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Brookline, Newton state Rep. Ruth Balser is retiring after 25 years in the State House

Rep. Ruth Balser, right, being presented with the Library Legislative Advocacy Award in 2023. Photo courtesy of Ruth Balser
February 19, 2024

Ruth Balser, who represents parts of Brookline and Newton in the state legislature, will retire from her position at the end of this year.

Balser, 75, has been the state representative for the 12th Middlesex District for 25 years, representing southern Newton and at times parts of Brookline. Most recently, because of redistricting in 2022, Balser has represented a large part of South Brookline, including precincts 5, 13A, 14, and 15.

Before serving as a state representative Balser was an elected alderman in Newton and worked as a clinical psychologist.

“I look at it as having had two very meaningful careers. My decision now is really just that I feel ready to retire,” Balser said in an interview.

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During her decades in the State House, Balser focused on environmental issues, mental health and healthcare, and fire safety.

She helped write many laws, including one which prohibits charging women more than men for insurance policies, and another which expands the requirements for automatic sprinkler systems in buildings.

The latter was motivated by a tragedy in February 2000, just a year after she entered office, when five people and a dog were killed in an office building fire on Boylston Street.

“It was such a trauma to the community, to all of us,” Balser said. She set to work making calls to the local fire chief and the state fire marshal, who helped her understand that there were loopholes in the state’s requirements for sprinklers. Her bill passed in 2008, and she is working on follow-up legislation to expand those requirements further before she retires.

Balser’s landmark achievement is likely the passage of the Public Lands Preservation Act, a decades-long priority of environmentalists, which protects public parks and conservation land from development.

“It takes time,” Balser said. “What’s very rare is the bill that passes the first time that’s filed. For any successful legislation, there will be a story of many years of building support, building coalitions, talking with colleagues, leadership, the administration and the public.”

Rep. Tommy Vitolo, who represents the 15th Norfolk District, which includes most of the rest of Brookline, called Balser “a gem.”

“She’s always done a really nice job of connecting with people. You leave a conversation with Ruth Balser feeling better than you did when you started,” Vitolo said. “She also gets things done. She’s been a real champion on elevating mental health and emotional health as something worth spending resources on.”

An open seat

Balser’s retirement leaves an open seat in the heavily Democratic district.

One candidate has already announced a run to replace her: Newton City Councilor Bill Humphrey, who is in his third term representing the city’s Ward 5, which includes parts of Waban and the Newton Highlands.

“I know the Newton neighborhoods of this district very well,” Humphrey said in his campaign announcement. “I have some familiarity with some of the Brookline areas, but I have also been reaching out to friends of friends in Brookline politics to make sure I get up to speed on the needs of those neighborhoods too.”

Humphrey has a campaign war chest of $23,799.80, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. No other candidates have yet announced plans to run for the seat.

Balser said that she thinks the issues the district cares most about include strong public services, like education and transportation, and a safety net for people in need.

“While many people I represent are relatively comfortable, they care deeply about making sure that people that are less fortunate get the support they need from the state,” Balser said. “This district cares very much about wanting equity, and wanting people to be treated fairly, and wanting people to get the supports that they need.”

The Democratic primary is on Sept. 3, and the general election on Nov. 5.