The 12th Worcester District race for state representative is down to three candidates: Republican Susan Smiley, Green-Rainbow Party candidate Charlene DiCalogero and, as of Tuesday night, Meghan Kilcoyne as the Democrat on the ballot.
One of the candidates vying for the seat will succeed Rep. Harold Naughton, a Democrat who is stepping down after nearly 26 years. Whoever wins will make history as the first woman to become a state representative for the district, which includes Berlin, Boylston, Clinton, Lancaster, Northboro and Sterling.
“When you have multiple women in a race, in a lot of ways it neutralizes gender and takes gender out of the race. It stops the tokenism,” said Amanda Hunter, research and communications director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.
In November, voters will have to choose between three vastly different candidates with experience in different corners of government: a legislative director under Naughton, a supply-chain manager and former Lancaster selectwoman who’s worked for the Baker administration and a former library trustee who previously researched and coordinated grants and contracts for Lesley University.
Women make up 28% of the Legislature but more than half of the state population.
Massachusetts has had 213 state legislators who are women since Sylvia Donaldson and Susan Fitzgerald were elected to the House of Representatives in 1923, according to the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. The Massachusetts House and Senate have 200 seats combined.
None of those 213 lawmakers held the 12th Worcester District’s House seat.
Naughton, who has served since 1995, announced in April he was stepping down to take a job at a New York-based law firm, Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. He would work remotely from Clinton.
Kilcoyne, his legislative director, announced her candidacy shortly after. Naughton endorsed her to replace him.
Kilcoyne started working for his office in 2010 as a legislative aide, cutting her teeth on state budget negotiations. The Northboro Democrat played a key role on the state’s 2014 gun reform package that created new firearms crimes and required the state to report to a federal background check database any records of mental illness or substance abuse commitments. She also helped craft language for the 2018 “red flag” law that lets people’s gun be confiscated if they pose a risk of hurting themselves or other people.
Kilcoyne, 32, said she has helped Naughton secure funding for local projects in the district, including improvements to Thayer Park in Lancaster, the Sterling Senior Center and the Berlin Community Garden.
“I’ve already been doing a lot of this job, and I have the experience to continue fighting for results in each of our towns,” she said.
Kilcoyne faced two challengers, also women, in Tuesday’s primary. She defeated Ceylan Rowe of Northborough and Alexandra Turner of Lancaster.
Kilcoyne called the historic primary and general elections with their all-woman slates exciting.
“On a broader scale, there’s not equal representation of women in the Legislature now. It’s certainly not reflective of the population,” she said. “I was honored to be in a campaign with two other dynamic women and knowing that whatever the outcome, there will be a woman in that seat and that will hopefully move the needle closer to being more representative of the nation”
Smiley has 18 years of supply-chain management experience, working on U.S. military contracts on aeronautics projects. The process- and policy-driven job involves building relationships, fulfilling commitments on government contracts and dealing with gender politics.
“I’ve worked in a man’s world. It’s still a man’s world, let’s face it,” she said. “All my life and had to bite, kick and scream to get what I need as most people do if they want to go anywhere in life.”
Smiley noted the election comes on the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which got women the right to vote.
“It was so lovely we had 5 women running for an office occupied by a man for 26 years and all of history.”
A former selectwoman in Lancaster, Smiley now serves on the town’s finance committee. She also volunteers for the Worcester County Deputy Reserve Sheriff Association.
Smiley also worked four years under the Baker administration. She served as director of facilities and infrastructure in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, helping oversee the department’s capital spending and assets. She earned an endorsement from Gov. Charlie Baker.
“I believe that I am a ’Charlie Baker Republican’ and I am also a ’Trump Republican.’ One of the things that’s great about our party is we offer such a pragmatic approach to the economy, to supporting businesses, to individual freedom and liberty, for everybody to prosper,” Smiley said. “When I say I’m a Trump Republican, I believe I am a law-and-order person. I believe rules should be applicable to all.”
DiCalogero was, until recently, a trustee for the Berlin Public Library who advocated for the state to boost funding for libraries. Before that, she spent 12 years at Lesley University as assistant director of grants and contracts for special projects to improve schools and professional development for teachers.
“One of the great strengths I bring to my campaign and the experience that people would want for a state representative is that I worked for many years in educational research and training and development,” she said. “I understand in a pretty deep way what schools can and can’t do, how much of how a student does in school is [based on] … the income and wealth of their family.”
If DiCalogero won, she would also make history as perhaps the district’s first openly queer state representative.
Whoever wins will inherit the district at a time when the state is trying to reduce community spread of COVID-19 and historic unemployment levels.
If she won, Kilcoyne said she would focus on passing bills to help the district with COVID-19 recovery, especially if the state sees a resurgence in the fall and winter.
Smiley said she would work on protecting the qualified immunity doctrines for police officers, firefighters and other public servants. Qualified immunity has become a thorn in the negotiations over police reform as the House and Senate bills proposed vastly different changes to the doctrine for officers facing misconduct allegations. Baker had proposed a police reform bill of his own that left qualified immunity untouched.
“They’re not just conducting law enforcement or putting out fires. They’re doing community service for the six towns in my district,” she said. “I think it’s short-sighted that politicians are making these really important decisions without having them at the table.”
DiCalogero supports changing the state’s revenue system, including higher taxes for wealthier residents and investments in health care and social services in lieu of state prisons.
Hunter, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation spokeswoman, said seeing such a diverse pool of candidates for the seat is a sign of progress for a Legislature that remains mostly male.
“To have seen so much progress over step past decade and more so over the past five years across the state with women’s representation,” she said, “that’s mirrored what’s gone on across the country.”
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