Former Rep. Carlos Henriquez may be the latest member of the Massachusetts Legislature booted out of office by his colleagues, but he certainly is not the first.
That "honor" belongs to Rep. Joseph Hiss of Boston, who in 1855 became the first member of the Massachusetts Legislature to be expelled from office. In between Hiss and Henriquez, a third state representative was ousted 100 years ago.
Little did Hiss know at the time that his ouster would lead to an historic Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling 160 years ago, since upheld, that confirmed the authority of the Legislature to police the behavior of its members, as well as to kick members out if warranted.
What did Hiss do to become the first man to get kicked out of the House? By today's standards, not much. But by the standards of still-Puritan Massachusetts, quite a bit. I researched it some years ago.
Back then Hiss, who was something of a man about town, was a member of the Legislature's Nunnery Committee, which apparently had jurisdiction over Roman Catholic convents. In that capacity Hiss and fellow committee members visited the "city" of Roxbury, Worcester and Lowell in what we would call today a fact-finding mission, or a junket.
Testimony from witnesses before a committee that later investigated Hiss' behavior implied that Hiss was a playboy who was not averse to living the good life, as well as having a drink or two -- all at state expense, of course.
The original report of that investigative committee, written in longhand and stored in the state archives, said that on a visit to the academy of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Roxbury by Hiss and his six-member committee, Hiss struck up a conversation with a Roman Catholic nun and asked her if she wanted to "go out in the world."
"He then wanted to know if I wanted to go to Montreal and I said that I would not," the nun testified.
That evening Hiss and his committee went to dinner at the Norfolk House in Roxbury "where they consumed wine which was paid for by the state," the investigative committee reported. "The dinner at the Norfolk House was an expensive one and wine was furnished. We by no means approve of the practice of legislative committees making use of intoxicating drinks at the expense of the Commonwealth," the report said.
But the Hiss "scandal" did not really get rolling until he and his Nunnery Committee went to Lowell, where Hiss was seen talking to a couple of strange women as soon as he got off the train.
When Hiss registered at the Washington House, he added the name of a "Mrs. Patterson" to the list of the committee members who were staying over. The report said that Hiss told the hotel clerk that "a lady will arrive here for whom I wish you to provide a good room as she is one of our party."
Mrs. Patterson, needless to say, was not a member of the committee.
Mrs. Patterson was given Room 12. Hiss had Room 13. The report noted that at dinner time Hiss told the cook that Mrs. Patterson was having dinner in her room, which she apparently did, since no one saw her come down until the next day.
The key witness in the Hiss scandal was Mrs. Carpenter, the chambermaid, who saw Mrs. Patterson at 8 p.m. in her nightgown getting ready for bed.
The next morning, Mrs. Carpenter testified, she went to make the beds in Rooms 12 and 13. She told shocked members of the committee that Mrs. Patterson's bed "had the used appearance of having been occupied by two persons."
The investigating committee report said, "She judged that a man and a woman had used the bed that night and she had no doubt that being the case." And who would know better than the chambermaid?
Adding to the devastating testimony against poor Hiss was Mrs. Carpenter, who in additional testimony, said that "Room Number 13 (Hiss' room) had no appearance of being used."
The committee concluded in its report that "Room Number 12 was occupied by two persons that night," Hiss and Patterson.
Adding insult to injury to the hapless Hiss was the committee's conclusion that Hiss had paid for Mrs. Patterson's room with state funds, $1.25, "proving she being at that place with his knowledge." The total bill for the Lowell junket came to a whopping $18.75.
So they threw poor Rep. Hiss out of the House.
Today they'd elect him speaker.
Peter Lucas' political column appears Tuesday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.