Change of GOP leaders in state's House

REPUBLICAN lawmakers have a new leadership team in the Massachusetts House. It certainly bears watching. Steven D. Pierce, the new GOP floor leader in the lower legislative chamber, is far from a carbon copy or younger edition of his predecessor, William G. Robinson.

Representative Pierce, who looks more like a professor than a politician, has proved himself one of the legislature's most articulate debaters over the past eight years. He does his homework and has earned the respect of the opposition.

While it is questionable how much clout Mr. Pierce and his 32 GOP colleagues will have in an overwhelmingly Democratic House, they could hardly win fewer debates than in the past few years.

Obviously the minority leader cannot be up leading the charge for or against each measure.

Instead he seems likely to concentrate on some of the more significant and controversial proposals, where a different viewpoint might be useful.

Although very much a Republican, the new GOP House leader clearly has no intention of opposing legislation just because it comes from the Democrats.

Nor is it his style to get up continually, with essentially the same arguments, which in the past has often seemed only to prolong debate without changing a single vote.

As assistant Republican House floor leader, during the past four years under the Robinson regime, Pierce was successful in winning support for changes in the Democratic-sponsored educational-reform package.

The Westfield Republican's elevation to the top House GOP post seemed almost certain from the moment last winter that Mr. Robinson announced he would not seek reelection.

But Pierce raised more than a few political eyebrows last week when he chose his three assistants.

Rep. Kevin Poirier, a sixth-term lawmaker from North Attleboro, became the No. 2 House Republican. Reps. Lucille D. Hicke of Wayland and Mary Jane McKenna of Holden were chosen as whip and assistant whip.

In the process the new Republican House floor leader made a bit of Bay State political history. This is the first time two women have held half of the top leadership rungs in either party in either chamber.

Rep. Mary Jane Gibson of Belmont is the assistant Democratic House whip, and Sen. Anna P. Buckley of Brockton holds a similar Democratic leadership spot in the Senate. Republicans in the upper legislative chamber continue with an all-male high command.

In shaping his team, Pierce passed over several colleagues with more seniority, including Reps. Iris K. Holland of Longmeadow and Charles W. Mann of Hanson, both of whom served with him in the Robinson regime.

Mrs. Holland, a member of the House since 1973, and Mr. Mann, a seventh-term lawmaker, no doubt would gladly have stayed on had they been asked. Besides some small measure of political prestige, at least in their party, the top four House GOP rungs provide extra pay.

Contributing to the Mann demotion could well have been his close personal friendship with Houser Speaker George Keverian (D) of Everett.

Some observers note that despite their political differences, it was awkward for a member of the Republican House leadership to be close to the chamber's opposition party leader and commander in chief. The Keverian-Mann friendship goes back to their days when they both were obscure freshmen legislators.

In fairness to Mann, however, this never seemed to be a problem and in debate he frequently found himself on the opposite side of the Speaker. Certainly the Mann roll-call record has been very much that of a Republican and the conservative that he is.

If nothing else, the new House Republican leadership team has more geographical balance than any in the past, in either party, in either chamber. Pierce, a graduate of Union College and Duke University Law School, is the highest-ranking legislator from western Massachusetts. Mr. Poirier is from the southeastern part of the state; Mrs. McKenna, from the center section; and Mrs. Hicks, from Greater Boston.

The House Democratic leadership, headed by Speaker Keverian and the Senate Democratic leadership headed by President William M. Bulger (D) of Boston, and the Senate GOP high command, under longtime minority leader John F. Parker (R) of Taunton, remain the same as during the 1985-86 lawmaking session.

A major Pierce goal is to focus on offering ``innovative and constructive'' proposals, instead of the all-too-familiar opposition for opposition's sake from the minority party.

He also aims to improve his party's role in the House as a ``watchdog of the state's executive branch.''

The new House minority leader may also be working more closely on legislative agenda matters with his Senate counterpart. As desirable as such Republican Party teamwork in the two lawmaking chambers might seem, there was little evidence of it over the past decade or so.

That could well have diminished opportunities for building a perhaps more constructive or effective opposition strategy.

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