Hampshire County has the highest proportion of women of any county in the state, and yet for years has been represented in the Statehouse mostly by men. With the retirement of longtime Amherst Rep. Ellen Story in 2016, this has been especially true.
But this year’s elections could alter that in the extreme. There are credible female candidates running for four of the state House seats representing the bulk of the county, and more than that, they might all win.
For Cynthia Brubaker, who is 75 and on the board of directors of the League of Women Voters in Amherst, it’s about time.
“Right now we’re coming into the fruition of the Women’s Movement,” she said. “Younger women are saying, ‘OK, we’re ready. We’re going to do it.’ And they’re running for office.”
A confluence of events – the death of longtime Northampton Rep. Peter Kocot, the retirements of Stephen Kulik of Worthington and John Scibak of South Hadley, and the decision of Amherst Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose to leave the Democratic party and run as an unenrolled candidate – has led to women running for all of those seats.
Democrat Marie McCourt, the assistant director for the after school program for the Collaborative for Educational Services, is running to replace Scibak. Democrat Mindy Domb, executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, is seeking Goldstein-Rose’s seat. Kocot’s district director, Diana Szynal, and the director of the Pioneer Valley Women’s March, Lindsay Sabadosa, are both running as Democrats for Kocot’s seat.
Kulik’s retirement has brought out five female Democratic candidates: Journalist Kate Albright-Hanna, Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Blais, farmer and lawyer Christine Doktor, Franklin and Hampshire County Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Swihart, and Francia Wisnewski, who is chairwoman of the Hampshire and Franklin Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.
Many have lamented the loss of experience of Scibak, Kulik, and Kocot, all popular legislators, but for others that feeling is mixed with excitement over the potential for better representation for women.
More women in government 'just wonderful'
Ellen Story represented the Third Hampshire District for nearly 25 years, and for much of that time, when the Western Massachusetts delegation would get together, she would be the only woman present.
Story retired in 2016, and was replaced by Solomon Goldstein-Rose, 24, of Amherst. For her, the idea of having women in all four of the seats making up the bulk of Hampshire County would be “just wonderful.”
“Women’s political participation has profound positive and democratic impacts on communities and citizens lives and helps democracy deliver,” she said.
Story is supporting women in the races: Mindy Domb for her former seat, Marie McCourt for Scibak’s seat, and Natalie Blais for the seat now held by Kulik.
“Those three are collaborative people, and that’s of course one of the things women tend to be better at than men,” Story said. “Women tend to like to work together. Those three could be a very powerful trio.”
For Kocot’s seat, she had good things to say about Diana Szynal, whom she has worked with, and Lindsay Sabadosa.
Story’s own long legislative service was something she was reluctant to begin, she said.
“It was never something that I had thought of to run for office,” she said. But when the legislative seat unexpectedly opened up in 1990, she wasn’t satisfied with the candidates who were running, all of whom were men.
While she was running in 1991, the Anita Hill hearings over sexual harassment by nominated Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were playing out.
That year was known as The Year of the Woman, and female senators in the U.S. Senate doubled following those elections – from two to four.
Story said she believes the Year of the Woman moniker can apply to this year, as well.
“A lot of it has to do with the #MeToo movement,” she said. “Women are deciding that they need to be in positions of authority, positions where they have a little bit more power.”
It also has to do with Trump, she added.
“People are so appalled with him,” she said. “People thought it was enough to vote and now deciding they have to be more politically active.”
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