Editorial: Impressive field of candidates for four House seats

  • 2nd Hampshire District state Rep. John Scibak, center, returns to his seat beside 1st Hampshire District state Rep. Peter Kocot, left, and 1st Franklin District state Rep. Stephen Kulik during a legislators' forum last year in the Coolidge Room at Forbes Library in Northampton. Kocot died last month, and Kulik and Scibak are retiring this year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

There are an unusual number of contests this year for House seats representing Hampshire and Franklin counties, and we are impressed with the field of announced candidates.

The activity is fueled by the retirements of two longtime state representatives, Stephen Kulik and John Scibak, who will not seek re-election in the 1st Franklin and 2nd Hampshire districts, respectively; the death last month of Peter Kocot, who represented the 1st Hampshire District for 16 years; and the decision by 3rd Hampshire District Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose to leave the Democratic Party and seek re-election as an independent.

With the state primary election nearly six months away, 12 people, all Democrats, have announced their candidacies. Particularly encouraging is that eight are women, who are underrepresented in state legislatures. There are now 51 women in the Massachusetts Legislature, or 25.5 percent of the total, which is comparable to the nationwide figure.

Party candidates have until May 8 to file nomination papers with registrars of voters in their district to certify signatures. The deadline is July 31 for unenrolled candidates, like Goldstein-Rose. The state primaries are Sept. 4 and the general election is Nov. 6.

The most crowded field so far is in the 1st Franklin, a sprawling district of 19 rural communities in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties. Since Kulik announced Feb. 12 that he would retire after 25 years in the Legislature, six people have said they will seek his seat. They are Kate Albright-Hanna, of Huntington; Natalie Blais, of Sunderland; Christine Doktor, of Cummington; Casey Pease, of Worthington; Elizabeth Swihart, of Turners Falls; and Francia Wisnewski, of Montague.

Their priorities in the Legislature include education, access to child care, land management, supporting farmers, sustaining small businesses, high-speed internet service, transportation, affordable housing, workforce development, health care and regional services. All are critical in the rural district.

Several candidates also described demographic reasons for running. Pease, 20, the chairman of the Worthington Democratic Town Committee and a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says, “Now, more than ever, we need more young people to get involved.”

Albright-Hanna, a journalist who worked for the Obama administration, says, “It’s the year when regular people have to step up and when, in particular, women have to step up.”

Wisnewski, the senior program manager at Raising a Reader Massachusetts for the Pioneer Valley, says as a Spanish-speaking immigrant she would assist the growing Latino population in the region. “The nature of being an immigrant, bilingual — I can understand the issues of some of the community members who are non-native English speakers.”

Blais is the executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, Doktor is a farmer and lawyer and Swihart is an assistant district attorney for the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

There are two candidates for the 2nd Hampshire seat, which Scibak is giving up after 16 years. The district comprises Easthampton, Hadley, South Hadley and Precinct 2 of Granby.

Daniel Carey, an Easthampton city councilor, is the director of the Drug Diversion and Treatment Program in the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Marie McCourt, a former member of the Granby School Committee, works for the Collaborative of Educational Services as director of 12 after-school programs.

Kocot died at age 61 on Feb. 22. Because House Speaker Robert DeLeo declined to schedule a special election, for the rest of this year there will be no representative for the 1st Hampshire District made up of Northampton, Hatfield, Southampton, Westhampton and Montgomery.

Diana Szynal, of Hatfield, who served as Kocot’s district director and will continue in that job this year, and Ryan O’Donnell, the Northampton City Council president, are the two declared candidates.

And Goldstein-Rose’s decision to unenroll as a Democrat led Mindy Domb and Eric Nakajima, both of Amherst, to run in the 3rd Hampshire District of Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 of Granby. Domb, the executive director of the Amherst Survival Center, and Nakajima, chairman of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, each said the district needs a Democratic representative.

We welcome the contested races and look forward to campaigns that are spirited while remaining civil, focusing on the issues affecting voters in Hampshire and Franklin counties.