Geography, Not Ego, Explains Why Olver Is in No Hurry to Take His Pension

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Massachusetts will have to give up one of its 10 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives next year as part of a national redistricting process related to population growth and population shifts that occurred from 2001 to 2010.

Unless one person now sitting in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation voluntarily retires, the redistricting process will result in two of the incumbents running against each other.

The committee charged with drawing the lines of the nine new Congressional districts, composed of representatives and senators now serving in the Massachusetts legislature, is rushing to complete its work and is disinclined to provide sneak previews to anyone.

Speculation is intense. Will the ultimate death match pit rookie Bill Keating vs. veteran Steve Lynch, or will it be Nikki Tsongas, the only woman in the delegation, vs. John Tierney, who many feel was weakened by the money laundering case involving his wife and brother-in-law last year?

Meantime, many people look at 75-year-old John Olver, who has represented one of the state's two western districts for many years, and wonder, Why will he not retire? Why will he not spare his fellow office holders much redistricting pain and forestall a hard-fought election between a Keating and a Lynch, or a Tsongas and a Tierney?

The temptation is to regard Olver, who has considerable clout as a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, as selfish and power-hungry. It's wrong to succumb to that temptation, not because one should avoid unflattering thoughts about people in public life but because one should avoid obvious thoughts. The obvious in politics (or any endeavor for that matter) is so often wrong.

Olver's reasons for staying put, in my opinion, have almost everything to do with geography and practically nothing to do with ego. He's a Western Massachusetts guy (with a capital W) standing up for his region against the perennially more powerful and entrenched interests in the east.

If you're from Boston, or anywhere in eastern Massachusetts, (say any place within Route 495), you're likely to be oblivious to how folks in western Massachusetts, (say everywhere on the other side of the Shrewsbury), feel disadvantaged and overlooked by the more heavily populated and self-absorbed east.

Have you ever heard the old line about Boston being the only place where a person can stand at sea level and look down on the rest of the country? Well, a lot of the people who feel looked down upon live between the Connecticut River and the New York border.

So when a John Olver is told it would be good for Massachusetts if he would shuffle quietly from the scene and start to partake of his Congressional pension, he rightly asks himself, "Good for whom in Massachusetts?" And he quickly answers, "Not good for the people where I'm from, the people I am sworn to serve."

Today, western Massachusetts has two Congressman: Olver and Springfield's Richie Neal.

If, in 2013, they have only Richie Neal protecting their interests in the U.S. House, they will be worse off than they are today. Simple. You don't need to be a college professor, as John Olver once was, to understand something like that.

Olver is fortunate to have a powerful ally in this regard, Amherst State Senator and Massachusetts Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg, who is the Senate chair of the redistricting committee. Before he entered politics, the Revere-bred Rosenberg was an aide to Olver when he was in the legislature.

Skeptics are saying Rosenberg will not consent to a one-district western Massachusetts because he harbors dreams of one day soon succeeding Olver in Congress. Maybe he does. But I say that Rosenberg is doing what's best for western Massachusetts today and letting politics take care of itself tomorrow. Indeed, this is likely one of those not-unusual instances where good policymaking is good politics.

It doesn't hurt Rosenberg's chances of successfully defending a two-district west that he undoubtedly has the support of another powerful Western Massachusetts politician in the legislature, the lovable Steve Brewer of Barre, chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

No comments:

Post a Comment