I Publius: Two seats won’t go into one

I spend considerable time having in-depth conversations with various members of Congress on WAMC’s Congressional Corner. These are often — but not always — brilliant people with an inside perspective on politics and the art of the possible.

In the 2nd Congressional District, which may be combined with ours in the coming reapportionment, lives one of the brightest and most articulate men I have ever spoken with, Richie Neal of Springfield.

He is so bright and so engaging that I can’t get enough of him. He is a student of politics, the Congress, and anything Irish. He probably had more to do with the successful Irish peace process than any other American. If he only did that one thing in his lifetime it would have been enough. Just think of the number of lives he has saved.

As one of the very top captains of the Ways and Means Committee, he is a very important man in the House. When I asked him whether he would be interested in running for the Senate, he had a one word, two letter answer: no. He loves the House of Representatives, its history and its traditions. In addition to being the head of the Irish American Caucus in the House, he is co-chair of the New England Congressional Caucus.

The guy is unique. It is true that he knows how to get along with people in the political world and it is true that he is a close friend of a former colleague in the house, Rahm Emanuel, with whom he shares an occasional merlot. But he is so smart and so articulate, you would hardly call him an old style “pol.” He’s much more like a brilliant, yet not distant, professor.

In fact, when he starts to talk history with you — what Washington said to Jefferson; what Jefferson said to Madison; what the framers really thought about the separation of powers; why the Congress comes first in the Constitution — you sit up and take notice. He spends a lot of time in college lecture halls and you have to wish you had him for American history.

If Massachusetts loses a congressional seat in the reapportionment coming after the soon-to-be census, it may well come down to a primary between John Olver and Richie Neal. Olver has ably represented the district for years and votes the way I would, but he is nearing retirement age. Richie is still a relatively young man and has lots of service left in him to give.

On another matter, I really can’t let an opportunity go by without thanking all the people at the Berkshire International Film Festival for their heroic work. This has become a wonderful opportunity for all of us to do something stimulating and rewarding before all hell breaks loose in the summer. I cannot say enough good things about Kelley Vickery, the woman who puts it all together. Her ability to get others to pitch in and make this work creates a tremendous sense of community.

Next year, I would love to see one of our Berkshire film lions, like Sam Waterston or Meryl Streep or Jill Clayburgh, receiving the high honor that the film festival bestows every year. Or how about our wonderful Karen Allen, who has made us all so proud? Karen is the most approachable actor I have ever heard of. She is talented, brilliant, artistic, a great member of our community and so generous that words can’t describe what she has done. She is a member of the BIFF board and is as humble and down to earth as they come, but she should be prevailed upon to accept this honor. This year’s choice of Professor Richard Brown was popular and a good choice for many but left me underwhelmed.

Finally, as readers of this column know, I am a big Barack Obama fan. However, I think his recent obvious deal with Charles Schumer, the aggressive U.S. Senator from next door New York, was a major mistake. He should not have called Congressman Steve Israel from Long Island and asked him not to primary Kirsten Gillibrand.

The whole point of American democracy is choice. Primaries provide that choice and all that this sad story points out is Schumer’s immense political clout. Obama is a symbol of doing the right thing and staying out of the political gutter. As for Schumer, the only U.S. Senator with two votes, you might remember, pride goeth before a fall.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 5/23/09

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