Dem Congressional Primary Choice: Budget Prizes or Progressive Wish List

Saturday, July 27, 2019

I cannot predict who will be voting for Alex Morse in the Democratic primary election for the U.S. House in the First Massachusetts District in September of 2020, but I can tell you who will be voting against Morse in droves: elected and appointed officials in Springfield, Pittsfield, North Adams and many other cities and towns in western Massachusetts.  They won't want to lose the juice of longtime First District incumbent Richard Neal, Morse's primary opponent.  (Nor would I if I lived or held office in that district.)

Neal has been in the Congress as long as Morse has been alive, 30 years.  Now, at the pinnacle of his political career, Neal is at last chairing the Ways & Means Committee, meaning he influences every major budgetary decision at the federal level, including which local, in-state projects get funds from Uncle Sam.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is one of many office holders in western Massachusetts who are dreaming big because of Neal's newly acquired power.

During a meeting this past Tuesday of the East-West Passenger Rail Advisory Committee, which is reviewing options for binding Springfield to Boston via high-speed rail, Sarno mused on how this could actually be the moment when the people Massachusetts might get the feds to write big checks for the rail link.  "With Neal there, if they (the Congress) do infrastructure (this session), it could happen," he said. 

Sarno was referring to a bill -- long talked about in D.C., supposedly supported by majorities in both parties, but not yet filed -- that would address major infrastructure needs around the nation.

Since 1993, when Neal was first appointed to Ways & Means, pundits and plainfolk have speculated on the positive implications for his district and the entire Commonwealth if he were to become Ways & Means chair one day.

Now that that day has arrived, it's hard to imagine -- but certainly not out of the question -- that the First District would kick Neal to the curb and hand his job to Morse.  After Ayanna Pressley soundly beat 20-year-incumbent Mike Capuano in the Seventh Massachusetts House District last September, we don't laugh at longshots any more.

By the way, Morse told the publication "Mother Jones" he'd "be thrilled to be welcomed into the Squad," the foursome of first-term women members of the House, including Pressley, who have been pushed to the center of the nation's political discourse by President Trump's strategy of endlessly vilifying them on Twitter and at rallies. 

Could Morse be hoping Trump will start assassinating his character, too, thereby eliciting support and donations for his insurgent campaign from Trump haters everywhere?  In the theater of politics, persecution is good box office.

For old line Democrats in the Congress, a new world seems to be taking shape.  They now have to fear being "primaried" from the left by progressives almost as much as Republicans have for 10 years feared Tea Partiers coming at them from the right.

Morse, a graduate of Brown University, achieved boy wonder status in politics on Nov. 8, 2011, when he was elected, at age 22, as the youngest-ever mayor of Holyoke.  He was an even bigger boy wonder than Neal in his day.  (The guy everyone knows as Richie was 30 when elected Springfield City Council president and 34 when elected mayor.) 

We have here a clash both of ideals and generations.  The passions unleashed in contests of this nature guarantee that the race for the Democratic nomination in the First House District will be fierce. 

Neal wins in the end, I say, because he's is more naturally genial and humble than Capuano was, the First District is inherently more conservative than the Seventh, the First District needs the largesse of the federal government more desperately than the Seventh, and a Ways & Means potentate can deliver the goods better than a Squad newbie.


No comments:

Post a Comment