With Edward Markey having gone from being the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to the most junior member of the U.S. Senate, Representative Richard Neal of the expansive 1st Congressional District, which includes the Berkshires, is now the most senior member of the state's congressional group. It's a position with a great tradition, at the state and national level, and with his keen sense of history, Mr. Neal should bring more to the unofficial post than mere years spent in office.
The Massachusetts delegation was one of the most powerful in Washington for decades, but that has changed dramatically in a short period of time. The formidable pair of Edward Kennedy and John Kerry carried domestic and foreign influence by virtue of talent and seniority, but Massachusetts' senior senator is now Elizabeth Warren, who was elected last November. Senator Warren has made an impact on issues related to Wall Street and Senator-elect Markey long played a prominent role on important and complex issues in the House, but neither will have the influence of the late Senator Kennedy and the current U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, at least not in the immediate future.
The all-Democratic House delegation is entrenched in the minority, which is unlikely to change in 2014 given redistricting measures guaranteed to protect Republicans from challenges in a variety of states, most notably Texas, which has taken gerrymandering to whole new levels.
Representative Neal may be able to reach across party lines and boost the delegation's influence by virtue of his proven willingness to work with Republicans. He has maintained a friendship with House Speaker John Boehner as well as Minnesota's Paul Ryan, a tea party favorite who ran for vice president on the Mitt Romney ticket last November. Bipartisanship is all but non-existent in the House in this highly polarized era, however, and if Mr. Neal reaches out there is no guarantee that Republicans will reach back.
In an interview with the Boston Globe last week, Representative Neal said he would pattern himself after long-time delegation leader Joseph Moakley of South Boston, who made it a point to encourage unity among the membership. A former history teacher who truly loves politics, Representative Neal spoke to the Globe about the historic legacy of two of his renowned predecessors, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill and John McCormack, both of who rose to become influential and admired Speakers of the House.
Defending the state's interests, in particularly on the economy, education, health care and technology, will be a challenge for the state's House and Senate delegates. Representative Neal is sure to at least relish the challenge ahead as the state's new senior partner in the House.