Tuesday, September 04, 2012 • 6:53 AM Comments ()

Newsflash: Republican (Hearts) Neal

posted by Maureen Turner

The Springfield Republican ran a glowing endorsement of U.S. Rep. Richie Neal this weekend—no surprise there; the Republican would go steady with Neal if it could—while beating the lemon off one of his two Democratic challengers for the 1st Congressional District seat, Andrea Nuciforo.

(One more time: Neal, Nuciforo and Bill Shein, a political writer and activist, will face off in the Democratic primary this Thursday, Sept. 6. Barring a last-minute, and wildly successful, write-in campaign, the primary winner will take the seat, as there are no Republican or third-party candidates on the November ballot.)

The editorial’s praise of the incumbent ran along the standard lines, echoing the congressman’s campaign talking points: that Neal’s a House veteran who’s made his way to a high position on the House Ways and Means Committee; that he’s brought lots of dough to Springfield for development projects, including at the old Tech High and along State Street; that he’s long been involved in affairs in Northern Ireland (an issue that plays well in the Irishman-heavy district, even if it has little effect on his constituents’ daily lives).

More juicy—although not especially surprising—was the editorial’s stinging dismissal of Nuciforo, a former state senator who now serves as Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds. Nuciforo, the paper chided, “has run a particularly negative and mean-spirited campaign, painting Neal as a Washington insider, who is beholden to special interests and corporate lobbyists.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Nuciforo, or any candidate, drawing attention to the vast amounts of money Neal’s campaign takes from the insurance, banking and pharmaceutical industries, to name a few, and questioning how those donations influence his positions; that’s exactly the kind of things that voters should be thinking about when they head to the polls. And I don’t think Nuciforo deserved all the grief he got from his party’s establishment when he first announced his plans to challenge Rep. John Olver, a fellow Democrat, for the seat back in 2009. (Olver since decided to retire, and redistricting shifted the district’s boundaries to make Neal the de facto incumbent.) Massachusetts politics is not well served by its unspoken let-the-incumbent-stay-until-he-or-she-is-ready-to-leave policy; politicians are supposed to come before voters for regular performance reviews, and if those voters wanted to replace Olver with Nuciforo—an unlikely scenario, admittedly—that would be their right.

But the problem for Nuciforo is his own record, during his time in the state Senate, of accepting corporate money. Indeed, while he proudly notes that his Congressional campaign is fueled by individual contributions only, with no PAC donations, an awful lot of those individual donors happen to be lobbyists, corporate attorneys and banking and insurance executives. I also have a hard time forgetting his role, in the Senate, in killing the Clean Elections law that was strongly supported by voters. (The effort to kill the law was led by then-House Speaker Tom Finneran, who went on the be convicted on felony obstruction-of-justice charges.) Nuciforo stands by his position, saying the law’s threshold for qualifying for public funds was too low.

Interestingly, the Republican endorsement didn’t mention the plagiarism scandal that broke last month, when Shein pointed out numerous instances where Nuciforo’s campaign apparently lifted, at times almost verbatim, language from other campaigns for use in his own position papers (including, in a particularly uncomfortable bit of irony, statements on women’s rights from John Edwards, of all people). Perhaps the Republican’s editorial writers felt they couldn’t top this sound whupping Nuciforo received from the Daily Hampshire Gazette?

Meanwhile, the Republican offered nary a word of criticism of Shein—who, I would argue, has offered a more substantial critique of Neal’s campaign-finance record than Nuciforo, and done so more effectively; while he’s a first-time candidate and therefore has no voting record to analyze, Shein made a pledge to accept only individual campaigns of $99 or less, and to take no money from PACs, lobbyists or executives whose companies hire lobbyists.

Instead, the Republican wrote that Shein’s “low-key campaign” (a description I’d quibble with; I’d describe his campaign as energetic and smart) “has focused on policy differences with Neal.”

Me, I think progressive voters—and, really, any voters eager to end the death grip that corporate money holds on our political system and, consequently, on environmental, economic and social policies—have a golden opportunity in Shein to vote for a candidate who is addressing issues that really matter. Ah, but will they seize that opportunity?

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