Gobi in as Rural Affairs Director, No Desert of Candidates for her District Awaits…
Staffing Governor Maura Healey’s administration has claimed another legislator, this time one close to Western Mass. During a visit to the region earlier this year, Healey announced she would appoint a director of rural affairs within her executive office for economic development. On Monday, she named Spencer Senator Anne Gobi, whose sprawling district still includes a sliver of Hampshire County, to the position.
Prior to the redistricting that took effect with last year’s election, Gobi’s seat had covered more of the West. Much of her district lay in the rural West of Worcester County, but it had also included Monson, Palmer and environs. Her district remains a plausible for get for Republicans, but legislative cartographers had shored Gobi up last year. Nevertheless, a competitive race to succeed her is certain.
“I am thrilled to take on this important role and grateful to the Healey-Driscoll Administration for elevating our rural communities,” Gobi said in a statement Healey’s office released. “While I will miss the Legislature, I look forward to continuing to work for the needs of small towns throughout the Commonwealth as their advocate in state government.”
With so many small and rural towns in her district, the appointment was a logical one for Gobi. She was the chair of the new Agriculture Committee. Gobi held additional influence as a member of the Senate’s Ways & Means Committee.
Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll originally unveiled the office while on a swing through Franklin County in March. While agriculture exists throughout the commonwealth, rural, sparsely populated town are more common west of I-495.
The governor emphasized then that for the first time, Massachusetts would have somebody dedicated to working across state government serving smaller communities and addressing their unique needs. The visit highlighted Healey’s rural priorities like rural school fudning, regional transportation and higher payments-in-lieu-of-taxes for state land.
“We want to send a clear message to every single person who calls rural Massachusetts home – we see you, we value you, and we’re going to work every day to ensure you have the representation and support you deserve,” Healey said in a statement in March.
Healey returned to those themes while announcing Gobi’s appointment.
“Senator Gobi’s fierce advocacy of rural equity, agricultural and small businesses, and conservation initiatives makes her the ideal candidate to help our rural towns across the state succeed,” the governor said.
The release includes praise and welcome from Driscoll, Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao and Undersecretary Ashley Stolba. Massachusetts Democrats’ new state party chair, Steve Kerrigan, who now must now Gobi’s seat blue, also praised the choice.
“As a resident of a rural community myself, I know those of us who live in these special places across our Commonwealth will be well-served by Senator Gobi’s creativity and leadership,” he said in a statement the party released. “Governor Healey and Lt. Governor Driscoll are sending a clear message that the vibrancy of our Commonwealth depends on all our residents being heard.”
With Gobi to begin her new role on June 5, attention will now turn to her district. Republican-leaning Eastern Hampden County communities she had represented shifted into other districts this year. Between that and the inclusion of Gardner and party of the City of Worcester, the district is more hospitable territory for Democrats. Its remaining piece in the four western counties is, sigh, Ware.
Gobi had been a perfect match for the district in its prior form. She succeeded Stephen Brewer, a state senator who had unsuccessfully vied for Senate Presidency. When he retired in 2014, Gobi, then a state rep, stepped up. She won narrowly if decisively in a wretched year for Democrats nationwide.
While the challenges of small towns were always a focus of Gobi’s, she also took a lead on a less obvious problem that remains endemic to her district. Countless homes face disintegrating foundations from New Hampshire, through Worcester and Hampden counties and into Connecticut. Gobi was among the loudest advocates for homeowners with concrete foundations that contain pyrrhotite contamination.
That kind of service helped her hold off several Republican challenges. The urban reinforcements might have helped over time—though her margin last year matched that of her prior reelections—yet, they also reflect the relative decline in Massachusetts’s rural population.
Four state reps, include three Republicans live in the district. Either party could have a contested primary.
Politico reported Tuesday in its Massachusetts Playbook that Gardner State Rep Jonathan Zlotnik was running to succeed Gobi. Zlotnik has already changed his campaign finance account over to the senate race. State House News noted that David Fontaine, who ran for Worcester Sheriff last year, also lives in the district.
The growth in interest on the GOP side will also be worth watching. Three Republican reps, Donald Berthiaume, Peter Durant and Kimberly Ferguson, live in the district. Of them, Durant represents comparatively little of the senate district. Ferguson has already told Politico she will take a pass. Multiple news outlets have reported that former State Rep Kate Campanale may make a go at it, too.
The Boston Herald reported that Republicans are optimistic about the seat. The three extant Republican eagerly played up the odds they could get a fourth colleague. State GOP chair Amy Carnevale said the party was “very united” in snapping up the seat.
Democrats, including both Gobi and Mass Dems Chair Kerrigan pointed to the district’s two cities and Holden. Healey won Holden last year by 14 points. Kerrigan told Politico the nominee would be “fully prepared and resourced.”
The Senate will authorize a special election once it formally receives Gobi’s resignation. Although she is not leaving until June 4, the gears to set the dates for a special primary and general election can begin turning the day she submits an irrevocable resignation.