The Primary Numbers: To Put Our District First, Neal is the Choice…
On March 3, 1925, Frederick Gillett stepped down as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives to become Massachusetts’s Junior Senator. Arguably, the district centered on Hampden County has not enjoyed such influence since.
That could change next year if Democrats take the House. That power can only come if the incumbent for the 1st Congressional District, Richard Neal, is reelected. Even if Neal were not in line to become chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, this blog would endorse his reelection. However, the stakes and possibilities of his taking that gavel make his success in Tuesday’s Democratic primary essential.
Neal, a former Springfield mayor and city councilor, faces Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, a Springfield attorney. She has waged a spirited, if underfunded campaign. However, at no point, has she made a convincing case to replace Neal.
The 1st Congressional District includes virtually all of Berkshire and Hampden counties, Franklin and Hampshire counties’ western fringes, and southwestern Worcester County.
We must pause to point something out. As some incidents suggest, there may be opposition to Amatul-Wadud because of her Islamic faith. Such is disgusting, un-American and has no place, even at the margins, in this race. Know that this blog wholly condemns any such bigotry.
Amatul-Wadud, who built her law practice after a stint with legal aide, says, nobly, she ran after observing her community’s needs. Whether they can be fairly lain at Neal’s feet is another matter.
Her case against Neal boils down to two basic things: Neal is insufficiently liberal and too inattentive to the district’s rural areas. The former we can dispense with quickly.
Many Neal critiques contrast him with James McGovern, whose Worcester-based district includes Amherst, Greenfield and Northampton. Yet, it’s not much of a contrast.
Over the past 10 years, Neal and McGovern have voted the same way 95-98% of the time according to ProPublica.
Critics must reach back years and often pull votes out of context to find proof of Neal’s liberal apostasy. The alternative is to deny reality. Neal has supported minimum wage increases, gun control and environmental protection.
But we are to ignore Amatul-Wadud’s own progressive impurities like voting for Scott Brown over Elizabeth Warren?
As for attention to the more rural areas, we cannot say whether this is substantive or merely distaste of Neal’s subtler version of progressivism. Neal should visit these places more often, but would that change minds?
This complaint aspires to duplicate a critique Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used against Joseph Crowley in New York: he’s never home. But in Neal’s case, that’s absurd at best and dishonest at worst. He is in and around Springfield nearly every week. He has appeared throughout the district if not on MSNBC.
More importantly, Neal has delivered millions, perhaps billions, in federal dollars to the region. These amounts are both large and small, but for our cash poor local governments they are essential. A congressman cannot turn around a region on his own—the state must do that—but he can mitigate the impact of a changing economy and fund needs the state ignores.
Then there is advocacy. Neal has played key roles in expanding rail service and keeping jobs at the military bases and other federal employers. Yes, the defense budget has bloat, but a protest vote is not free if it jeopardizes thousands of jobs at Barnes or Westover.
Perhaps he is underexposed, but in the short time he has been the top Democrat on Ways & Means, Neal has been a consistent and persistent critic of the tax cut Donald Trump and his invertebrate Congress passed. If Neal becomes Ways & Means chair, he will oversee the reversal of that monstrosity.
In one of the more absurd attacks Amatul-Wadud launched against Neal, she cited his vote against Republican farm bills as proof of his rural indifference. Neal said the claim “baffled” him. Indeed, that same bill garroted programs that feed children, pregnant and nursing women and the poor, the very people in need that inspired Amatul-Wadud to run.
We suspect that Amatul-Wadud simply got bad advice. However, this follows a hatred of Neal among some, especially outside Greater Springfield, that has become so irrational that, to sustain the attack, they are condemning his votes against bills that would literally take food out of the mouths of children.
Amatul-Wadud has intuited correctly a leadership deficit exists in her community. Neal is not the problem. The problem is in city councils and several state legislative seats.
Were all this not true, we could not overlook the potential of Neal chairing Ways & Means. Even if Amatul-Wadud became twice the congresswoman her supporters think, it could not equal the power of this chairmanship. Atop Ways & Means, Neal’s leverage in the House, and indeed across the federal government, would grow exponentially. Not just dollars, but policy, to benefit the region will be in play.
The impact will extend to Boston as well. As both the dean of the Massachusetts delegation and Ways & Means chair, Neal could push the commonwealth to end its various neglects of the 413 and properly invest in Western Massachusetts.
This blog is Springfield-based and Springfield-focused. We are aware of Neal’s imperfections, but they do not undermine his representation of the 1st district district. If there is a case against Neal this year, Amatul-Wadud has not made it.
With no reservation, we endorse Richard Neal in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District.