Rep. John Olver (D)
Elected: June 1991, 9th full term.
Born: Sept. 3, 1936, Honesdale, PA .
Education: Rensselaer Polytechnic Inst., B.S. 1955, Tufts U., M.A. 1956, M.I.T., Ph.D. 1961.
Religion: no religious affiliation.
Family: Married (Rose); 1 child.
Elected office: MA House of Reps., 1968–72; MA Senate, 1972–91.
Professional Career: Chemistry prof., U. of MA, Amherst, 1961–69.
The congressman from the 1st District is John Olver, a Democrat who won a June 1991 special election after the death of longtime Republican Rep. Silvio Conte. Olver was educated at Tufts University and MIT, arriving at the University of Massachusetts as a chemistry professor in 1961, at age 25. His wife, Rose, is a professor of psychology and women’s and gender studies at Amherst College. In 1968, he began a 22-year career in the Legislature. In the special election to replace Conte, his Pioneer Valley base helped him win 31% in the fragmented Democratic primary. In the general, he faced Steven Pierce, former state House Republican leader and Gov. William Weld’s conservative opponent in the 1990 primary. With Massachusetts liberalism in disrepute after Gov. Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential campaign, the contest was close. Weld made certain to schedule it after students’ summer vacation began, when the area had emptied out of liberal voters. Olver nevertheless pulled off a close 50%-48% win, becoming the first Democrat to hold the seat since the Spanish-American War.
|John Olver (D)||215,696||(73%)||($857,631)|
|Nathan Bech (R)||80,067||(27%)||($157,611)|
|John Olver (D)||33,513||(79%)|
|Robert Feuer (D)||8,765||(21%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (76%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (68%), 1998 (72%), 1996 (53%), 1994 (100%), 1992 (52%), 1991 (50%)
Olver has one of the most liberal voting records in the House. He has voted against international trade deals, and he favors conversion to a Canadian-style single-payer health care system. He chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, where he has sought to expand Amtrak train service and subsidies in the Northeast Corridor. In 2007, he increased funding for housing vouchers, public transit, and community development block grants. He was an early critic of President George W. Bush’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, Alphonso Jackson, for “political favoritism” and called for Jackson’s resignation 18 months before he finally quit in March 2008. Olver has also advocated increased federal support for bicycling, for recreation and transportation. His work to fund local projects drew criticism in the 110th Congress (2007-08) from congressional watchdog groups opposed to excessive earmarks, the special-projects funding that lawmakers insert into spending bills. Earmarks that he funded in 2007 included $6 million for the commuter train line from Fitchburg to Boston, $1 million for fiber-optics development along Interstate 91, and $265,000 for an arts center annex at the Amherst Cinema. Some Massachusetts Democrats have complained that as the state’s only Appropriations member, he hasn’t done much for the Boston area. He warned against expectations of an “easy pot of money.”
Outside of his Appropriations work, Olver helped to organize the House bipartisan Climate Change Caucus and sponsored legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. In January 2008, the House passed his bill to add hiking trails in his district. On the housing mortgage bailout bills in 2008, he worked with Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank of Massachusetts to increase aid for owners of foreclosed properties. Although he had earlier co-sponsored a resolution calling for an impeachment investigation of President Bush and Vice President Cheney—a popular idea in this district—he voted in 2007 against a resolution by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Democrat from Ohio, to impeach Cheney, calling it a “totally destructive” move that would divide Democrats. Olver, who does not seem to be a politician by nature, dislikes fundraising. He prefers to rock climb, a solitary endeavor. In a state delegation filled with natural-born politicos, Olver is notably shy and ambivalent about the media limelight. An exception was his April 2006 arrest with four other House Democrats; all were handcuffed and briefly jailed for protesting the violence in Darfur at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington.
Olver has had only one close contest for re-election. In 1996, he beat Republican Jane Swift, then a state representative and later governor, 53%-47%. Obama’s presidential campaign manager, David Plouffe, ran Olver’s first re-election campaign. In 2008, Stockbridge lawyer Robert Feuer challenged Olver in the primary for his inaction on impeaching Bush; Olver won 79%-21%. With Massachusetts likely to lose a seat in 2010’s reapportionment, Olver has acknowledged that his rambling district is an obvious target for Boston-area pols. The longer he holds the seat, the less likely a successor can stake a claim. In 2005, Olver was hospitalized with a brain infection, but he has recovered.