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Kline riding national wave with background in women’s activism

  • Chelsea Kline, of  Northampton, a Democratic challenger to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, drops off nomination papers in Hatfield on Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, of  Northampton, right, a Democratic challenger to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, leaves nomination papers Tuesday with Hatfield Town Clerk Lydia Szych. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, Tuesday sits with her family, clockwise from back left, son Arlo, husband Greg, and son Reuben at their home in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, of  Northampton, right, a Democratic challenger to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst, leaves nomination papers Tuesday with Hatfield Town Clerk Lydia Szych. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, Tuesday stands with her family, from left, son Arlo, husband Greg, and son Reuben at their home in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, Tuesday sits with her family, clockwise from back left, son Arlo, husband Greg, and son Reuben at their home in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chelsea Kline, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, stands Tuesday with her family, from left, son Arlo, husband Greg, and son Reuben at their home in Northampton.  GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@mjtidwell781
Thursday, April 26, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A week after President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, Chelsea Kline hosted the first meeting of what would become known as the Badass Activists in the Pioneer Valley in her Northampton living room.

Fourteen months later, Kline announced her candidacy for state Senate, challenging fellow Democrat and 27-year incumbent Stanley Rosenberg, of Amherst. By Thursday, she said she had gathered enough signatures to qualify for the Sept. 4 Democratic primary ballot.

“I’m running because I’m the mother of three children and have lived in western Mass. since 2001. I love this truly wonderful, magical area,” Kline said. “I believe western Mass. deserves more from Beacon Hill. That’s where I’m starting from.”

Rosenberg was first elected to serve the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in 1991 and has faced few serious opponents since.

He rose to become Senate president in 2015, but was forced to step down nearly three years later after sexual misconduct charges against his husband, Bryon Hefner, sparked an ethics investigation into whether Rosenberg had broken any Senate rules. The result of that investigation has not been made public. Hefner on Tuesday pleaded not guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to 10 charges.

Kline is the director the Women as Empowered Learners and Leaders program for adult and non-traditional students at Bay Path University in Longmeadow. She sits on the board of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, which funds projects that promote gender equality, and is also a member of the Hampshire-Franklin Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. This is her first try for elected office.

Kline, who has children ages 4, 10 and 21, is married to Greg Kline.

While some see Kline’s run as a sign of Rosenberg’s vulnerability after his now-estranged husband was charged with sexual misconduct, others see her candidacy resulting from a larger movement spreading across the nation that is empowering women after a year of turbulent national events.

Former Rep. Ellen Story, of Amherst, who served in the House for 24 years, said, “1992, they called that the ‘year of the woman.’ Well, 2018 is going to be the ‘new year of the woman.’”

Activist, educational leader

The Jan. 29, 2017, meeting in Kline’s living room was the start of a new, politically active phase of her life, said her friend of 10 years, the Rev. Hannah Gyovai, of Florence.

Gyovai attended that founding meeting of the Badass Activists and said the group’s weekly Sunday meetups were sparked by the non-profit Indivisible Project’s guide to resisting President Trump and the idea of a group of women coming together weekly for solidarity Sundays.

Gyovai said she had known Kline as a friend and fellow parent for a long time, and had seen her organizational and nonprofit work at Bay Path and on the boards Kline serves on, but the Sunday meetups were a new political part of both their lives.

“She’s been part of helping people’s lives as an individual and as a community member and as a mother,” Gyovai said. “The idea that she would be the kind of person that could be an effective leader ... that she could actually make a difference in people’s lives, that’s not surprising at all to me.”

Kline’s challenge to Rosenberg, Gyovai said, is “positive on pretty much every level.” She said Kline will change the race just by running, and added that supporters of Rosenberg should be excited to see him rise to the challenge.

Kline, when asked if her candidacy is in response to her perception that Rosenberg is vulnerable, said it’s more about her passion for working to support vulnerable members of “our communities.”

However, she released statements after both the indictment and the arraignment of Rosenberg’s estranged husband, saying that she “believe(s) the survivors” and “applaud(s) their courage in coming forward.”

In a statement first announcing her candidacy in March, Kline said, “As an organizer, activist, mother and educational leader, I will work tirelessly in the Senate to promote social justice, end homelessness and build a government that protects, supports and cares for all residents.”

Her volunteer work with the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts includes serving on the advisory board for its Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact program (LIPPI), a non-partisan initiative that provides women with training, tools and mentorship to become community leaders and elected officials through 10 months of workshops in Springfield.

Kline participated in the program herself, and credits it with giving her the opportunity to take stock of her personal strengths as she considered running for office.

“I knew I had a lot to offer, I knew I had an unusual story and I knew there was a pretty strong network of women who wanted to do work in western Mass.,” Kline said. “The LIPPI training is a leadership launchpad that helps women get to the next level.”

Kline in the community

Donna Haghighat, CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, said Kline has brought perspective to her positions with the women’s fund from her work in education at Bay Path and from her experiences as a single mother earlier in life, and now a parent of young children.

“It’s exciting to see women stepping into leadership,” Haghighat said. “Chelsea is also really supportive of other women within the whole sphere of the women’s fund, supporting others when they step up. She’s not just focused on her own aspirations.”

Layla Taylor, chairwoman of the women’s fund board, said Kline has been a “cherished board member” and a thoughtful and instrumental force in growing the fund’s partnership with Bay Path.

Another woman stepping up politically in western Massachusetts is Francia Wisnewski, the chairwoman of the Hampshire-Franklin County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, on which Kline serves as well. Wisnewski is running for the 1st Franklin state representative seat which is being vacated by Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, who will not seek re-election this year.

Wisnewski said she viewed Kline as a leader in the community for the last two or three years before they became colleagues on the commission, and is not surprised by her decision to run for office.

“She is a strong person that is respected and that people listen to because she has a huge level of integrity and ethics,” Wisnewski said. “I think it’s great that the community will have options.”

Wisnewski said that women in the Valley have been talking with each other about how to “keep driving forward” and said there is a need for representation and diversity of voices, including women and mothers, in politics at the state and national levels.’

New year of the woman’

More women were elected to Congress in 1992 than in any previous decade. As such, it became known as the year of the woman.

Story’s prediction for the new year of the woman in 2018 is playing out on the national level where, as of early March, 575 women were running for seats in the U.S. House and Senate or governor, according to research done by Politico, the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick, and the Women in Public Service Project at the Wilson Center, in Washington, D.C.

Story said that the charges brought against Hefner, and the resulting ethics investigation, have made Rosenberg more visible, but not more vulnerable. She said Rosenberg has been a “marvelous representative” and that his ascension to the Senate presidency as a senator from western Massachusetts was highly unusual.

The impact on Rosenberg of the events surrounding Hefner are “an unfortunate blip” on the senator’s record that will otherwise be remembered for years of dedicated service, Story said.

Unusual challenge

Samuel VanSant Stoddard, a lecturer at Smith College in Northampton and Clark University in Worcester and a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said there normally aren’t challengers to incumbents like Rosenberg in a state like Massachusetts that is dominated by one party.

In this case, VanSant Stoddard said that if the Democratic Party wanted to support Kline, it would likely discourage her from challenging Rosenberg now and would try to bring her up through the ranks by encouraging her to run for other elected offices to gain experience, clout and record of service.

One of the jobs of a state party is to take resources and allocate them most efficiently to achieve its goals, he said.

“Replacing a powerful senior member with someone with no experience and no clout, that is not an effective way to do that,” VanSant Stoddard said.

Kline, he said, normally would not be considered a serious challenger to Rosenberg. However, he said that the events involving Hefner and the new wave of female candidates running for office across the country work in her favor.

“Democratic voters are turning to younger, female representatives,” VanSant Stoddard said. “Those candidates are more viable now than ever. Kline may not be a real serious challenge yet, but she could become one.”

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazettenet.com.