Senate President Karen Spilka addresses local officials at the Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 18 during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show.

Senate President Karen Spilka, who in the early days of her public service career served on a local personnel board and school committee, acknowledged the importance of the work done at the local level and praised the gains women have made in elected public office.

But, she noted at the annual Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 18, there is still more work to do.

“I know what a thankless job it can be at times, and I really believe that all that you do lays the foundation for our whole Commonwealth,” Sen. Spilka said. “The services that our cities and towns provide, the programs, they are the basic necessities for all of our Commonwealth’s residents.”

Local government plays a vital role in people’s lives, and having diverse voices at the table is vital to the issues municipal leaders deal with on a daily basis, from helping seniors and veterans to shoring up infrastructure, schools, and parks.

“If I give you one piece of advice,” she said, “once you have a seat at the table, use it, speak up. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. Having a voice is not as important as using your voice.

“It’s even more wonderful if you can use your voice to amplify the voices of other women.”

Acknowledging the female mayors in the room, Spilka noted that only 197 women have ever served in the state Legislature, compared to more than 20,ooo men. The contributions of women to the political process are more important than ever, she said, and we need more women to run and win.

“As much progress as has been made at the state level, we are at 28.5 percent [women in the Legislature],” she said. “We were at 25 percent. Ideally we should be at at least 50 percent, since women are 50 percent of the population.”

Sen. Spilka looked to past accomplishments in the Legislature, noting the 2015 “women on boards” resolution, the pay equity act, the PATCH Act, and the paid family and medical leave bill.

“All over the world, it’s been shown that investing in women and in girls ensures better outcomes in terms of health and economic growth,” she said. “Encouraging more women to run for office and be involved in the political space … is not just exciting and fun and groundbreaking, it is absolutely necessary for the successful functioning of our Commonwealth and our nation.”

The senate president looked ahead to the new legislative session, highlighting areas where the state can lead the nation, including health care cost containment, mental illness treatment, educational equity, climate change mitigation and adaptation, transportation and housing.

“Given the continued uncertainty at the federal level,” she said, “Massachusetts has a greater imperative now, more than ever, to lead on issues that have an impact on people’s lives. It’s not only a sense of responsibility we feel, but an obligation as well.”

Spilka announced the launch of a new Senate mentoring program designed to share knowledge with and among new senators – to create connections and relationships among colleagues in the senate that “can withstand disagreement over policy issues.”

Spilka closed her remarks by quoting one of the Commonwealth’s famous women, Abigail Adams: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

“Massachusetts,” Spilka said, “has never been shy about shaking up the statue quo, and you shouldn’t be either. Your voice is needed and your expertise is too valuable. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, trust other women and believe in other women and together we will get the tough jobs done.”

The WEMO luncheon is held during the MMA’s Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston.

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