| G. Michael Dobbs
As I write this on Nov. 2, I know about the various predictions that have been made about the future makeup of Congress and perhaps selfishly I know a switch of leadership would put our member of Congress and the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee in a new and diminished role.
Although Richard Neal had an opponent in this year’s race, Republican Dean Martilli, it was the last race two years ago in which former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse challenged Neal in the Democratic primary.
Morse did not succeed in his bid and in fact did not carry his own city, perhaps a response to his absences due to his quest to move up the political ladder. Being a full-time mayor is both a vital job as well as a difficult one. The Paper City did not benefit from having an absentee mayor.
At the time, many observers believed that Morse was trying to ride what appeared to be a trend of progressive Democrats flipping seats that were occupied by more old-school centrists, as well as people who had served a long time in the House.
Generally, the conventional political wisdom is we want members of Congress in leadership positions and we want seniority because they can do more in terms of bringing dollars back to the district.
There are indeed valid arguments about the Democrats becoming more and more like traditional Republicans in some ways – and I mean the Republicans of my childhood – and the efforts by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others are a means to right the Democratic ship to values it once had.
While Neal dodged the bullet from Morse – who in this writer’s opinion was not the best choice for a giant-killer or a true progressive – there is now a new effort to bring Neal down from within his own party.
A new website has been launched, RichieNealSecrets.com, the product of a new political action committee (PAC). I spoke to one of the PAC members, Matt Barron, who said to me those who oppose Neal “are now playing a long game.”
Barron said those in the group are hoping the PAC and the website attracts progressives in the congressional district and perhaps inspire people to consider running for the seat.
The site has many attributed facts about Neal’s time in Congress, as well as his links through donations to corporate interests. One other founder of the site, Jon Weissman, said in a written statement, “Very few voters in Neal’s district are aware of the details of his voting record and how it is shaped and informed by his corporate special interest donors. We at MA-1 PAC feel it is important to educate voters about Neal’s past voting records and future intentions.”
The members of the PAC are looking for a candidate who would be more accessible and less controlled by special interests.
Barron asserted that Neal is the “number one recipient” of PAC money in the House. According to the group, “Neal is one of the biggest recipients of corporate donations. In the 2018 election cycle, Neal’s war chest was filled with more than $1.4 million in PAC money (76 percent) compared with only $8,030 (0.42 percent) from small individual contributions of $200 or less. His top contributors continue to be some of the biggest special interests in Washington – Big Pharma, insurance, securities and investment.”
Barron told me that Neal has received “kid glove treatment” by the press in Hampden County. He further criticized Neal for being an “inaccessible Congressman” whose last Town Hall meeting was in 2017.
To be clear, the PAC doesn’t allege any criminal wrongdoing, just a brand of politics they find objectionable.
Between what happens on Nov. 8 as well as this movement to find a progressive candidate, the next few months could be very interesting.