doesn’t come with a lot of influence, it shows that Cariddi and Mark are recognized by DeLeo and his senior leadership as smart legislators and good team players.  Their ability to move up the food chain every session or two can make them more successful and productive legislators.

But the members of the Berkshire House delegation, with the exception of Pignatelli, are just starting their legislative careers, and it usually takes a few terms to gain the stature to really get things done.

And seniority alone won’t do it. A rep has to cultivate a good relationship with the House speaker, in addition to being smart and, of course, getting re-elected.

It will be some time before any of the current local reps get that much influence. And some may never get there at all.