Editorial: John Olver’s legacy of Congressional work
LARRY PARNASS U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, is preparing to leave more than two decades in the U.S. Congress early next month. “I’ve done a lot of small significant things and a few pretty major things,” Olver said.
Rep. John Olver is packing up his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and ending his 44-year career in politics at a time when public approval of Congress is scraping bottom. According to the folks at Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing — down from 18 percent in 2010.
In an exit interview with Gazette reporter Ben Storrow, Olver, the Amherst Democrat who represented the 1st Congressional District for 22 years, described the bitter partisan divide and resulting inability to compromise that may partly explain the public’s disdain.
When he first went to Washington, Olver said, the process of finding solutions to five or six big issues that divided the parties went something like this: “You would sit down and say we the majority want these three and we’ll give you two of yours. Everybody gets something. Now it is winner take all.”
The process no doubt wasn’t always easy or simple or smooth, but it appears to have worked, at least some of the time. Now, as Republicans and Democrats alike preen and posture as we approach the economic day of reckoning known as the “fiscal cliff,” we can only hope for a resurgence of that “everybody gets something” approach.
Throughout his career, Olver, a former chemistry professor turned politician, was often described as a workhorse who seemed most in his element when he was knee-deep in the policy weeds.
In that context, a comment from U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, an Iowa Republican who was Olver’s colleague on the Appropriations Committee, bears repeating: “He’s interested in getting work done,” Latham told Storrow. That statement should, in fact, apply to every member of Congress: If that’s not the basic job description, what is?
U.S. Rep. James McGovern, who will take over the job of representing much of Olver’s former district, struck a similar note in an interview. Olver’s interest in accomplishments, McGovern said, was “really unusual for politicians” — a revealing and disheartening observation if ever there was one.
During his political career, from his days as a state representative and senator to his time in the House of Representatives, Olver immersed himself in mostly unglamorous issues like utility rate reform, regional transit systems, health care reform, support for Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Barnes Airport in Westfield and ending ethnic violence in the Balkans. He leaves a legacy as a consistent, principled lawmaker who was willing to do the work and who — more often than not — had results to show for the effort.
Storrow’s piece described Olver sitting in his Washington office, surrounded by mementoes, files and photos that were being packed into boxes for moving day. In a few weeks time, his office space will be occupied by another member and new representatives will start learning the ropes.
As they unpack and settle into their new digs, we suggest they take a little time to learn about Olver and others like him who were and are “interested in getting work done.”