BOSTON - Sen. Bruce Tarr easily won another term as leader of the state Senate's minority Republican caucus on Wednesday, as a new crop of lawmakers were sworn into office for a two-year session.
Tarr, 51, of Gloucester, has served 20 years in the Senate representing his hometown and several other communities in Essex and Middlesex counties, including two terms as minority leader. He faced no opposition in the Nov. 4 elections.
"We're going to continue to bring honest, respectful and fair debate to the Senate chamber, " he said in an interview at the Statehouse. "We're going to find common ground when that is possible and when it's not we will respectfully disagree."
Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat, was elected Senate president, replacing Democrat Therese Murray, who decided not to seek reelection, while House Speaker Robert DeLeo, a Winthrop Democrat, was reelected to the top post for a fourth term. Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers.
In his speech, DeLeo ticked off a list of accomplishments by the previous Legislature, including raising the minimum wage, gun control and domestic violence legislation. He didn't make any policy statements but acknowledged that the state faces challenges.
"This year promises to be once again filled with many challenges," he said. "But I'm confident that despite some of the disagreements we may have that we are going to come together and solve any of the issues that may come before us."
While they remain a distant minority, Republicans picked up two seats in the state Senate in November – Ryan Fattman of Webster and Vinny DeMacedo of Plymouth – and now hold six of 40 seats. They also added nine new members in the House of Representatives, expanding their presence to 35 of 160 seats.
Republican lawmakers are also emboldened by incoming Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican who takes office on Thursday and returns the Statehouse's corner office to the GOP for the first time in nearly a decade.
"It changes the dynamic because there will be a strong Republican voice at the table," Tarr said in an interview. "The last word on legislation will be the governor."
House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican, won another term as despite talk of challenges to his tenure from other House Republicans.
“There can be no doubt that as we assemble here today, our top priorities must be a stronger economic recovery, fiscal responsibility, and transforming the way we operate as a government and provide services to our citizens," Jones said in a speech on the House floor.
Among the newly elected House Republicans is James Kelcourse of Amesbury, who narrowly edged out Democrat Ed Cameron by 12 votes in a recount for the seat held by Democrat Michael Costello for 11 years.
Meanwhile, Democrat Barbara L’Italien was sworn in as the new state senator representing Lawrence, Andover, Dracut and Tewksbury. L’Italien, a former state representative from Andover, won the seat previously held by Democrat Barry Finegold, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in November.
Other newly elected lawmakers sworn in Wednesday included Rep. Paul Tucker, a Democrat and former Salem police chief who won former Rep. John Kennan’s House seat in November after trouncing Libertarian Daniel Morris.
First order of business for the newly sworn-in Legislature will be trying to figure out how to offset a mid-year budget shortfall that some economists predict could grow to upwards of $750 million.