Goldstein-Rose bids adieu after one term, cites civic education bill as key achievement

  • Solomon Goldstein-Rose talks about his last two years in the state Legislature. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Solomon Goldstein-Rose talks about his last two years in the state Legislature. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Solomon Goldstein-Rose talks about his last two years in the state Legislature. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2019

AMHERST — Having reached the end of his two years in the state’s House of Representatives, Solomon Goldstein-Rose cites his role in the passage of a civics education bill and work on legislation that set targets for increased use of batteries for energy grid-scale storage as significant accomplishments.

Though Goldstein-Rose acknowledges that he can be hard on himself and had hoped to have more significant policy achieved on climate change while in the Legislature, he has no regrets as he relinquishes his seat to Mindy Domb this week. Goldstein-Rose unenrolled from the Democratic Party in 2018 and chose not to seek reelection.

“By most people’s standards, I’ve had a wildly successful term,” he said.

In a recent interview at Share Coffee in downtown Amherst, Goldstein-Rose, 25, reflected on his short tenure on Beacon Hill. He said he understood that when voters elected him to represent the 3rd Hampshire District, which includes all of Amherst, Pelham and District 1 in Granby, they wanted to see him pursue bold and proactive policy initiatives.

“I think I was really excited going in of being an advocate on the inside,” Goldstein-Rose said.

But bringing an exciting vision and standing up for big ideas, and trying to execute this in bills while getting input from colleagues and arguing it out, is not how the Legislature works, as Goldstein-Rose sees it. Instead, there is what he describes as a “nebulous” process of how items get on the legislative agenda.

At the beginning of his term, Goldstein-Rose, elected as one of the youngest lawmakers in the state’s history at 22, said he felt success was happening, including through the energy jobs bill. The bill included carbon pricing, which would add a fee to fossil fuels that is returned as a dividend to consumers, and getting cosponsorship from a Republican legislator, the first bipartisan bill of its kind to confront climate change. “So it worked in some ways,” Goldstein-Rose said.

He did expect some aspects of his platform to move slowly, especially if there was opposition. He found the reality very different. “It’s like things don’t move at all,” Goldstein-Rose said.

Over time, he learned that he needed a deeper level of understanding of the process and culture of lawmaking. The Massachusetts process is that not every bill gets a vote every year.

“The internal advocacy I was doing was not the way to get a bill passed,” Goldstein-Rose said. “A bill only gets to a vote if leadership wants it to be voted on and if leadership knows it will pass.”

He points to criminal justice reform, which had been building support for several years before it was finally ready for the votes that would send it to the governor’s desk.

He said some lawmakers in leadership positions avoid votes on some policy areas to shield colleagues who could be put in a difficult spot with their constituents or their reelection bids.

Goldstein-Rose said he takes pride in the civics education bill and the ideas he was able to put forward in conversations with state Sen. Harriette Chandler.

“It was carefully negotiated internally and in an open process, and it was rolled out and steadily built support,” Goldstein-Rose said. “She really shepherded that through the process.

There were also small energy items Goldstein-Rose got into legislation, noting that it was a lot of effort for relatively tiny results. As part of the Progressive Caucus, he worked to get amendments into the criminal justice reform bill as well.

Along with former Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Goldstein-Rose pushed to continue the earmark to preserve the Craig’s Place homeless shelter in Amherst, and also included requests for money to renovate Sweetser Park in Amherst and cover costs of the community kitchen in Pelham.

With the University of Massachusetts flagship campus in Amherst, Goldstein-Rose said he advocated for higher education funding, confronting student debt and reducing sexual assaults.

One of the major decisions during his tenure was leaving the Democratic party, which he made as a means of crossing political divides.

“In terms of the political impact, I don’t think it did much at all,” Goldstein-Rose said, adding that he also saw little difference in how he was treated. “The surface level reactions by and large were polite.”

For those who treated him as young and naive from his first day in the Legislature, he continued to see some personal negativity, and those who were already condescending remained so.

At the local level, those coming to his office hours were interested in talking to him were more focused on the importance of nonpartisanship after he unenrolled.

As he departs, Goldstein-Rose is trying to be proactive and counseling his constituents on how opaque the legislative process is.

Goldstein-Rose said he is urging them to be more persistent, especially if they have an issue such as climate change, and to be cohesive in their requests of the new state representative.

“I’ve been spending the fall with advocacy groups to discuss this process,” Goldstein-Rose said.

He is convinced that Domb and other new members of the region’s delegation, as well as others elected, will enlarge the Progressive Caucus, which has had about 50 members. Whether this changes dynamics and what gets on the agenda is uncertain.

“I would like to see more legislation be presented to get things done,” he said. “There are people who want to be more active on process and be more confrontational with leadership.”

Goldstein-Rose does not have a job lined up or immediate plans, but has joined the finance committee of Voter Choice Massachusetts, which is pushing for ranked-choice or instant runoff voting that reduces negative politics, better represents voter voices and reduces partisanship.

He hopes to apply to work on a presidential campaign, but only if someone he believes in is running for the White House in 2020.

“(New Jersey Senator) Cory Booker is my top choice among those who have indicated they may run,” Goldstein-Rose said

Eventually, he said he needs to be working in a role where he contributes to society, likely with more focus on climate change. He said doing this through the Massachusetts Legislature could take time, however.

“There may need to be a change in membership or leadership or a world event to get it on the agenda,” Goldstein-Rose said. “Or a grassroots push.”

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