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