The Perfect Fit for Congress

[Published in the Berkshire Eagle on 25 Aug 2012  –  http://www.berkshireeagle.com/columnists/ci_21397032/perfect-fit-congress]

By Dennis Pastore

SILVER SPRING, MD

Anyone who takes part in a job search workshop knows about the myriad online resources available for fine tuning resumes, tools that enable us to flatter potential employers using their own words, lifted shamelessly from the job announcement itself.  Fair is fair, but you can easily become cynical about a scripted dance that prepares neither partner for the morning after: where a good candidate can lose out to a cleverer one armed with the newest bit of coding wizardry.

As for the candidates in the September 6 Democratic primary for 1st District representative, Eagle columnist Alan Chartock has referred to District 2 holdover Richard (“Richie”) Neal as “the brightest of bright lights,” whose polling numbers and the Congressman’s position in the hierarchy on Capitol Hill seem to insure a win.  But he likes them all.

First, we can stipulate that no candidate, once elected, will rescue our democracy or shift the debate on issues of national import in either direction.  And you would be hard pressed to distinguish among their positions on most.  Second, none has expressed a comprehensive vision for the district that includes concrete measures to make it happen.  That is, beyond the litany of bromides: we support the arts, culture, and tourism; better schools and vocational training; R&D credits and incentives for manufacturers; and more and better paid jobs.  Where?  When?  How?

Yet this is an aspect of the job where the congressman elect will have enormous discretion.  As the district’s ambassador to Washington, he gains insider access to the full range of federal expertise, grant opportunities, and in-place funding – not just to address constituent appeals.  With the right organization, he could plant the seeds of a strategic vision for the district by convincing local officials to pull in the same direction on big infrastructure projects where federal resources can serve as catalyst.

The two Berkshire candidates, Nuciforo and Shein, face daunting odds, for sure.  The Springfield region accounts for about 56 percent of registered voters in the new District 1.  This is incumbent Neal’s home base.  Olver constituents (including former Nuciforo voters) make up the balance.  Schein, a relative newcomer to the district, has never run for political office. He almost certainly cannot win, but he can insure Neal’s incumbency by drawing disgruntled Olver voters away from Nuciforo.

The wildcard in this primary: independents, who with 58 percent of eligible primary voters singlehandedly could pick the Democratic nominee.  Since no candidate has registered to oppose the Democratic nominee in the general election, the winner of the primary effectively becomes the next congressman from the district.

Andrea Nuciforo is my perfect fit for 1st District representative in the 113th Congress.  This is why.

Nuciforo may be a flawed candidate (see the recent dust up over his website).  He is a career politician, and he may want the job too much.  But his deep roots in the district and impressions (which I share) of life in the community during better times convince me that he has the vision – of a community alive.

True, Congressman Neal occupies a strong position on the House Ways and Means Committee.  These are the people who make sure (?) the government can pay for things (they write the tax laws), including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  When you have a hammer, all solutions begin with a nail, which makes tweaking the tax code the Congressman’s instrument of choice.  But like a master carpenter, House members carry a variety of implements in their toolboxes.  In the end, the path to seniority and influence in Congress begins with a long and secure incumbency.

And that is the advantage of sending a new advocate to Congress.  With eyes wide and fewer party and institutional commitments, a freshman legislator can spend time getting to know this new district and cultivating a shared sense of purpose among its constituents.  Reconstituting the economy of western Massachusetts is a project for the long haul.  Nuciforo is a younger man.  He will be around to reap the political rewards.

Each candidate is weak on issues concerning half of the district.  But no matter who gets the nod, he will need to defer to Springfield area voters, who hold the key to political survival.  Knowing that, Springfield voters could safely risk a goodwill gambit, signaling a fresh start.

Identifying the source of a candidate’s vanity tells you a lot.  One candidate would stake his reputation on sticking to his principles.  Another might respond to party rank and institutional standing among House peers.  A natural politician lives by the approval of voters.  He needs us more than we need him.

Of course the clever candidate will say anything to get elected.  So who can you trust?  Better yet: who do you own?

 

Dennis Pastore is an economist and writer from Adams who currently lives in Silver Spring, MD.  Visit his blog at BerkshirePhoenix.wordpress.com or send an email to Berkshire.Phoenix@gmail.com.

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About Dennis Pastore

Dennis Pastore serves with the Peace Corps in the Ban Khai district, Rayong province, of Thailand helping to teach English to elementary and middle school students at Wat Huanghin School. A former economist with the Economics and Statistics Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, he has also taught history and German as a foreign language at high schools in Maryland and Massachusetts.
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