State Rep. Ellen Story will not seek re-election after nearly a quarter-century in the Legislature



Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2016

AMHERST — Citing the many demands of serving nearly a quarter-century as a state legislator, Rep. Ellen Story announced Thursday that she will not seek re-election in November to the seat she has held since 1992.

Praised for her fairness, her dogged representation of constituents and for trailblazing a path in politics for women, the Amherst Democrat described her time in the Legislature as fabulous and rewarding.

“I have chosen this meeting to announce I will not be running again, and I feel good about it,” said Story, 74, who made the announcement at the Rotary Club of Amherst luncheon at Bertucci’s restaurant.

Story, who took her seat in the Legislature on April 8, 1992, said she hopes she has been an inspiration to others interested in public service, particularly women who want to get into politics and girls who have not yet chosen their career path.

“I have felt it was worth my time to be there,” Story said. “Now there’s a lot of little boys and girls in Amherst who think the state representative is a woman.”

Her decision to retire, she said, comes in part from the continued grind of spending half her time in the state capital.

“When there’s a rare week I don’t have to go to Boston my heart swells with joy,” Story said.

Her 3rd Hampshire district is made up of Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 of Granby.

Story said she did not anticipate becoming a politician. After arriving in Amherst in August 1972, she worked for 17 years at the Family Planning Council of Western Massachusetts, now Tapestry Health.

“It had never occurred to me to run for office. This was not a lifelong dream,” Story said.

But the 1991 death of U.S. Congressman Silvio Conte set off a series of special elections that led to John Olver succeeding Conte, Stanley Rosenberg taking Olver’s state Senate seat and Story winning a special election for Rosenberg’s state representative position.

She recalls only pursuing the seat when others with similar viewpoints opted not to.

“It occurred to me that if I couldn’t talk anyone else into it, then why not,” Story said. “My timing turned out to be excellent.”

The beginning of the race coincided with the October 1991 U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and allegations of sexual harassment made by Anita Hill. For many, Story said, it was striking that this committee was entirely male.

“People started to pay more attention to the people running for office and (1992) was called the year of the woman,” Story said, observing that the four female U.S. senators elected tripled the number previously serving.

Fairness a hallmark

Her legislative work, she said, was motivated by emphasizing fairness and treating other people the way she would want to be treated.

“It’s not fair if certain people can’t get dental care or can’t get housing, all of those things,” Story said.

She cites as one of her achievements making the waiting lists of youth who need mental health services more transparent through what was known as the “stuck kids” commission.

She also advocated for increases in the state income tax and praises the so-called “millionaire tax” ballot initiative that could come before voters in the coming years.

“I have always thought we should raise taxes,” Story said. “We don’t have enough money to do the things the state Legislature is obligated to do.”

Her most difficult time was during the tenure of House Speaker Thomas Finneran, a person she found to be controlling and less collaborative with the members. They also shared only a few viewpoints, including opposition to the death penalty, casinos and funding for professional sports stadiums.

Despite this, Story looks back on the time with some fondness because same-sex marriage became state law while Finneran was speaker.

Earning praise

Those who have been represented by Story and worked alongside her praise her tenure.

“I’m happy for her and sad for the rest of us because we’ve all benefited from her service,” said Mary Olberding, the register of deeds for Hampshire County, who attended the luncheon.

Olberding, of Belchertown, said Story paved the way for more women to serve and that she will miss the camaraderie, noting that only 20 percent of the Legislature is female.

“She was a great advocate for the community and the people and all the issues we care about,” Olberding said.

Sarah la Cour, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District, said Story did well representing the town.

“It’s remarkable what she’s done for women in politics and the role model she’s been in politics,” la Cour said.

Jonathan Hite, the former director of the Northampton Housing Authority who narrowly lost to Story in the Democratic primary in 1992 that launched her long political career, said he is happy for Story.

“Ellen has worked very hard and deserves an enjoyable retirement,” Hite said. “She’s earned it.”

Contest shaping up

Even before her announcement, three people have said they intend to seek the House seat. Two Amherst residents — Solomon Goldstein-Rose and Viraphanh Douangmany — have formed campaign committees with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and a third, Bonnie MacCracken, said she intends to form a committee soon.

Goldstein-Rose, 22, of 16 Poet’s Corner Road, is a senior at Brown University majoring in engineering and public policy and former member of the Amherst School Committee.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Ellen for 24 years of wonderful service to this district,” Goldstein-Rose said in a telephone interview. “She’s been an enormous inspiration to me as I begin to get involved in politics.”

Douangmany, 41, of 12 Longmeadow Drive, Apt. 21, is a current member of the Amherst School Committee and an organizer for the ACLU of Western Massachusetts. In a statement, Douangmany said her campaign will focus on supporting public education and natural resources and promoting social justice.

“Through my work in Amherst and statewide, I realize that some of our local problems can’t be fixed on the local level, which is why we need a strong voice and leadership in the Statehouse to continue advocating for our children and our communities,” Douangmany said.

MacCracken, 60, of 8 Chadwick Court, a professional property title examiner and member of Amherst Town Meeting and the Democratic State Committee, was at the Rotary Club luncheon and made her decision to a short time afterward.

“I know that it takes time and persistence and relationships to get good legislation enacted,” MacCracken said. “I have developed a large network of relationships with legislators through my work on behalf of homeowners and as a member of the state committee.”

It’s expected additional people will be interested in the seat.

But Story warns that people have to find responsible way to divide time between Boston and the district they represent and find ways to engage their communities. One of her skills is playing piano, which she has done during her office hours at the Granby Senior Center.

“If you don’t like going to a retirement dinner for someone you didn’t know and have it last for three hours, you shouldn’t be in this job,” Story said.

Story apologized for not being more open about her decision to retire in recent weeks. “It’s made me seem sort of coy, which is not how I see myself,” Story said.

Story, who has nearly a year left to serve, said when she does retire she hopes to spend more time with her 10-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Berkshire County.

Traveling, through, is something she has already done and does not anticipate doing more of it. Story spent much of her childhood in Texas and left after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. It’s not a state she misses.

“I have not lived there since then and if I did I would be mad all the time,” Story said.

Along with more time to read books and take walks, Story said she will be watching more films.

“I love movies and I never get to see movies,” Story said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


 


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