For nearly three decades, Democratic U.S. representative Richard Neal has enjoyed czar-like status in largely rural western Massachusetts, where he has scored one re-election victory after another, mostly unopposed.
But this year, he faces Libertarian Thomas Simmons, an economics and business professor at Greenfield Community College who’s making a splash.
The Huffington Post published an extensive interview of Simmons that appeared in more than three dozen major news feeds. His campaign was the subject of front-page articles in the Greenfield Recorder and Hampshire Gazette, and his joint appearance at a rally in New York with Steve Scheetz was covered by numerous LGBT publications.
The Republicans are not fielding a candidate to oppose Neal. An independent candidate is in the race, but according to Simmons, his underfunded and anemic campaign is barely visible. Simmons is Neal’s only serious opponent.
“The Republican Party practically does not exist here,” Simmons tells LP News. “We have about 85 towns in our 1st congressional district, and the GOP has committees in only four or five of them.”
Local voters, and even the media, are fed up with Neal’s one-party reign.
“About 30 percent of the voters turned in blank ballots when they voted in the last congressional elections,” the Libertarian recalls. “Of five local newspapers, two have openly criticized Neal in editorials, and one said there were problems with his candidacy.”
Voters clearly demonstrated their impatience with the status quo during the district’s Democratic primary earlier this year, when self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders swept the area at a ratio of 3:1. Neal, however, as a Democratic National Convention superdelegate, spent countless hours campaigning for Hillary Clinton and propping up her candidacy.
To counter the traditional Democratic tax-and-spend platform, Simmons is offering the innovative Libertarian brand of fiscal discipline and social tolerance.
If elected, he promises not to vote for any budget that is not balanced, in order to put the country back on a path to fiscal sanity.
“Right now, we spend five times more on servicing the national debt than on building bridges and roads, and that is not acceptable,” argues the Libertarian.
He wants to get rid of the Departments of Education and Commerce, and eliminate the Export-Import Bank, which he sees as an instrument of “corporate welfare.”
The Pentagon budget would see a cut of 20 percent.
“We should stop using our servicemen and -women for empire building around the world, protecting oil interests, and siphoning off the military budget to buy unneeded equipment from industrialists,” argues the Libertarian candidate.
Simmons, an active member of the all-volunteer U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, wishes to redirect military spending away from armaments and toward overhauling the Veterans Administration and addressing veteran’s issues, such as homelessness.
He favors a greater reliance on the National Guard to protect U.S. borders and assist communities with disaster relief.
His opposition to Common Core and government regulations has earned him the support of teachers’ unions and local farmers, while his uncompromising stance in support of the Second Amendment is resonating with a more conservative part of the electorate.
Simmons’s candidacy also has a unique personal aspect. A family man with six adopted children, he is running as an openly gay and openly HIV-positive candidate, which puts him in a very narrow category of politicians.
“We must never give in to hate, whether that hate is directed against the gay community, immigrants, or the Muslim community,” Simmons said in a statement issued in June, in the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. “The politics of hate and division has been all too prevalent in recent political campaigns, and Americans from all walks of life must stand together in refusing to allow our diverse, liberty-loving nation to be torn apart by those who would seek to divide and conquer.”
Whether accompanied by volunteers or alone, Simmons is on the campaign trail every day, crisscrossing the largest congressional district in Massachusetts.
To appear on the ballot, he collected 2,950 signatures from voters in 79 towns and cities in the district, ending up with 200 more than the 2,000 valid signatures required.
Eleven more major campaign appearances are planned at the time of this writing , including at the Easthampton Cultural Chaos Arts festival, the Agawam Chamber of Commerce, farmers’ markets, the Westfield State University Political Science Club, and the Pittsfield Rainbow Seniors.
Campaign website: www.Simmons4Congress.com