Retiring rep troubled by direction of politics
BERNARDSTON — Although Friday’s tribute to retiring Congressman John W. Olver was lighthearted, western Massachusetts’ long-standing top elected Democrat raised concerns about where he sees government service headed.
“I’m very concerned about where things are going now,” said the 76-year-old congressman, who — as Sen. John Kerry had noted in a videotaped tribute that was part of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce event, has never lost an election in his 44-year political career.
Plainly, one has to be very much of an optimist in politics,” said Olver, a former chemistry professor who helped organize and has co-chaired the Congressional Climate Change Caucus and has been a strong advocate of federal support for expanded passenger rail and renewable energy technologies.
“All that we’ve done comes down to promoting economic sustainability for Franklin County (and) throughout my district,” Olver said at the end of his comments to the gathering on Friday. “Everything we did had to do with somehow making our future somewhat brighter.”
Sustainability, the principle of preparing for a future in a world that acknowledges finite natural resources, has been at the heart of many of the projects Olver has supported in energy, the environment, transportation and economic development, several speakers said during the breakfast program.
But in comments later, Olver said, “Even the concept of sustainability is anathema to the tea party, to the Republican Party, as its leadership sits there. As is the term ‘global warming’ or ‘energy efficiency,’ ‘energy conservation,’ ‘renewable energy.’ All of those things are utterly important for the health of the planet, are seriously at risk in this election.”
More fundamentally, Olver suggested, the political system is at a critical juncture.
“Politics is the art of compromise,” Olver said, “and right now, one is saying ‘yes,’ the other is saying ‘no.’ It’s not possible to compromise between yes and no; there’s no center anymore. When you had a center, and the two parties philosophically were not so different, you might have five key issues, and the majority might get three of those things they cared about and the minority would get two of those things, and everybody would walk away and say, ‘We’re making progress,’ and you’d move on, and revisit that in a few years and maybe make adjustments and changes.”
Olver, who was elected to fill the vacancy left by the 1991 death of 16-term, moderate Republican Congressman Silvio O. Conte of Pittsfield, said, “Right now, there’s no sense of doing compromise. Politics has become warfare.”