Rep. Birmingham criticized the redistricting plans for Massachusetts representation in Congress as being wrong, commenting that the Republicans seemed fearful that they would be buried under a rising tide of Democracy, during a May 25 address to the Pioneers in Lawrence (Boston Globe, May 26, 1931, p. 16).
Birmingham said he opposed splitting up of any city into two districts, such as had been proposed for Lawrence.
In addition, Birmingham said that the Old Age Pension bill should be put into effect in 1931. He said he favored a $1 per capita tax on men and women, although he would be willing to exempt women who were not employed.
Birmingham estimated that it would cost $1.5 million from the state to carry out the provisions of the bill this year. The $1 per capita tax on men would raise $1.25 million, he added.
Rep. Birmingham was reelected Democratic House floor leader on Jan. 7 by a vote of 68 to 26 in the Democratic caucus, defeating Rep. Paul Dever of Cambridge (Boston Globe, Jan. 7, 1931, p. 17).
After the votes were counted Dever moved to make the choice of Birmingham unanimous.
Birmingham was nominated by Rep. Charles F. Young of Wakefield and seconded by Rep. John P. Lyons of Brockton. Rep. Dever was nominated by Rep. Edward Kelley of Worcester and seconded by Rep. John P. Connolly of Boston.
The caucus was presided over by Rep. William P. Hickey of Boston, and Rep. Frank McFarland of Dorchester served as secretary.
Rep. Leverett Salstonstall was reelected House Speaker unanimously. Saltonstall was renominated in the Republican caucus by Rep. Thomas Bateman of Winchester an seconded by Rep. Henry Eastabrook of Fitchburg.
On April 4, Rep. Birmingham called a meeting of Democratic legislators from Boston to discuss the legislative program put forward by Boston Mayor Frederick Mansfield, but the lawmakers were unable to reach consensus (Boston Globe, April 5, 1934, pp. 1, 16).
As a result each member was left free to decide for himself whether to support or oppose the mayor’s legislative program, which includes authorizing the mayor to consolidate city departments without the approval of the city council.
The mayor’s program was contained in legislation before the Committee on Cities.
The mayor’s program included putting 1,800 Public Works Department per diem employees on a five-day pay basis, which would result in a pay cut from $27 on to $22.50 per week. The change would cut total salaries by 21 percent.
Under former Mayor Curley, the department workers were paid for six days for five and half days of work.
In addition, department employees on a yearly salary would be required to take a month’s leave of absence without pay to balance the situation, the paper reported.
After announcing the program, Mansfield traveled to New York to address a luncheon club on Wall Street. Acting mayor John Dowd, president of the city council, said he was opposed to Mayor Mansfield’s economy program.
Gov. Ely met Jan. 28 with the Democratic steering committee of Senate and House legislators to discuss the governor’s financial policy, particularly a bond issue he proposed to pay for unemployment relief. The committee assured the governor of its support (Boston Globe, Jan. 29, 1931, p. 11).
Rep. Birmingham said after the meeting with Ely:
“I am sure the rank and file of the citizens of the State believe that the recommendation of the Governor for a bond issue is a meritorious one, and I do not believe that most of the members of the Legislature, regardless of their party, will attempt to obstruct legislation which is to be so beneficial to so many people.
“The members of the steering committee, whose views I am now presenting, assured the Governor of their upmost support in bringing about the passage of the legislation. The time for dilly-dallying is past. The time for action designed to improve conditions in our State is at hand, and action should start. The Governor is absolutely right when he says: ‘I am not interested in Constitutional questions when people are crying for bread.’”
Public Utilities Commission Chairman Henry C. Attwill testified April 23 before the House Ways and Means Committee that a bill filed by Rep. Birmingham to give the commission authority over power holding companies was not necessary (Boston Globe, April 24, 1931, p. 35).
Attwill said that the best way for the commission to safeguard consumer interests was through control of power operating companies, not holding companies.
He said Birmingham’s bill if based and enabled would likely result in his commission dissipating its energies “chasing the owners of the stock” rather than ensuring that the power rates were reasonable and the service good.
During an April 24 hearing of the same committee on the Birmingham bill, Sheldon E. Wardwell, counsel for the Massachusetts Electric and Gas Association said that the bill was unconstitutional (Boston Globe, April 25, 1931, p. 4).
He also asserted that gas and electricity rates would be much higher and service worse if it were not for the power holding companies.
Wardwell argued that the commission already has authority to secure the facts needed to regulate the rates charged to consumers.
“I can see no way in which the holding of stock of an operating company can affect the rates of the operating company if we have intelligent and fearless regulation,” Wardwell asserted.
“If that statement is not correct, then we have got to come to some form of regulation of holding companies, but I have never heard any argument advanced or known of any reason why an efficient Department of Public Utilities, if given proper appropriation, cannot regulate rates and make them fair to the consumer. I believe our Massachusetts department has regulated the rates and make them fair to the consumer,” he added.
Wardwell also argued that giving the commission the mandate to regulate holding companies would “take its attention from material facts,” an argument Attwill made the day before.
Robert H. Holt, representing the state’s gas companies, argued with Wardwell that the Birmingham bill was unconstitutional and that the commission had enough authority to regulate rates through operating companies.
Defending the bill, Wallace H. Walker, secretary of the Public Franchise League, said his organization believes that the bill would make possible the regulation of future mergers of holding companies, would ensure regulation of securities issued by holding companies, and allow regulation of charges for service.
“We believe that it would be to the benefit of the consumers and the investors as well to authorize the regulation of holding companies activities,” Walker said.
Rep. Birmingham was named alternate delegate to the Democratic slate for the 1932 Democratic National Convention (DNC) by State Committee Chairman Frank J. Donahue (Boston Globe, March 11, 1932, p. 1, 22).
The slate was composed of supporters of Al Smith. Delegates-at-large included U.S. Senator David Walsh, Massachusetts Gov. Joseph Ely, and Ex-Mayor John Fitzgerald.
The delegates had given a pledge to vote for Smith, if they are elected.
Fitzgerald withdrew as a delegate-at-large, and Sen. John Buckley and Rep. Birmingham were considered to replace Fitzgerald.
Mayor Curley, a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, said he would put together a pro-Roosevelt slate of delegates for voters.
Voters were scheduled to go to the polls to April 12 to vote in the presidential primary, where they would have a chance to vote on the slate of delegates to the DNC.
Two brokers argued against a bill introduced by Rep. Birmingham to restrict brokers from rehypothecating securities during a March 10 hearing of the Legislative Banks and Banking Committee (Boston Globe, March 10, 1931, p. 29).
The Birmingham bill provided that “no person, who as broker has bought or holds securities for another, shall rehypothecate or pledge any such security without in each instance stating in writing to his principal or customer the purpose, the name of the proposed pledgee, purchaser or borrower, together with a statement in detail of all profit, interest or commission of the broker and then obtaining the express written consent of his principal or customer to such rehypothectation,” according to the newspaper.
Rehypothecation “is the practice by banks and brokers of using, for their own purposes, assets that have been posted as collateral by their clients. Clients who permit rehypothecation of their collateral may be compensated either through a lower cost of borrowing or a rebate on fees,” explained Investopedia.com.
“In a typical example of rehypothecation, securities that have been posted with a prime brokerage as collateral by a hedge fund are used by the brokerage to back its own transactions and trades,” it added.
Charles T. Cronan of Hornblower & Weeks and Ralph Burrell of Pain Webber & Co. testified before the committee in opposition to Birmingham's bill.
Cronan argued that if the bill passed, brokerage houses would have "to render service of impossible details." The clearinghouse system would be upset, and the investment banking business would be driven from the state, he argued.
Burrell said that it would be impossible to comply with the requirements of the bill. Birmingham was not present during the hearing to argue in favor of his bill.
Representatives of registered nurses testified against bills introduced by Rep. Birmingham and Rep. Lewis R. Sullivan to restrict applications for registration as nurses to U.S. citizens, during a Feb. 4 hearing of the Legislative Committee on Public Health (Boston Globe, Feb. 5, 1932, p. 15).
Rep. Sullivan spoke in favor of his bill and then introduced James F. Burns, who said that many hospitals were bringing in cheap labor from other countries under contract. These women “will be allowed to go before the public as nurses after their training period,” he said.
Testifying against the bills were Josephine E. Thurlow, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Nurses, Elizabeth Ross, president of the State Nurses’ Association, and Stella Goostray, member of the Board of Registration of Nurses and superintendent of Children’s Hospital.
Gov. Ely held a conference Sept. 8 with House Speaker Saltonstall and later with Rep. Birmingham about a proposed special session of the legislature, the Boston Globe reported (Sept. 8, 1932, p. 23).
The special session was intended to pass legislation to provide funds to cities and towns for welcome work and other administrative matters.
The governor said that the sessions with Saltonstall and Birmingham were to discuss the special session but he hadn’t yet decided whether to hold one.
House Speaker Leverett Saltonstall had to rap his gavel twice on Rep. Birmingham over remarks the Democratic House leader made about Lieutenant Governor William Youngman during House floor debate April 28 (Boston Globe, April 29, pp. 1, 24).
In a message to the legislature, Youngman had recommended revoking the state purchase of the inoperative Boston, Worcester, and New York Street Railway franchise for $563,000 to build the Boston-Worcester turnpike along the tracks.
Youngman asked the legislature to take steps to recover the $200,000 already paid and stop payment of the remaining $363,000.
Birmingham charged that the “case has been tried in the newspapers by the Lieutenant Governor.”
In response, Saltonstall rapped Birmingham to order, noting that the motive behind the message was prohibited from being debated.
Birmingham again referred to Youngman and again Saltonstall banged his gavel and asked the Democratic minority leader to abide by the ruling of the chair. Birmingham said he would abide by the chair’s ruling because he would have an opportunity later to discuss the message.
Birmingham urged the approval of Rep. Jewett’s motion to print Youngman’s message and postpone action on the message. Jewett said his motion was customary when the House received a message from the governor.
By a voice vote, the House postponed consideration until the following Tuesday. At the time Youngman submitted the message, he was acting governor since Gov. Ely was out of state at the national Governors’ Conference at the time. Ely reacted angrily, charging Youngman with a breach of faith.