Youth movement

At 22, Solomon Goldstein-Rose is poised to claim a House seat

Photograph by Frank Curran

THE SCENE: The Amherst town cemetery, sitting on a stone wall circling an old burial plot, not far from Emily Dickinson’s grave. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, who won the Democratic primary for an open Amherst-based House seat and faces no opposition in November, suggested the graveyard over a busy bagel shop because his soft-spoken voice couldn’t be heard above the restaurant clamor. He waves as a cop drives by, looking for loitering teens.

Presuming you’re elected, will you be the state’s youngest legislator? No. There’s a 21-year-old from Cape Cod.  He has a general election challenge, but I think he’s likely to win. It seems like there are more young people running than usual and that’s exciting. There’s going to be a cohort of us coming in.

Do you feel millennials are underrepresented in the Legislature? People 18 to 29 are 20 percent of eligible voters and half of the voters in this district, but 2.5 percent of the Legislature. It’s pretty much one of the most underrepresented groups you can imagine. It’s not that we would automatically be better, but we do have a unique voice and perspective. We tend to want to think longer term. A lot of us are idealistic. I see those as strengths.

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Freshman legislators don’t have a lot of power. What’s your strategy to get some things done? I’m not going in there to be a rabble-rouser. I want to come in, learn from my colleagues, compromise, and get smaller, short-term steps done immediately. And then build over time for the larger ideas. I’ve had conversations with very conservative people in the state who are fully behind clean energy. Climate change is the most serious economic threat to the Commonwealth and the most serious public health threat in the next few decades, so we need to be treating it as a nonpartisan issue.

How did you get your start in politics? I started when I was 2 months old on a picket line joining a protest to help end the genocide in Bosnia. I come from a political family. My parents are activists. When I was 12, I worked on school bus idling. That was my first big project. I was working with a group that was trying to get the school buses in this district to turn off their engines when they were picking up and dropping off kids. Ellen Story [the rep he is replacing] had a bill in the Legislature that would prohibit idling on school property. We eventually succeeded and then four years later Ellen’s bill finally passed.

How much did you spend on your campaign? About $25,000. We knew going into this we were going to have to raise twice as much money, have twice as much substance, and knock on twice as many doors, and that’s what we did. I personally knocked on 3,000 doors. There are 22,000 voters and we contacted 10,000, maybe 12,000, in some way.

Climate change is your top priority? Climate change is the central issue for my generation’s future and the next generation. There are many other issues I’m passionate about, but climate change is the thing. We can do whatever we want in the US, but we’re still going to be hit with the full impact of climate change unless India and China and other places stop emitting carbon pollution. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty around the world. If we want to phase them out, we need something that’s cheaper. Massachusetts can be the state that develops clean energy technologies that are cheaper than fossil fuels. That’s what I want to do, helping to invest in a center at UMass and other colleges and tech centers around the state that would develop revolutionary batteries and better solar cells or biofuels.

What about education? The biggest issue is funding. Long, long term, what I think we should be doing is reducing or eliminating property taxes and increasing income taxes in a progressive way. Property taxes are not a good way to fund public schools. They are hard for places like Amherst where half our land is untaxable. And poor communities around the state don’t have a lot of tax base, so if they have underperforming schools, it’s hard to break out of that.

What are your concerns about standardized tests? We should have a test, but it’s the fact that it’s used for high-stakes decisions, that it’s used to judge teachers and districts, that it drives curricula and, most of all, that people feel like they have to teach to the test. Long term, it would be nice to have a holistic test or evaluation system, something that could get at leadership and communication skills, things that are equally important to learn from schools. We have no way to measure them now, so they get squashed out of the curriculum. Social studies, arts get squashed out of the curriculum because they don’t have a test.

When did you graduate from Brown? This May.

What did you major in? At first I was an engineering student. I thought I was going to do research and development of clean energy technologies. Then I took a semester off and interned at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. When I got back, I switched from a BS to a BA in engineering and double-majored in engineering and public policy. Luckily, I was able to plan a semester of classes that was not overwhelming. So, I focused mostly on the campaign. I did direct a theater production the first week of the semester.

Meet the Author
You’re a director, not an actor? Well, both. I’m a better director than I am an actor or singer, but I like acting and singing and tech, and so I’ve done a little of everything. Theater feeds my soul.

Will you continue directing plays as a legislator? I hope so.