Senate President Karen Spilka. © 2016 Eric Haynes

Sen. Karen Spilka, who in July became the third woman elected president of the Massachusetts Senate, will be the featured speaker at the Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 18 during the MMA’s 40th Annual Meeting & Trade Show.

During 17 years in the Legislature, Spilka has been a force on economic and technology issues, and in advocating for children and those with disabilities.

Spilka and her husband, Joel Loitherstein, became involved in local government when they moved to Ashland in 1985. Spilka joined the Personnel Board, and Loitherstein joined the Conservation Commission. In the late 1990s, Spilka won a seat on the School Committee, where – after concluding that education aid inequities were shortchanging MetroWest communities – she formed a coalition and coordinated an effort to lobby for changes to the state’s education funding formula.

When her state representative resigned in 2001, Spilka announced her candidacy. She served three years representing the Seventh Middlesex District before being elected to the Senate.

In the Senate, Spilka represents the 2nd Middlesex and Norfolk District, which includes Ashland, Framingham, Holliston, Hopkinton, Medway and portions of Franklin and Natick. She served as chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means for three years, after serving as Senate majority whip, assistant majority whip, Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, and Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, a committee she helped originate. She currently chairs the Biotech Legislative Caucus and the Tech Hub Caucus.

When Spilka was installed as the Senate president on July 26, she gave a personal speech citing her family history as the driving force behind her passion for public service and working on behalf of people who need help.

In 1906, her grandfather fled Russia for the United States after protesting the czar’s policies and seeing a friend hanged in the village square. Her father, a World War II veteran, suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness, and Spilka recalled thinking as a teenager about how her family’s life would have been different if her father had received the services he needed.

Spilka also spent 26 years as the legal guardian for her sister, who had Down syndrome.

She said her sister’s rallying cry each week was, “‘I got my paycheck!,’ … which taught me that giving people the opportunity to participate in our economy – as well as the tools to succeed – benefits us all.”

Prior to becoming a legislator, Spilka, 65, was an attorney in private practice as an arbitrator and mediator, specializing in labor and employment law and community and court mediation. In addition, she has been a facilitator and fact finder in disputes in the public and private sectors, as well as a trainer of adult mediation and school-based peer mediation programs, collaborative-based collective bargaining, and conflict resolution strategies.

She has also previously worked as a labor and employment attorney on behalf of employees, unions, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and the Commonwealth.

In 2013, Spilka was a candidate in the Democratic primary to succeed Congressman Ed Markey after he won a special election to the U.S. Senate. Katherine Clark won the primary and, ultimately, the congressional election.

Spilka is a graduate of Northeastern Law School and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Cornell University. She has one step-daughter, two sons, and a rescue dog named Lincoln.

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