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McGovern breaks down the Democratic Party’s future at Amherst College event

  • Congressman James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, speaks to the Gazette April 14, 2017.

  • Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester, addresses close to 30 students at a town hall-style event at Amherst College Tuesday night. SUBMITTED PHOTO



For the Bulletin
Thursday, October 19, 2017

AMHERST — When Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, first ran for election in 1994, he had never held a political office before; he was not a member of a city council, and he had never been in state government either. In fact, the only thing he had ever run for in his life was high school class treasurer.

“I decided I was going to run against the Republican incumbent with whom I disagreed, and everybody thought it was a mistake, including my family,” said McGovern, speaking to a crowd of mostly college students Tuesday at Amherst College. “There’s this tendency to believe you’ve got to be in line to get these offices.”

Two years later, after losing in the Democratic primary to represent Massachusetts’ 3rd congressional district, but then winning a general election against Republican Rep. Peter Blute, McGovern earned a seat on Capitol Hill. He had won, and since that time, McGovern has represented his hometown, Worcester, and different areas of central and western Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McGovern spent nearly two hours talking to around 30 students in the Keefe Campus Center at the college. The event, co-hosted by the student-run Amherst Political Union and the Amherst College Democrats, allowed the politician to share his thoughts on the future of the Democratic Party.

McGovern talked about the party’s immediate future — defying President Trump and helping Democrats win big in the 2018 midterms. He also touched on the long-term by urging college students to run for office.

“If you think you can do a good job, and you’d be better than anyone, then you ought to just do it,” McGovern said. “The worst thing that can happen is you lose. There are worse things than losing in life, and I think not trying is one of them. Sometimes you’ve got to go for it, let it rip.”

McGovern emphasized to the mostly young, politically minded audience that the key to winning a political campaign is passion. Those who win elections, McGovern said, are usually those who want to make things better, and can convince the people of that.

The candidates who are the most passionate, irrespective of their endorsements, looks or money, are often the candidates who hold office in the end, McGovern said. After all, he only had one elected Democratic official endorsing him when he was elected in 1996.

“That way, if you’ve run a good campaign, even if you lose, you’ve set yourself up for another run. Sometimes, lightning strikes. It struck me,” McGovern said.

Ian Miller, a junior at Amherst College and treasurer of the Amherst College Democrats, said that it’s “definitely possible” that he runs for public office some day.

“If you are the young, aspiring politician, what piece of advice do you have for somebody that wants to run for office pretty soon after graduating?” Miller asked.

“Just do it,” McGovern said. “If I had sat around, had thought about it for a long time and conversed with everybody who mattered in my community, I would have been so overwhelmed by what you have to do to get elected that I would’ve backed out, or I would’ve become so depressed that I don’t have a shot, and thinking that, you know, you’ve got to work your way up.”

McGovern also pointed out that, to win a political office, one had to be involved in their community, “obviously.” McGovern also said that the methodical, “do this, then do this, then do this” approach political scientists may suggest can help one win elections, but is not the biggest factor.

Standing against Trump

Other than encouraging potential future politicians, McGovern talked about more immediate needs for Congress, mainly standing against the president, whom McGovern described as “unhinged.”

“Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president,” McGovern said. “I don’t agree with (Vice President Mike) Pence on anything. I find Pence’s views on many things to be offensive, but I don’t think Pence would wake up in the middle of the night in a crappy mood and decide to launch a nuclear attack. This is what I’m worried about with this president.”

McGovern plans to defy Trump on most — if not all — major issues, and had specific criticisms for Trump’s foreign policy decisions, disaster relief efforts, Cabinet picks and attempts to repeal Obamacare.

On foreign policy, McGovern said Trump should be doing more to address the killings of Rohingya people in Myanmar; McGovern suggested terminating U.S. military assistance to the Burmese Army for its role in the genocide. But first, he said, the U.S. should have a solid human rights record domestically, in order to better the country’s moral standing in the world.

“We ourselves have to live up to a high standard of human rights, which right now we’re not doing. Here at home, we have a great deal of civil unrest, we have a great deal of discrimination, we have a criminal justice system that’s not working, we have systemic racism, a president that’s targeting immigrants and an increase in hate crimes,” McGovern said.

McGovern blasted the way the government has handled the Puerto Rico disaster relief, saying the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be bringing planes back that are filled with people, not empty, after dropping off food and water.

In 2018, McGovern said he is optimistic that Democrats will be able to do well in the midterm elections. He said the Democrats should employ a “50 state strategy” that taps into distrust of the president and does not ignore states like Alaska.

“We need to be engaged,” McGovern said. “If we don’t step up, we’ll lose, and then, the country will lose.”