2022 could be a political turning point for women in Massachusetts

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BOSTON – Just 20 years ago, Massachusetts voters needed to elect a woman to be governor, attorney general, US senator or mayor of their largest city. That year, Democratic women won five out of six national primary elections.

2022 is shaping up to be a turning point for women striving for political power in Massachusetts, a state that has lagged behind in electing women to top office, despite its liberal reputation.

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey is heavily favored to change the post of Republican-held governor in November, which would make her the state’s first woman and first openly gay candidate for chief executive-elect. Andrea Campbell, the former Boston councilwoman who hopes to succeed Healey as attorney general, would be the first black woman to hold the post.

And with the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor running together in the general election, Healey is poised to make history with her lieutenant governor, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, by becoming the first two-woman governor/lieutenant governor to serve elected to lead a state.

Healey said she’s more focused on issues voters care about — like housing costs and transportation — than the groundbreaking nature of her run.

“I know it’s historic. But I also know that it is about the CV. This is about choosing the people you want in government to best serve and deliver to you and your family,” Healey said a day after her Sept. 6 primary victory.

That year, both Democrats and Republicans nominated women for the post of lieutenant governor. In addition, Democrats nominated women in the Attorney General, Treasurer and CPA races, while Republicans nominated a woman for Secretary of the Commonwealth.

The nominations continue a trend that saw Michelle Wu last year become Boston’s first woman and first Asian American mayor.

If Healey won in November, she wouldn’t be the state’s first woman governor, but she would be the first woman elected to the post. Republican Jane Swift, then Lieutenant Governor, became acting governor in 2001 when Paul Cellucci resigned to become ambassador to Canada.

Swift said having more women in office helps defuse the “gender issue.”

“I would never have liked to answer a gender question again, not because I’m not very proud of my accomplishments, but I didn’t run for office because I’m a woman,” she said. “I ran for office because I thought we needed lower taxes and a better climate for small businesses and better education.”

“I can’t wait for the day when it’s not part of the conversation where women in office can talk about the issues that led them to victory and not why they think differently because they have a womb” , added her.

Massachusetts has fallen behind other states in voting for women. In 2012, neighboring New Hampshire, considered far less liberal, became the first state to elect an all-female congressional delegation and governor.

One reason for the recent success of women candidates in Massachusetts may be the weakening of the Massachusetts Democratic Party apparatus, said Erin O’Brien, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

“In the past, single-party control has made it harder for women to get elected because parties only expand their pool of candidates when they feel threatened — and Democrats have not faced threats in Massachusetts,” O’Brien said.

There are signs that the party’s influence may be waning. In 2014, a relatively unknown Healey took over from State Senator Warren Tolman as Attorney General. Tolman had the support of the Democratic Party and a brother who was President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, but Healey easily defeated him and won the general election.

Just this summer, Quentin Palfrey won state party confirmation as attorney general, but dropped out of the running a week before the primary and endorsed Campbell. In the race for state examiner, Chris Dempsey won party approval but lost the primary to state senator Diana DiZoglio.

“Part of the reason women are starting to win in Massachusetts is because the Democratic Party is starting to look beyond itself,” O’Brien said. “Women can compete against the preferred man and win and not pay with their career if they lose.”

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who defeated an incumbent and became the first black Massachusetts woman to be elected to Congress, said the rise of other Democratic women is a testament to the “courage, skill and commitment” of each candidate.

“More women are seeing themselves in public office, recognizing the critical role their expertise and lived experience play in policy-making, and choosing to create more inclusive, representative decision-making tables,” she said in a statement.

“When I won my first campaign for Congress in 2018, a lot of people called it ‘Black Girl Magic,’ but I know it was ‘Black Woman Work,'” she added.

According to Gus Bickford, leader of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, the party’s charter prohibits participation in contested primaries other than endorsements at the state convention.

“Once a candidate is chosen by voters in the primary, we get to work to get them elected,” Bickford said in a statement. “As we prepare to host the first female team of Governor and Lt. Governor in Massachusetts history along with other qualified women on the ballot, we are very proud of the role we play in supporting it.”

The shift began in part in 2006, when Martha Coakley became the first woman to be elected Attorney General in Massachusetts. Another milestone came in 2012 when Elizabeth Warren defeated incumbent GOP Senator Scott Brown to become the state’s first woman elected to the US Senate.

Women’s representation in Massachusetts state politics dates back to 1922, when Democrat Susan Fitzgerald and Republican Sylvia Donaldson became the first women elected to the state House of Representatives.

In 1936, Republican Sybil Holmes became the first woman to be elected to the Massachusetts Senate, but it was another 70 years before Therese Murray became the first woman President of the Senate.

The number of women serving in the legislature has increased in recent decades.

In 1992, only six women served in the 40-seat Massachusetts Senate and 31 in the 160-seat Massachusetts House of Representatives. Thirty years later, the number of women in the Senate has more than doubled to 13, while the number of women in the House of Representatives stands at 46.

For full coverage of the midterms, follow AP at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter. https://twitter.com/ap_politics.

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