Neal says Democrats must focus on economic development





If the Democratic Party is to regain the trust of its traditional working-class base, it must begin to talk seriously about economic development, US Representative Richard Neal said Tuesday.

“I think that we’ve lost touch with the aspirations of people who really want to do something with themselves,” he said. “They see us as not caring anymore.”

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Neal, a Springfield native, brings years of perspective to that issue. He was first elected to Congress in 1989 and has served ever since. He spoke with Globe reporter Joshua Miller Tuesday in a live interview at the AT&T store in Back Bay as part of the Globe’s Live Political Happy Hour series.

Neal, who dedicated much of his political career to the peace process in Northern Ireland, also said he would like to see a referendum vote soon on reuniting Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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And he expressed pessimism about the possibility of reforming the federal tax code while Congress is mired in partisan gridlock.

The fact that Democrats lost the working-class strongholds of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania should be a wakeup call for the party, Neal said.

“We used to bring in the poorest and the middle and the richest, they were all under our tent,” he said.

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Neal said he found it astounding that West Virginia, a state won by Democratic presidential nominees Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton and narrowly lost by Al Gore, went for Republican Donald Trump in November. Especially because the state’s residents depend heavily on Medicaid and Social Security, programs created by Democrats, he said.

“We were the party of aspiration. You stuck with us, you were going to have job security and you were going to have pay raises, and I think that we’ve…

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