Did Carlos Henriquez Really Need To Go?

The vote to expel Henriquez from the House comes as no surprise, but it might not have been necessary.

Thursday afternoon the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted to expel Carlos Henriquez. It comes as no surprise, and I can’t really fault them; but I’m also not sure it was really necessary.

I do think Henriquez should have resigned upon being convicted and jailed on misdemeanor charges of assault against a woman. I am sympathetic to his attempt to clear his name through the judicial system, and to some of his claims regarding the process that has led to his conviction. But he seems to feel that resigning would be an admission of guilt, and I would argue that he could have, and should have, separated the two by his actions. That is, he could have made clear that he was resigning to focus on his own personal search for justice. That would have left an avenue open for his return to public life, if and when his own circumstances permit.

But that was his choice, for good or ill. The question then went to the House members of whether to take the historically rare step of stripping him of office.

I understand the impulse to make a moral statement that the House will not countenance a convicted woman-beater in their midst. But they could have voted to send that statement via censure (as 10 of them did). Was it really necessary to take the extreme step of intervening in the democratic process to remove Henriquez from his elected office?

It’s not as if he posed any sort of direct threat to the august body. Henriquez had not been caught selling his vote or influence.

Lawmakers voting to expel made much of Henriquez’s limited ability to represent his constituents for the six months of his incarceration. That concern rings hollow to me. For one thing, it is the expulsion itself that will leave the district without representation for several months—and frankly, if it wasn’t for the fact that they are making this argument, it’s likely that an open seat at this point would be left open through the end of the year. Seats opened by resignation have been left open longer. Seats are left open for months at a stretch all the time—we’ve got several examples in Suffolk County right now. There have been, at times, lawmakers too ill to travel to Beacon Hill for lengthy stretches. Somehow, we have all survived without recourse to extraordinary measures.

The point is, the way our system works is that the people are ultimately sovereign. The way we (hope to) ensure that our public officials do well and behave well is by forcing them to face their constituents with some frequency. Superseding that is occasionally made necessary, but—despite my revulsion at what he has been convicted of doing—I’m just not sure that this rises to that level. Henriquez’s constituents, in his overwhelmingly Democratic district, were going to get to decide his fate in seven months at the September primary. Is that really so long to wait?

All that said, I can’t say I’m much bothered by the expulsion. I have little sympathy for Henriquez’s desire to remain in office at this point, and see no reason for his colleagues to show him any. I just wonder if it was a little more about making themselves feel good, rather than doing what was really necessary.