Guest column by Raymond Ahearn and Kerry Dumbaugh: A vote for Morse will not help oust Trump

  • House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal. On Monday, July 22, 2019, Holyoke, Mass., Mayor Alex Morse announced he will challenge Neal in the 2020 Democratic primary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) AP photo

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse is challenging Congressman Richard Neal in the 2020 Democratic primary. Gazette file photo

Published: 9/5/2019 6:00:16 PM

The recent Democratic Party presidential debates dramatically highlighted different political agendas among the 20 candidates.

These divisions and intra-party tensions already may be undermining the overarching objective of defeating Donald Trump in 2020 and winning control of both the House and Senate. Without such an outcome, changing the way Washington works may be wishful thinking.

Candidates on the left are promoting policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, slavery reparations, elimination of most or all of college debt and decriminalization of illegal border crossings. They see their bold proposals as a way to mobilize and inspire the base of the Democratic Party, as well as new voters, to vote Trump out of office.

More moderate Democratic candidates say these proposals are too liberal, too expensive and too unappealing to the large number of moderates and independents that Democrats need to win in key Midwestern swing states. They posit that none of the 43 Democrats who flipped formerly Republican House seats in 2018 campaigned on a bold liberal agenda.

We have in or 1st Congressional district a microcosm of the potentially costly Democratic Party divide in Alex Morse’s decision to challenge Richard Neal in next year’s Democratic primary. Morse, Holyoke’s popular and energetic mayor, makes some good points about Congressman Neal, who is the longest serving member of the Massachusetts delegation.

For instance, Morse has attacked Neal for taking PAC money from big pharmaceutical and insurance companies, which are among Neal’s biggest contributors. Knowing that money buys access and influence on Capitol Hill, legitimate questions can be raised about Neal’s passion for dealing with issues such as the opioid crisis and health insurance.

Morse also charges that Neal has lost touch with his constituents. As a long-tenured member of Congress and now chairman of the House Ways And Means Committee, Neal may well have become somewhat detached from his constituents and their interests, particularly given the demands of his new huge job. The Morse challenge no doubt will serve as a great opportunity for Neal to reconnect with his constituents and to articulate his vision for using his new power to help his district and western Massachusetts.

But much else about Morse’s campaign against Neal is troubling. Clearly a very different politician than Neal, Morse has said he is inspired by the “Squad,” a progressive class of Democrats who have taken on the establishment. Like members of the “Squad,” Morse supports bold policies, like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and aspires to be part of a movement. His campaign would be funded only by small donors, who, according to Democratic strategist Paul Begala, tend to be more motivated, activist, engaged and leftist.

There is nothing bad about any of Morse’s policy preferences or the sources of his campaign donations. But our overarching concern today should be to make sure that Donald Trump is defeated in 2020, and that the Democrats keep control of the House and win back the senate. This may be the only way to overcome a broken Washington and advance policies and legislation that benefit the vast majority of Americans.

Neal has been a workhorse and skilled legislator over the past 30 years, with a voting record that has been consistently praised by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADC) and panned by the American Conservative Union (ACU).

With his new clout as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and his reputation for principled compromise, he is positioned to help enact policies that will benefit al of us, particularly if the Democrats gain control of both congressional chambers and the White House.

No doubt many other considerations will come into play over the next year in deciding how to vote in the primary contest between Morse and Neal. But if Morse were to upset Neal in a mostly safe Democratic district, it would provide another talking point for Trump to proclaim that the Democratic Party doesn’t represent the values of the vast majority of Americans.

Moreover, funding for the Morse campaign likely will divert resources away from other races that are critical to achieving the twin goals of replacing Trump with a Democrat and winning control of the Congress. More than at any time in our memory, we need Democrats to stay unified and keep their eyes on the prize.

The writers are recent transplants from Washington, D.C., where they spent a combined six decades working for members of Congress and the Congressional Research Service. They live in Holyoke.

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