The average IQ of the state Legislature is about to drop a few points.
Marty Walz delivered her final address in the House chamber Wednesday. She’s leaving to become chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
I have a problem with this.
Sure, I would have preferred that the Back Bay Democrat leave before she asked voters for another term, thereby avoiding yet another expensive special election (The job didn’t come up until later, she counters: “My crystal ball doesn’t work that well”). But that’s not nearly as upsetting as this: Walz is leaving Beacon Hill.
She’s a good egg and a smart one. Elected eight years ago, Walz, 51, promptly located the levers of power, building the alliances she needed to get things done.
In 2010, she wrote a law that set a national example, making every school district accountable for a plan to combat bullying.
She also championed an education law that has had a significant impact on the state’s schools, especially on those that ill-serve the most vulnerable kids: Under the law, management has broader powers to restructure failing schools. The law allowed more charter schools to compete for students in poorly performing districts and flexible, in-district charters called innovation schools.
These proposals did not endear the liberal Walz to the teachers unions, a state of affairs that might have given other Democrats pause. She pressed forward.
Her departure also bugs me because it leaves Beacon Hill even more embarrassingly unbalanced, genderwise. On Feb. 16, 38 of 157 House members and 12 of 39 senators will be women. Despite the advances we’ve made over the decades, the glass ceiling on Beacon Hill is stuck at 26 percent.
“There’s no doubt that it’s harder for women to serve in the Legislature than men,” she says. “There’s not a level playing field in our society, and the Legislature reflects that.”
Still, Walz has done particularly well under House Speaker Bob DeLeo. The Winthrop Democrat might seem like an old-school regular, but he has been remarkably supportive of women in the House, elevating more of them to leadership positions than any of his predecessors.
And in a culture where women must be begged to throw their hats into rings — witness all of the men eyeing John Kerry’s Senate seat — it’s a shame Walz won’t be running for another office anytime soon. But there’s also something refreshing about the fact that she isn’t a lifer.
Heading up Planned Parenthood is a logical move for Walz. In 2007, she cosponsored a law expanding to 35 feet the buffer zones that keep demonstrators away from abortion clinics.
“Little did I know . . . that I would one day be crossing that buffer zone on my way to work,” she says.
The job will be a cakewalk compared with those of Planned Parenthood chiefs in other states, where abortion rights are being legislated out of existence .
While there have been few direct assaults on abortion rights in Massachusetts since John Salvi’s murderous attack on two Planned Parenthood clinics in 1994, Walz will have to contend with some oblique ones, for example, the outfits masquerading as pregnancy advice centers that try to dissuade women from seeking abortions, sometimes through deception. And, since a goal of Planned Parenthood is preventing unwanted pregnancies, she’ll be pushing to improve the quality of sex education in schools.
“We can’t sit back and take our rights for granted,” she says.
Under Walz, Planned Parenthood will be more political in general, focusing anew on bolstering candidates who support abortion rights. Under state law, she can’t lobby her old colleagues for a year. Then she’ll be back, sharp as ever and full of vim. But this time, she will be trying to influence legislation, not make it herself.
Bummer.Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.