Olver’s retirement raises questions

WESTFIELD – Rep. John Olver’s decision to retire from the U.S. House of Representatives is sending ripples across the political waters of western Massachusetts.
The Amherst Democrat represents the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses most of the western end of the state, with the exception of Richard E. Neal’s 2nd Congressional District based in Springfield.
Olver’s announcement comes just as the state Legislature is adjusting federal congressional districts, based on the results of the 2010 federal census. The state is losing one congressional district, meaning that the Legislature will have to merge districts.
A district without an incumbent is more vulnerable to the political process of redistricting.
Olver, a senior member of several influential congressional committees, has also been a strong advocate promoting, and protecting, military installations in the western end of the state, such as the 104th Fighter Wing stationed at Barnes Regional Airport, and the Westover Air Reserve base in Chicopee.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, (D-Mass), said, in a prepared text released yesterday, that the state “delegation has always had a team approach to these issues. John Olver and Ted Kennedy were great partners (with whom) I worked with very successfully.  But the biggest reason we succeeded was because we had seniority and experience and, most importantly, because we had a strong case to make.  You look at our delegation now, with Richie Neal’s clout on the Ways and Means Committee and my seniority on the Foreign Relations Committee, and a Dean of our delegation in Eddie Markey, who has been in Congress since 1976, and it’s clear not only do we have seniority in our favor, but we also have people who know how to pull the levers in government and we still have the facts in our favor.”
“Barnes indisputably is a huge asset to western Massachusetts with unique strategic benefits to the National Guard, Air Force, and homeland security. Last time we kept the 104th Fighter Wing in Westfield.  Moving forward, I’ll continue to urge the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration to make investments and improvements to Barnes to better solidify its position and grow the Guard’s footprint in Massachusetts,” Kerry said.
State Sen. Michael R. Knapik, (R-Westfield), said Thursday that he would work to see the redistricting process “makes sense for western Massachusetts communities.”
“John’s decision not to seek re-election makes it easier for the Legislature to redraw the maps. I don’t see a district stretching from Worcester to the New York line making much sense,” Senator Knapik said. “Worcester does not have a lot in common with Greenfield, Pittsfield or Westfield.”
“I would like to keep the identity of western Massachusetts in one congressional district, maybe collapse the four western counties,” Knapik said. “It would be much more natural for Richie (Neal) to give up some of the eastern part of his district and expand into West Springfield, Westfield, Southwick and the hilltowns.”
Knapik said that one advantage of expanding Neal’s 2nd Congressional District west to include Westfield, is that he has a history of strong advocacy for Westover Air Reserve Base.
“Richie has been a real champion for Westover. He has secured tens of millions of dollars for Westover,” Knapik said. “If Westfield is in his district, I anticipate that he will devote as much attention and effort for the 104th Fighter Wing, which has a large economic impact, providing jobs for so many people in the region.”
Mayor Daniel M. Knapik said Thursday that he would prefer the city to be included with Springfield because of the many local and regional ties between the two cities.
“If we’re going to be tied to an urban center, I’d rather be tied to the closest one,” he said.
Andrea F. Nuciforo, (D-Pittsfield), a former 10-year state Senator and currently the Register of Deeds, said Thursday, however district lines are redrawn, his name will appear on the 2012 ballot for a congressional seat.
Nuciforo said that the redistricting process “should reflect the people and communities” of western Massachusetts. “The districts should not be drawn solely to protect incumbents.”
“I hope and expect that the redistricting committee will draw districts that fairly reflect the communities of western Massachusetts,” he said. “I was in the (state) Senate the least time we did this, and there was a considerable amount of litigation. It wouldn’t surprise me if that occurred again to slow the process down.”

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