State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose leaves Democratic Party

  • State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose changes his party registration from Democrat to unenrolled at Amherst Town Hall Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose changes his party registration from Democrat to unenrolled at Amherst Town Hall on Tuesday. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 22, 2018

AMHERST — Promoting his belief in being a nonpartisan politician, state Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, who has represented the 3rd Hampshire District since 2017, has left the Democratic Party, a move some area Democrats see as politically risky.

“I have always believed good policy should not be defined by political party, and I don’t want to be defined in that way either,” Goldstein-Rose said in a statement issued Tuesday. “This is one way I can embody how I always want to work in the political world, and be as inclusive as possible when I reach out to people of all political backgrounds to gather support for bold policy proposals.”

Goldstein-Rose filled out the forms to change his registration at Amherst Town Hall Tuesday morning, a week in advance of the secretary of state’s Feb. 27 deadline for which candidates for state office must enroll in or unenroll from a party.

Speaking from Boston, Goldstein-Rose said he has been mulling over becoming an independent, and informed House Speaker Robert DeLeo that he would be unenrolling. He did so, he said, in a nonpartisan spirit as he observed what he described as increasing dysfunction between the major political parties at the national level. He added that he believes the millennial generation is moving toward this independence both in the state and across the country.

“A lot of people, especially younger people, tend to be less engaged in political parties,” said Goldstein-Rose, who is 24. “I look at Massachusetts as a place to model politics and policy.”

He noted that close to 55 percent of voters in Massachusetts do not belong to a party.

Still, unenrolling makes Goldstein-Rose one of just two legislators without a party identification in the commonwealth. Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol, who represents the 2nd Franklin District and unenrolled from the Republican Party in August, is the other independent legislator.

Some observers with knowledge of how the Legislature works are expressing doubts about his decision to unenroll.

Longtime Democratic state Rep. Ellen Story, of Amherst, who stepped down from the 3rd Hampshire District seat in 2016, said she worries that Goldstein-Rose’s attempt to be nonpartisan, when there are just two caucuses, could leave him out of decision-making.

“I’m not sure I completely understand Solomon’s reason for doing this, but I think it’s a mistake,” said Story, speaking from a quarter century of experience.

She adds that Democrats need as many people as possible to confront President Donald Trump and the GOP majorities in Washington.

“It’s more important than ever in the Trump era for people to be Democrats and I am hoping to recruit Democrats,” Story said. “The last thing I want to have happen is to have people leave the Democratic Party the way Solomon has.”

Democratic political consultant Matt Barron of Williamsburg said Goldstein-Rose’s move poses a risk because the Legislature organizes around party caucuses, even with a trend in the state of a decline in parties and independents rising at the expense of Democrats. Being only in his second year in the Legislature, Barron said, Goldstein-Rose could find it harder to deliver on promises to his electorate.

“I don’t think it will cause him any heartburn in his district, but he’s marked himself in the chamber as an outlier,” Barron said.

Barron said it is hard to see this decision having consequences for re-election, even if Goldstein-Rose faces a Democratic challenger, unless he began casting votes that would alarm his progressive base.

“Constituent service is what will elect him. The lion’s share of (legislators’) time is solving problems from state agencies,” Barron said.

But Mary Olberding, the Hampshire County of Register of Deeds, said Goldstein-Rose switching to unenrolled may be a premature decision that will not benefit him or his constituents.

“It takes people several terms to get their bearings in how the Legislature works,” Olberding said.

She added that he was elected because he was a Democrat and supported by Democrats, and said it wouldn’t be surprising to see candidates put up by the party.

“Some of us who are Democrats to the core think there is now an open primary in the district that is overwhelmingly Democratic,” Olberding said.

No change in policy

Goldstein-Rose was elected in 2016 in a six-way Democratic primary to replace Story in a district that includes Amherst, Pelham and Precinct 1 in Granby. He faced no opposition in the general election and is one of the youngest lawmakers at the Statehouse.

He said he intends to run for re-election and will need 150 certified signatures from constituents to get on November’s general election ballot.

Goldstein-Rose said his decision does not mean a change in policy direction. He intends to remain focused on climate change and continue to emphasize a collaborative style.

“I want people to truly engage with our political system, instead of making assumptions from the D or R next to someone’s name in the newspaper,” Goldstein-Rose said.

On the national level, he said, two-party gridlock has stalled action on climate change, though in the state he has gotten support from both major parties, as well as advocacy organizations and business groups.

He sees his recent suggestion of a “tax swap,” which would lower the state sales tax and charge a carbon pollution price to make up the revenue, as being among his nonpartisan policy ideas in which he has done outreach to Republicans.

Being one of the only legislators choosing a nonpartisan registration will bring with it the opportunity to attract greater attention to his district’s policy priorities, Goldstein-Rose said. He said he will ensure continued strong and effective representation in a regional delegation that is facing the retirements of longtime representatives Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and John Scibak, D-South Hadley.

Goldstein-Rose said he believes his influence can grow and he can get more statewide attention focused on bold policies that change state politics at the system level.

Carbon pollution pricing, ranked-choice voting, education reform to empower teachers and civic engagement remain Goldstein-Rose’s priorities in the district. He also notes his efforts to recruit other young people, who tend to choose nonpartisan voter registration more often, to run for office and become politically engaged.

Goldstein-Rose said he understands the electoral risks of unenrolling, and acknowledged that some people will not accept his decision and be upset that he is no longer a Democrat. He said he is not losing significant financial support, and he hopes to retain endorsements from groups, including environmental organizations.

Amherst Select Board member Alisa Brewer called it a logical time for Goldstein-Rose to make this change.

“With all the gridlock at the national level, this is completely in line with Solomon’s promise to challenge our tired business-as-usual politics and engage everyone, especially younger residents who don’t identify with a party label the same way their parents did,” Brewer said.

Pelham Select Board member Karen Ribeiro also said she supports Goldstein-Rose’s decision.

“It’s forward thinking and it will encourage people to take a fresh look at political constructs,” Ribeiro said.

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