Congressional Corner With Alex Morse | WAMC

Congressional Corner With Alex Morse

Aug 4, 2020

We’re in the final days of the Democratic primary in Western Massachusetts.

In today’s Congressional Corner, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse speaks with WAMC’s Alan Chartock about his campaign for the 1st House district seat.

Alan Chartock: We welcome Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse running in the Democratic primary against Representative Richard Neal in Massachusetts and for the first House District seat. Welcome back, Alex Morris.

Mayor Alex Morse: Thank you for having me back. Alan, I appreciate it.

Okay, so what is your basic argument for why people should vote for you and not for Congressman Richard Neal in the Democratic primary?

Yeah, I think our country is at an inflection point. Our district is at an inflection point similar to the point we were at in Holyoke nine years ago when I first ran for mayor as a 22 year old and I think, I acknowledge congressman Neal has power. I acknowledge he's the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, but he's not using that power to benefit the people and places of our district. He's using that power to the benefits of corporate and special interests that invest vast amounts of money in his campaign, and he has power, but he refused to use it to hold this president accountable. He's not using his power to push for a health care system that actually believes health care is a fundamental human right. He's not using his power to combat the climate crisis. In fact, he is the only member of our congressional delegation that refuses to sign on to the Green New Deal. And right now, he has the distinction of being one of the top recipients of corporate money in the entire house coming in number two, only after a Republican Kevin McCarthy. And so it's time in 2020, that we have a member of Congress that understands the urgency of this moment, that is progressive on issues that matter most and more than anything is accessible, and responsive to every one of the 87 cities and towns in this district, particularly in Berkshire County. And I've been knocking on doors throughout Berkshire County and hearing firsthand from people that feel that they don't have a member of Congress that is present accountable and accessible. And I pledge to be a member of Congress that doesn't just vote and stand up for my values, but shows up time and time again, and allows my constituents to speak with me and to hold me accountable when necessary.

Now, Alex, if I may call you that, one of the things that Richard Neal says is that he's brought over a billion dollars into this district, including the pandemic aid, and that you have gone on and said you wouldn't have voted for it. Is that right?

So any member of Congress, I think there's a false choice. And somehow this belief that we would lose something by giving up the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. The fact is, there's no longer pork or earmarks. And whether it's safer grants to police departments, cops grants or safer grants to fire department or cops grants to police departments, or even the money in the CARES Act that is going to businesses throughout the district. That wouldn't change if you change the representative. We would actually add value. And my problem with the CARES Act is that it creates a $500 billion slush fund for corporations around the country and across the district. We have residents that are unable to put food on the table, pay their health insurance, pay their rent, pay their mortgage, and I've been knocking on doors I've been talking to people face to face. And yet some businesses have had access to the Paycheck Protection Program. But so many businesses are shuttering and closing their doors, particularly businesses owned by people of color and woman across the district. It's important that we level the playing field and I think Democrats didn't use their leverage to really fight for a people's bailout. And Congressman Neal even came out against the Paycheck Guarantee Act introduced by Pramila Jayapal, one of the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, that would just maintain wages for people that were displaced by this pandemic. And he even had the gall to cite the deficit, which oftentimes Republicans exclusively do. And so I recognize there are some good components of the CARES Act, but when we see the economy shrinking by nearly 33%, in the last quarter, and over a 10% reduction in the GDP, we need a stimulus package that actually bails out people and not just businesses.

Yes, but would you really have voted against the CARES Act which put that $600 that people are fighting for right now on in people's bank accounts? Would you have voted against it?

I would have voted for a much better CARES Act. And I think Congressman Neal and other Democrats, they have control of the House, and they refuse to negotiate up, and they continue to negotiate down and allow Republicans to set the parameters for those conversations. And so I believe we should have fought for a better CARES Act that actually bailed out people and not corporations.

When he was negotiating with Donald Trump. He's not exactly a pushover, right? When you say you would have fought for a different one.

I think Democrats needed to be united and there was division, even among Democrats. And I think again, Democrats like Congressman Neal and many in the DC establishment aren't really willing to fight for what people need, and accept, sort of, again, the parameters of the conversation set by Donald Trump and the Senate Republicans No package would get to the White House without going through the House of Representatives. And again, I think we have to stop negotiating down and negotiate up. We're seeing that again now with the extension of the $600 a week unemployment benefits. It would be catastrophic to thousands of working families across our district, millions of families across our country, that benefit expires, and I think Democrats have to hold their ground and continue fighting for that benefit.

But Alex, let me just ask you, just for clarification, you said you would have voted against the CARES Act? Is that correct?

Again, I would have voted for better CARES Act.

But you also said you would vote no. I saw something in which you said you would have voted no on that. I just think that's important.

Well yeah, if that's what you read and that's what you read then that's true.

Okay. Neal has a huge fundraising advantage in this race? How do you overcome that?

Yeah, we're already overcoming it. I think what’s quite remarkable, and I think it's important for listeners to know we just wrapped up our most successful fundraising quarter that ended at the end of June. This is really important because this is about having a member of Congress that fights for people, not for corporations and special interests. And we're not taking a single dollar of money from corporations or corporate political action committees. And so this last quarter, that three month period, our campaign raised $322,000, and Congressman Neal only raised $13,000, more than that, $336,000. The difference is 80% of those contributions to Congressman Neal were from corporate political action committees. 100% of our contributions were from people and a staggering 95% were under $200 or less, less than 1% of Congressman Neal’s contributions are grassroots contributions under $200. And across the district, the 87 cities and towns, we have 25 times the amount of donors that live here in western and central Massachusetts, compared to our Congressman, and when you look at who's donating to our Congressman, big pharmaceutical companies, the fossil fuel industry, Big Pharma and Wall Street. I mean, he's Wall Street's favorite Democrat. And we just announced last Monday, a week ago, that we've now raised over a million dollars from nearly 20,000 individual contributions here in the district, across the state, and across the country. And I always said, we're never going to have the millions of dollars that Congressman Neal has, but we're gonna make sure that we raised the money we need to win on September 1. And that's by having an unbought people-powered campaign that has the resources we need to build a grassroots campaign throughout our district.

Okay. You've been critical of Representative Neal because he doesn't support Medicare for all. The Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden doesn’t back the measure himself. Is Medicare for all even possible right now when the Affordable Care Act is already under constant threat from the Republicans?

Plain and simple, as Senator Warren says, you don't get what you don't fight for. And again, this is an issue as to whether or not you want a Democrat that is bought and paid for by Big Pharma and the healthcare industry or do you want a Democrat that is actually going to fight for a healthcare system that believes healthcare is a human right. I mean, just look at outcomes in this district, I mean, not just the closure of the inpatient hospital in North Adams. But what's happening even in the middle of this pandemic, we have hundreds of inpatient psychiatric beds closing in Hampden County, birthing centers closing in communities of color. Springfield, Massachusetts, is the asthma capital of the entire country. Hampden County has ranked 14 out of 14 for health outcomes for the last several years. Berkshire County is ranked 13 out of 14, you would just never know we have one of the most powerful members of Congress representing us when you look at outcomes and disparities. And the fact is our government with the complicity of members of Congress like Congressman Neal have allowed the private sector to profit hundreds of billions of dollars off of people sickness. And it was in 2019 for the first time in the House of Representatives we had actual hearings on Medicare for All. And that wasn't because the speaker thought it was a good idea. It was because we elected more unbought progressive members of Congress that demanded change in leadership, and that we actually changed the conversation about what kind of healthcare system we're going to fight for. And so if I get to Washington, we grow the Progressive Caucus. And we grow the majority of Democrats that are willing to fight for a single payer, Medicare for all healthcare system. And I would just add, I mean, two weeks ago, we announced the endorsement of the state's largest nurses’ union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, made up of 23,000 nurses across the Commonwealth. And for them to stand up against the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee who in the middle of this pandemic can't get access to PPE is one of the biggest rebukes I can remember in this district against our congressman, because they know I'm fighting for a healthcare system that puts people before profits. And I'm so proud to have the nurses by my side in this race.

Alex Morse, thank you so much for joining us. When we come back the next time, I got lots more questions for you. Thanks for being here.