Please Sir, May I Have Some More? John Olver (MA-1), Earmark King

As I predicted, Scott Brown’s triumphant victory as the first Republican U.S. Senator in 38 years was only the beginning. Next came the retirement of disgraced U.S. congressman, Bill Delahunt (MA-10), which this columnist helped expose at this website.

Rep. John Olver

Rep. John Olver

Now here comes crowded Republican primaries for Massachusetts’s other congressional races. Many of these candidates will lose, but by running they will give their opponents the first real race many of them have seen in decades and they will give new life to an endangered species, the Massachusetts Republican.

This is all part of a transition, moving the people of Massachusetts and their politics back to the middle, back to better representation.

For the Massachusetts congressional delegation, times are tough. Demographic change has meant that their numbers have shrunk to ten members, the lowest for the Bay State since the 1860s. If Republicans retake the House, the people of the Commonwealth will be all but shut out of congressional policy. With Ted Kennedy dead and no one left to direct the delegation, the congressmen will make for easy pickings, despite their considerable warchests amassed over the years. Here’s an assessment of the perceived vulnerabilities of John Olver (MA-1) that Republicans might exploit, moving his congressional district closer to the accountable government we’ve been looking for, and saving the people of Massachusetts much embarrassment once Republicans retake the Congress.


John Olver (MA-1) has the delegation’s worst record when it comes to wasteful earmarks. He directed $2,752,000 for special projects in his district between 2005 and 2006 alone. According to The Boston Globe, Olver OKed more than $34.7 million in earmarks in that last budgeting cycle. What was the money spent on?

The Boston Globe reported just some of his earmarks, August 7, 2007:

Olver’s earmarks include $6 million for improvements to the Fitchburg-to-Boston rail line; $1 million for downtown streetscapes in Pittsfield; $150,000 for repairs to the William Cullen Bryant homestead, a national historic landmark, in Cummington; $275,000 to renovate the Berkshire Music Hall; and $1.5 million for the Silvio Conte Wildlife Refuge. Each of these expenditures is important to somebody.

Oh, but that’s not all. Olver spent some $45,000 in taxpayer dollars on mailings to his constituents, through franking, bragging about his “successes”. The Boston Herald reports:

Olver, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, sent out one newsletter with a two-page glossy map of his district showing about 30 projects the panel funded “at my request.”

The map noted $3.5 million in federal earmarked funds for Pioneer Valley bike paths, $13.4 million for Route 2 safety improvements and $8.8 million for the Pittsfield Intermodal Transportation Center.

Whether or not these earmarks generate jobs or cause instability for much needed projects as people look to goverment, not business to provide investment, is another question as his district has been hit hard by the recession, with few jobs to show for his support of the so-called stimulus bill. If Olver were to be defeated, his twenty-two staffers would have to find other work. (The national average for congressmen is only 14.) The current bill for their salaries? Some $904,000 a year!

Never a boondoggle too big for him to want to get federal funds for — Amtrak and a $4 million planned train project rank among them — the transportation unions love him, which explains their hefty contributions at some $36,500 in 2010 alone. John Olver is quick to give them payback. In 2004, he gave them a much-needed amendment when he sponsored a bill that placed additional hurdles on foreign-made trucks entering the U.S. from Mexico or Canada, delaying implementation of NAFTA, and giving a big boon to the Teamsters Union. Not for nothing does Manuel “Matty” Moroun, billionaire-owner of the Ambassador Bridge over Detroit River, been known to throw money his way, when Moroun isn’t fighting tooth and nail to stop a rival bridge from being built,

The oldest congressman in the state at 73, Olver was recently ranked as the nation’s most liberal congressman — a record he had in 2005, as well. With a quick look over at his record, it’s easy to see why he earns that moniker. Olver was one of only twenty-two congressmen to vote against a resolution merely expressing support for democracy in Cuba. Instead, he’s supported resolutions to impeach then-President Bush. Perhaps we should be lucky. He’s also been known to waste Congress’s time with more frivolous matters, such as a resolution on the origin of baseball.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Democratic Rep. John Olver of Massachusetts, the bill’s author, rose to stake Pittsfield’s claim, based on the recent discovery of a 1791 Pittsfield law banning “Wicket, Cricket, Baseball, Football, Cat, Fives or any other game or games with balls” near the town’s new meetinghouse.

“Even back in 1791, youths were already breaking windows playing America’s favorite national pastime,” Rep. Olver said. “With that, the first mention of baseball was penned into history.”

Massachusetts voters in the first congressional district may hope to pen Olver’s name into history, especially after revelations that he received a corporation-sponsored junket to Hawaii to study, well, aviation at a pristine beach with the American Association of Airport Executives picking up the $6000 tab. Here’s how he described the trip to The Wall Street Journal in 2005:

Rep. John Olver (D., Mass.) says the trip to Hawaii helped him learn more about the aviation industry and how policy made in Washington affects airlines, airport operators and labor unions. “You got the whole picture all at once,” says Rep. Olver, the top Democrat on the committee that funds aviation projects. “I feel that it was a pretty useful thing. In a discussion, you would get several different points of view.”

Uh huh. Like maybe which beaches to enjoy, eh congressman? I’m sure it was only a coincidence that your House panel offered to increase the hugely inefficient Essential Air Service subsidy up to $130 million, a federal program which wasteful subsidizes airports in the boonies up to $74 a passenger.

Air transport isn’t the whole thing near and dear to Congressman Olver. Amtrak has a special place in Olver’s heart. When President Bush threatened to eliminate subsidies to Amtrack, he went after Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. “Do you know,” he asked repeatedly, “of any transit system or a rail passenger system anywhere else in the world that breaks even or makes money?”

A fair point — as Reason.tv’s latest video makes clear, but maybe we ought be building roads, instead?

Olver’s weirdest vote, though, has to be his no vote on a federal ban for reimbursements for sexual-enhancement drugs, like Viagra, after revelations came out that some 800 sex offenders received Medicaid-funded payments for the drug.

Republicans may well fail to take this seat and it’s likely that the seat itself will get cut up once the 2010 census is completed and Massachusetts loses yet another congressional seat. Should Olver retire, he’ll get both a federal and state pension from his years as a UMass Amherst chemistry professor. Indeed, Olver’s been on the state payroll since November 1992, and currently collects $2,263.21 a month, which works out to $27,158 per annum.

Still John Olver’s opponents would do well to seize on how his big government liberalism has made the Bay State impossible to live in. A new study found that a single mother of two needs an income of 62,000 a year just to get by. Olver hasn’t made it any easier. He supports the trillion dollar new health care entitlement at a time when Massachusetts’s health care premiums are the second highest in the nation and Gov. Deval Patrick plans to do price controls. Scott Brown promised to send health care back to the drawing board. Let’s hope the people of Massachusetts’s First congressional district send Olver back to Amherst.


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