BOSTON – Born to a 17-year-old single mother who was supposed to graduate high school that day, Diana DiZoglio drove cross-country after her own high school graduation and worked at a teen home in Los Angeles, went on to wait tables at an Olive Garden while attending Middlesex Community College, and experienced “a little bit of a culture shock” when she transferred to the prestigious Wellesley College.
DiZoglio, now a state representative poised to join the Senate in January, said Monday that people have quipped to her recently that she should prepare again for culture shock as she moves down the hall.
Fielding a question about the transition as she spoke at a Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus breakfast, DiZoglio described herself as “sort of a maverick in the House” and said she expected “positive differences” in the Senate.
“Just to be candid, when there’s nowhere to go but up, there’s a sense of freedom that comes with that as well, so I think that in the House, it is different,” the Methuen Democrat said. “There is a different structure there where you have a lot of centralized power with the speaker and his leadership team, and it’s a very top-down style of leadership that I am absolutely not a fan of. I think in the Senate, the difference is going to be that there will be more independence. That’s what I’ve heard at least.”
With larger districts and fewer members in the 40-seat Senate compared to the 160-member House, the leadership structure shakes out differently. Each Senate Democrat chairs at least one committee or otherwise serves in the Senate president’s leadership team, while those influential and higher-paid posts are held by comparatively few House lawmakers.
DiZoglio said she is looking forward to the “greater platform and a voice” that would come with whatever post she is assigned in the Senate, and along with it, “possibly a little more leverage to get things done for my communities.”
During the event at the Back Bay offices of Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts, DiZoglio reflected on her path to office and encouraged the mostly female audience to support young women and each other.
“I encourage you to join me in a conscious, collective effort to give a hardworking woman an opportunity, to mentor a young woman who may not otherwise find her path to success, to give guidance to someone who may be disadvantaged or struggling because even one act of kindness, one act of care or assistance that you might think is not a big deal, it can be life altering for some women,” she said. “I remember times when it was for me, and I remember the women who reached out, no matter how long ago it was.”
With 11 women elected to the Senate and 46 to the House this year, women are set to hold a record 28.5 percent of seats in the Legislature next session.
DiZoglio, 35, last month beat Republican Alexander Leighton Williams with 63 percent of the vote to capture the seat now held by Sen. Kathleen O’Connor-Ives of Newburyport, who did not seek re-election. DiZoglio was first elected to the House in 2012 after unseating 14-year incumbent David Torrisi of North Andover in the Democratic primary.
DiZoglio said she “fell in love with the work” in her first job after graduating Wellesley — as legislative aide to then-Rep. Paul Adams — but held that post for only a few months before she “hit a little bit of trouble.”
In March of this year, during debate on a legislative rules package intended to better equip the House to respond to workplace harassment complaints, DiZoglio broke a nondisclosure agreement she had signed as an aide as part of a severance agreement in 2011, telling her colleagues she had been wrongfully fired because of discredited rumors about inappropriate behavior.
After leaving, DiZoglio said she knew she wanted to return to the Statehouse to work for her community and decided to do so as an officeholder, running a grassroots campaign in which she said she struggled to raise money but “knocked on every single door that was going to vote in that Democratic primary” and “talked to every person I could.”
She defeated Torrisi by 164 votes. The two are now friends, and he supported her Senate bid this year, DiZoglio said.
Drawing on her own childhood and experiences working with teenagers in California, DiZoglio said passing financial literacy legislation will be one of her top priorities in the Senate.
The Education Committee, on which DiZoglio serves, endorsed a bill that would bring objectives and standards on personal finance literacy into Massachusetts schools.
The Senate in March passed a version of the bill (S 2374), and it has remained since then in the custody of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“It’s so important for all the families in our communities, and just speaking from my personal experience, coming from a home where my mother was only 17 when she had me, I can tell you it’s one of the most important things that we can offer to lower-income women, and it’s something that we needed to address yesterday in the State House,” DiZoglio said.