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Who is Richie Neal?

  • NEAL


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal may be an unknown quantity to many of the Franklin County residents he’s represented since January 2013. But the 27-year veteran congressman is very much a household name in Springfield, where he helped lead city hall for 15 years, four of them as mayor.

A former history teacher in high school and area colleges, the 67-year-old Neal has a political science degree from Springfield’s American International College and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Hartford.

Before redistricting eliminated one of Massachusetts’ 10 congressional districts in 2012, coinciding with the retirement of 20-year congressional veteran John W. Olver, Neal’s southern-tier Second Congressional District stretched from Agawam in the west and as far east as Spencer, Sturbridge, Charlton and Milford in Worcester County and came as far north as South Hadley, Hadley and Northampton, but was concentrated in Springfield, Longmeadow, Chicopee, Ludlow and Wilbraham.

Olver’s 1st Congressional District took in West Springfield, Holyoke and Amherst but stretched westward to include all of Berkshire and Franklin County and as far east as the Middlesex County town of Pepperell.

Neal’s newly constituted district includes all of Hampden and Berkshire counties and portions of Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties. Totaling more than 3,100 square miles, it’s physically the largest district in the state.

He is a ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee’s subcommittee on select revenue and is also on its subcommittee on trade.

Neal, who earns a base salary of $174,000 a year, has a campaign war chest of more than $2.7 million as of March 31 — 72 percent of it from PACs, as reported by the website Open Secrets. He gets the bulk of his political contributions from the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors — 87 percent of his money came from outside the congressional district in the 2014 election cycle.

Neal’s challenge in 2010 from Tom Wesley, a Hopedale Republican, — in which Neal won 57 percent of the vote — was the first time he faced opposition in a general election since 1996.

Neal teaches a “Politician and the Journalist” course at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The vast majority of the legislation sponsored by Neal, who has been ranked by non-partisan organization On The Issues as being strongly liberal, has been in the areas of taxation, foreign trade and international finance. (The On the Issues ranking, which describes Neal, a Roman Catholic, as being far more conservative on the issue of abortion, is available at the website at the end of this article.)

Neal was criticized in a Boston Globe article earlier this year for co-sponsoring legislation that would have helped MassMutual Life Insurance — the biggest contributor of his campaign funding along with other insurance and financial services companies — avoid Obama-proposed regulations that try to curb investment industry commissions that other Democrats say unfairly cost retirees a collective $17 billion a year from their retirement accounts.

Neal acknowledged to The Boston Globe in January that “part of his motivation” was trying to help a constituent, which manages $155 billion in customer retirement accounts. But he said his interests were much broader, trying to “make sure that we have a rule that allows middle class people to gain access to financial advice without onerous restrictions.”

Neal has received $330,000 from MassMutual since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

According to the website InsideGov, Neal has sponsored an average of 11 bills and co-sponsored an average of 214 bills every two years during his tenure — about the average for congressional representatives. Neal has had a couple of bills signed into law — to award a Medal of Honor posthumously to baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 2003, to name the Veterans Affairs hospital in Leeds after his predecessor, Edward Boland in 1992, and to designate Dec. 21, 1991, as “Basketball Centennial Day.”

Neal also has a leadership political action committee — Madison PAC — which has raised more than $1.5 million since 2010 to support other Democratic candidates. The money, which comes largely from the insurance, financial, real estate, defense, electronics, and manufacturing industries, as well as from lobbyists and health professionals, is used to gain clout over congressional colleagues.

Neal missed 6.2 percent of the 6,906 House votes last year, the most of any Massachusetts delegation member and twice the delegation’s average, according to the website ProPublica.org. McGovern missed 1.5 percent of this year’s votes, the second lowest of the nine-member delegation.

— Richie Davis

On the Web:

bit.ly/1ZGro38

ballotpedia.org/Richard_Neal