The Massachusetts Constitution dates back to 1780, so this female-centric power tilt was a long time coming. Warren was first elected in 2012, Pressley in 2018, Wu in 2021, and Healey, Driscoll, and Campbell in 2022. How these women shape policy, who advances, and which male politicians will be brave enough to challenge them dominate the political chatter on the Democratic side. Even in the moribund Republican Party, Karyn Polito, who served as lieutenant governor during Charlie Baker’s two terms as governor, garners the most buzz as a future candidate.
What changed? Voters “have been able to observe capable women serving in public offices across the country and the good work they have done to competently manage government creates a greater comfort with women candidates,” said Shannon O’Brien, the Democrat who lost the 2002 governor’s race to Republican Mitt Romney — who managed to tag her response during a debate with a chauvinistic “unbecoming.”
Also helpful to female politicians: Women are now better equipped to raise money, O’Brien said, and can rally support around the growing threat to women’s constitutional rights.
The women flanking Healey were united around the cause of protecting abortion access — but down the road, they are also potential rivals. In fact, Warren’s recent announcement that’s she’s running for reelection in 2024, which featured endorsements from Pressley and Wu, was viewed as a tactic to stop speculation about any interest these two women might have in her job.
Meanwhile, as women hold the spotlight, the future for ambitious men is, for once, a little cloudier. The primary loss of Representative Joe Kennedy III to Senator Ed Markey exposed the weakness of a political dynasty once considered invulnerable. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s successor, Representative Jake Auchincloss, is said to have the Senate on his mind. While he denies any immediate plans, it doesn’t stop people from wondering what Auchincloss would do if a seat opened up — and concluding he wouldn’t be shy about running against Pressley or any other woman.
But any future Senate race would probably include women candidates who are viewed as formidable competitors with the ability to tap into a big network of loyal contributors. That’s a huge difference from the past.
To Evelyn Murphy, who became the first woman to hold statewide office in Massachusetts when she won election as lieutenant governor in 1987, that picture from the State House steps is both startling and exhilarating. Murphy said she looked at it and thought, “Wow, this is such a sea-change.” The building blocks for today’s successful women candidates, she said, are the women donors who supported her so many years ago. Now, along with their daughters, they continue to support the women candidates who followed her.
How much have attitudes changed since Murphy was a candidate? When she ran for governor in 1990, she dropped out shortly before the primary. The winner of that contest, Boston University president John Silber, had previously referred to the university’s English department as a “damn matriarchy.”
When Silber lost the general election to Republican Bill Weld, the defection of women voters was a big reason why. But it took more than 30 years after that to finally put a woman in the governor’s office.
Of course, it’s not over for men in Massachusetts.
“The opportunity is still there to win — they just have to understand that it’s going to be a more competitive process,” said Doug Rubin, who advised Warren in her first Senate campaign, Kim Janey in her unsuccessful mayoral bid, and Diana DiZoglio, who was elected state auditor in November.
Political power is ever shifting, and keeping it depends on circumstances.
The test now, Murphy said, is “what can this crowd of women do? What’s going to be different? I don’t know what that means yet, we’ll see.”
But finally, at least the overall picture of political power looks different in Massachusetts.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.