Goodbye to Olver after all these years

I have no doubt that once again, the Berkshires will be screwed by the Boston political bullies. Earlier this week, shock waves raced through the Berkshires as venerable, 75-year-old Congressman John Olver announced his retirement.

The crusty curmudgeon who once bawled me out for personally liking a Republican Congressman has often been described as one of the most liberal members of the House. He explained to all of us that he was retiring because his wife was very ill.

We certainly all wish him and his family the best as they travel through this uncharted territory.

Of course, there’s another possible reason why Olver chose to retire. Next Wednesday, we will hear how Massachusetts is going to reconfigure its congressional districts. One potential scenario suggests that Olver’s Amherst district will be combined with Worcester, and that the Congressman from that city, Jim McGovern, will have enough votes to cream anyone from the western part of the new district. If that should happen, it would have meant bye-bye Olver.

Since the maps are apparently already drawn — in secret, as usual — one would have to suppose that the news would have been leaked to Olver. Some speculate that Olver saw the handwriting on the wall and gave it up, despite protestations that he would stay in the race. As a chemistry professor for much of his adult life, Olver knows about predictability, and he would certainly have lost in that race.

A second scenario would have the two Berkshire Congressional districts putting the very popular Springfield Democrat Richard “Richie” Neal up against Olver with the same results. Olver would have been beaten. Olver brought home a lot of Congressional pork for his district, but Neal is one of the most powerful Congressmen in the House of Representatives.

Neal is truly one of the brightest, most personable men I have ever met. It would be great if we ended up with a single Berkshire District, but the chances of that happening are not good.

In the background is the ambitious but out of luck Andrea Nuciforo, who has been out front about his ambition to run against Olver, no matter what. Frankly, I can’t see a single scenario in which he will have enough Western Massachusetts voters to win.

When the dust settles, the two men in Congress will be McGovern and Neal. Young Ben Downing, our state senator, would have made a fine Congressman, but the numbers are not there, and he has had some fairly serious health issues that preclude the possibility of a strenuous campaign. Had Downing gone up against Nuciforo in a fair fight, I’d have to believe Downing would have taken it. Of course, there is always the immensely popular state Rep. “Smitty” Pignatelli, but he loves his position and he too will be victim of the Boston bullies.

The real question is whether Jim McGovern from Worcester will bother to come west to see those poor country cousins who call the beautiful Berkshires home. It has to be acknowledged that Olver regularly did that. He had an office here and, as the old pols say, “He came around.” Those of us who may be lucky enough to draw Richie Neal as our Congressman will see a fair amount of him. That’s just the way the guy is.

For the northern Berkshires, the situation looks dire. If you want something, you may well have to travel to Worcester. Things may be pretty good for those of us in the south, at least for a while. In the end our interests will be secondary to the Springfield crowd, but as long as Richie Neal is the Congressman, I think we’ll get a square break.

After Neal retires, that’s when the trouble may come. So a bunch of fat cat politicians in the Legislature have forgotten Western Massachusetts once again. We’ll get all the gory details on Wednesday.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/29/11

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