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State Rep. Arena-DeRosa explains why party caucus process remains in effect for town’s upcoming election

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Featured: News, News

In a statement released Wednesday, state Rep. James Arena-DeRosa announced that the party caucus process will remain in effect for May’s election because the home rule petition he filed late last year has not yet been passed by the Legislature.

At November’s Special Town Meeting, Article 2 passed by 31 votes, ending the process of political caucuses being able to nominate candidates. Hopkinton was one of only 16 towns in Massachusetts that still used the party caucus system. The article was proposed by residents John Cardillo and Ed Harrow also eliminated party designation on town election ballots.

The next step for state approval was the filing of a home rule petition by Arena-DeRosa, which he filed as H. 4203 on Nov. 21, according to the mass.gov website. But he learned that even home rule petitions that are not considered contentious can take many months to navigate their way through the legislative process.

“I have had communication with the chair and vice chairs of election laws,” Arena-DeRosa shared in an email to the Independent Wednesday morning. He represents the 8th Middlesex District, which consists of the towns of Hopkinton, Holliston and Sherborn as well as Millis Precincts 2 and 3.

Arena-DeRosa said in an interview on Feb. 16 that the legislation “has favorable support in converations that I have had with House colleagues,”

But at this time, “the same process for ballot access that has been in place will likely be in effect for 2024. This means that parties, if they so choose, can caucus to nominate candidates.”

The bill currently sits with a joint committee on election laws. It needs to have a committee hearing before it moves to the House for a vote. If the House were to approve it, it then would move to the Senate, and, if approved, eventually to the governor. [Editor’s note: The last two paragraphs have been updated to more accurately explain where the bill stands.]

“This bill is a priority for Senate President [Karen] Spilka,” a Spilka spokesperson shared via email. “The bill remains in joint committee, and the House must act first on the bill. As soon as the House sends it to the Senate, we will act on it without delay.”

Arena-DeRosa added that candidates should check with Town Clerk Connor Degan about Hopkinton’s ballot requirements and deadlines. They can also contact him if they have questions.

“One thing I have learned however is that home rules — even when things go well — can take over a year to pass,” Arena-DeRosa continued. “I expect the legislation to ultimately pass and be signed by the governor — but not for this spring election cycle. I was asked if this was an “emergency” (to take the bill out of order) but given many pressing state issues, I felt that we could wait our turn.”

In hindsight, he said the petition should have been given an effective date of 2025 given the time needed to plan for elections and ensure time for the bill’s passage.

The caucuses still being effective for this town election cycle “might be helpful for filling open slots late in the recruitment process,” according to Arena-DeRosa. “That said, candidates who already know they are running, even if there is a caucus process, might want to consider also getting the signatures as a good-faith gesture since that will likely be the only path to the local ballot in 2025.”

In a conversation with the Independent on Wednesday, Degan clarified that the party designation “will only appear on the ballot if the caucuses nominate candidates.”

“We are currently operating under the exact same rules that we operated under in the year prior,” he said.

An example of a similar situation, Degan said, was when the Select Board changed its name from the Board of Selectmen. The call for a name change was raised in 2018.

“It took over a year for that home rule petition to get passed by the Legislature,” Degan said. “Some Select Board members were saying, ‘You made a mistake on the ballot.’ But the ballot still said Board of Selectmen because the Legislature hadn’t passed it yet.”

In the case of the caucus issue, Degan said that he immediately prepared the necessary language for the home rule petition after November’s Special Town Meeting. He forwarded it to Town Manager Norman Khumalo, the Select Board members and Arena-DeRosa.

“We got everything in as quickly as we could,” he explained. “We understood that it was submitted for the Special Town Meeting with the intent of getting it done before the next election. Unfortunately, there are so many extra steps that sometimes it takes longer.

“We know that this is opposite of what people clearly voted for,” added Degan. “But there hasn’t been any traction in the Legislature. Committees don’t meet that often. It’s easy to get [home rule petitions] through once they are heard, but it is just that this is not deemed a high-ranking priority.”

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