By Lisa Hagen
BU News Service
WASHINGTON — For decades, Massachusetts has enjoyed significant seniority in the U.S. Senate – to say nothing of the money and attention from Washington attendant with such status.
The late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., served long enough to became the Senate’s second most senior member, and his office was legendary on Capitol Hill for a constituent service operation able to slice through bureaucratic red tape on behalf of local elected officials and rank-and-file citizens. Such was Kennedy’s seniority – he served in the Senate for 47 years prior to his 2009 death — that his Democratic colleague, John Kerry, spent nearly a quarter of a century as the Bay State’s “junior” senator.
Now, with Kerry departing the Senate after 28 years to become the next secretary of state, Massachusetts finds itself on the other end of the seniority spectrum. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, is poised to become the state’s senior senator after just weeks in office.
While not minimizing the impact of losing Kerry, leaders in the public and private sectors nonetheless appear confident that the seniority in the state’s all-Democratic U.S. House delegation will be able to compensate in looking out for the state’s interests.
One cautionary note was voiced by David Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, who suggested that the all-Democratic House contingent could be at a disadvantage because of that chamber’s Republican majority; the Senate is currently in Democratic hands.
At the same time, the Massachusetts delegation will have the benefit of a Democratic White House in commanding the attention of federal departments and agencies over the next four years.
Worcester City Councilor William Eddy, who worked on Kerry’s 1982 campaign for lieutenant governor campaign and was also selected as an elector for Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid, stressed that the senator’s departure could “be a factor” when competing for federal grants.
“It would be a tremendous gain for the president and our foreign policy, but clearly it will be a loss for Massachusetts,” Eddy added. “His clout, his ability to work the system in through the budget, and delivering funding back to our cities and towns will be a loss.”
He noted that Kerry’s departure comes on the heels of the retirement of U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, who has been a key member of the House Appropriations Committee, and someone who has designated funds to the state especially through his role on the Appropriations Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development
“You’re looking at replacing 70 years in the Senate, and we’re clearly going to have to work harder down there to make up for it,” Eddy said, referring to the combined tenure of Kennedy and Kerry.
A member of the House delegation, U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, likened Kerry’s shift to a Cabinet position to the impact of losing Kennedy, a legislator with “a great deal of seniority and a leader on many of the issues.”
Said McGovern of Kerry’s departure: “I’m of mixed feelings. On one hand I think he’ll be an extraordinary secretary of state. But we have him now as our senator, and he is someone who delivers and who has been a leader on issues important to Massachusetts.”
However, McGovern said he is confident that the freshman senators – Warren and Kerry’s successor — along with the “accumulated seniority” of his Massachusetts House colleagues can make up for it. McGovern said that the rest of the delegation “will just need to work harder” to ensure that insure that federal funds keep flowing to boost the state’s infrastructure and its transportation systems.
Perhaps most critical, he said, is the medical research funding from the federal government, which could be threatened as Congress seeks to reduce the deficit.
McGovern’s remarks were echoed by Jim Brett, president and chief executive officer of the New England Council, an alliance of businesses and health and academic institutions that seeks to promote economic growth.
Brett cited Kerry’s work to ensure funding from the National Institutes of Health, which he said “not only provides just jobs, but also in finding cures for so many of our diseases.” University of Massachusetts Medical School’s research heavily depends on NIH funding.
“He’s been a champion on NIH to make sure we get our fair share — and quite frankly we get more than our fair share in this region,” Brett said. “We get more than any other region per capita in the nation and that’s not by accident.”
But although Brett praised Kerry for being an “enormously significant player” in the Senate, he contended that Kerry’s departure would only have a short-term impact. He believes that Warren and the House members will “be as aggressive as him.”
Brett singled out McGovern along with Reps. Richard Neal, D-Springfield and Edward Markey, D-Malden, as “three players who will step up to the plate and be even more vigilant to protect the interests” of the state.
Markey, who first came to Congress in 1976, is now dean of the delegation; Neal was first elected in 1988 and McGovern in 1996. (Another senior Massachusetts legislator, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Newton, a former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee who has spent 32 years in the House, is retiring at the end of the year.).
Hopkins also agreed that Kerry’s departure would only have a “minor impact” on Massachusetts’ funding. Part of it, he said, is the changed nature of the Senate since the days when Kennedy was at the height of his powers.
“The seniority in the Senate is not exactly what it used to be in terms of being able to direct money to the home state,” Hopkins said. He cited recent budgetary pressures against “earmarks” – funds directed to special projects in a legislator’s state or district.
He also noted “the fact that Sen. Kerry is not on the Appropriations Committee.” The members of that powerful panel have had a traditional advantage in funneling money to their home constituencies.
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