Our Opinion: Swift has earned her political insights

As a young woman from North Adams, Jane Swift was destined to be an outsider even after becoming governor of Massachusetts. Her battle scars give her a unique perspective in sorting out a political world today that perplexes so many residents of the state, Democratic and Republican alike.

A graduate of North Adams' Drury High School, Ms. Swift was back in the city to speak at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) Thursday as part of the school's spring policy lecture funded by the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust (Eagle, April 15). At age 25, she became the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate in 1990, and after being elected lieutenant governor on a Republican ticket with Paul Cellucci, she became acting governor in 2001 when Governor Cellucci left to become U.S. ambassador to Canada.

Her tenure was to be short. A moderate in the long tradition of Massachusetts Republican governors, her actions as acting governor were overshadowed by controversies that would only confront a woman — such as her decision to maintain her authority as governor while on maternity leave after giving birth to twin daughters and her use of a state helicopter to get home to a sick child in the Berkshires. When Mitt Romney parachuted in to run for governor and won over a Republican establishment that was never particularly supportive of Ms. Swift, she chose not to run for a full term in 2002. She remains the only woman to become governor of Massachusetts, a state that prides itself on providing women with opportunities equal to men.

Ms. Swift's Thursday presentation, "The Trump Presidency," was not surprisingly influenced by her own experience. She advised voters and the media to focus on the issues that matter to people's lives and not get caught up in peripheral personal issues. It is indeed too tempting to get caught up in the president's tweets when his actions, on issues foreign and domestic, are what matters. Ms. Swift, who backed former Florida Governor Jeb Bush for president, bemoaned our "reality TV government," and the proper response to it is for the media and media consumers to demand facts and coherent explanations when it comes to administration actions.

As a woman, Ms. Swift said she felt as if she were walking along a cliff as her political career advanced and urged creation of a "wider path" for women. That wider path, she continued, will come as more women get involved in public policy by volunteering or running for political office, and there are signs of this taking place in reaction to policies of the Trump administration. Ms. Swift put a crack in the glass ceiling when she became the state's acting governor but it won't be broken until a woman is elected to that office.

Ms. Swift, who told her audience that she didn't vote for Mr. Trump, said it is now important to the nation's future that common ground be found in Washington. Finding that common ground has been difficult, but Massachusetts Republicans and Democrats have proven through a series of governors over the last couple of decades that government works best when the personal and the political give way to a common purpose.


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