Ethics Report Isn’t An Indictment of Stan Rosenberg, But of the Senators Who Elected Him

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At the time he was elected president of the Massachusetts Senate, Stan Rosenberg had a long-term committed relationship with a man 38 years younger whom he believed to be mentally ill and addicted to alcohol and who had a tendency to text pornographic images of men and make sexually offensive comments to other people.

This is the sort of summation of the Massachusetts Senate ethics committee’s 77-page report you aren’t likely to see elsewhere, and it’s a good reason to see the report not so much as a condemnation of Bryon Hefner (now dealing with criminal charges for purportedly sexually assaulting several men with business on Beacon Hill), and not so much as a rebuke of soon-to-be-ex-senator Rosenberg, who provided Hefner unfettered access to his official email account and apparently managed not to know about Hefner’s conduct when plenty of other people on Beacon Hill knew about it.

Read properly, the report is a rebuke of the Massachusetts Senate.

State senators like Stan Rosenberg, whom they describe as a kind and decent man; and they like his management style, which was more open than his immediate predecessors’. Yet the Senate President has extraordinary power. He shapes laws that affect the rest of us as few other people can. And to wield that extraordinary power, senators three years ago chose someone whose judgment was addled.

But it’s not just after the fact that we know Rosenberg’s judgment was missing. Senators knew it at the time, because they knew Hefner, who had been Rosenberg’s “romantic partner” (as the report puts it) since September 2008, more than six years before Rosenberg was elected Senate President in January 2015. (In September 2016, Rosenberg made the relationship official by entering into a civil-law marriage with Hefner.)

The report blames Rosenberg for failing to keep the “firewall” he promised state senators he would erect between Hefner and Senate business before they elected him president. That’s true. He didn’t.

But why did state senators believe he would, or even could?

While we’re on the subject of the judgment of Massachusetts state senators, let’s consider the report itself.

Produced by a national law firm with a Boston office, the report is competent and well written and provides most of the information readers would want to know about this case.

Yet it doesn’t provide all that much that wasn’t known before it was commissioned in December. (Thanks to The Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham, we all knew that Hefner had sexually assaulted several men with business with the state Legislature and that he had flaunted his connections to Rosenberg’s power. That’s why the report was commissioned in the first place.)

The report didn’t find that Rosenberg violated any laws or even that he clearly violated rules of the Senate. (He apparently violated some policies of the Senate, which are somewhat different.)

Yet what we knew last fall was enough to conclude that Stan Rosenberg shouldn’t be president of the Massachusetts Senate and shouldn’t remain a state senator.

His resignation from the Senate, effective at 5 p.m. today, brings his political career to an official conclusion.

But it was easy to see his eventual resignation as the necessary outcome nearly five months ago, before the ethics investigation got going.

Yet the Senate’s Committee on Ethics still managed to spend $230,000 on the report, as New Boston Post reported yesterday.

Where did the senators get the money? From “existing Senate funds.”

Where do those come from?

Why, from you.

Do you think your money was well spent?