Mass. Second-District Congressman James McGovern joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan Tuesday on Boston Public Radio. McGovern talked about Cuba and the US; protests in Baltimore; cameras in federal court rooms; the 2024 Summer Olympics; his relationship with Gov. Charlie Baker; and why Gwyneth Paltrow's SNAP challenge was important.
Questions are paraphrased. McGovern's responses have been edited where noted [...].
You've been to Cuba before. What was it like?
McGovern: There was no snow, it was beautiful.
You think the warming of relations between the US and Cuba is a welcome change, right?
When you think about it, what's wrong with having an embassy in a particular country? It enables you to communicate more directly with that government. [...] It's a greater United States presence. I think that's all good. We should not be afraid to talk to anybody.
But there are clearly still differences between the two countries.
Drug interdiction [and] human rights [are] areas where we have disagreements. I think that's a positive thing. [...] The Cold War is over and I think we ought to recognize that and move on.
There was a lot of violence overnight in Baltimore. What's your reaction to the death of Freddie Gray, and everything that's come after?
What you see happening in Baltimore are tensions that have long been simmering. Clearly it's unfortunate there are some opportunists that are taking advantage of this moment to loot, and attacking police officers, and lighting cars on fire. [...]
We live in a country where there are some very significant inequalities. It's not just in terms of income. It's also in [how] our laws are enforced. [...] In this area of Baltimore that's in flames right now — and Baltimore's a great, great city by the way — some of these neighborhoods have been neglected for decades, and for the people who live there, there's not much hope.
It seems like we repeat these conversations every time a black person is killed, or protests pop up, or rioting happens. How do we repair the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities? How do we start getting at some of root causes?
We need to start having a national conversation that goes beyond just reacting to these events, but actually trying to deal with some of these systemic issues. [...] One of the lessons here is that all mayors from all cities, and all governors, ought to be paying attention to this. [...] The responsibility here is not just with Congress. [It's] business leaders, you know, people in the community.
Freddie Gray died after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. Were these just bad cops?
There are some bad apples. There are some good public servants, but there are some bad apples as well.
How do we address some of the issues of inequality, poverty, and probably racism surrounding poorer and minority communities in our urban centers?
The problem with the war on poverty is we've underfunded it. [...] People are falling through. I would argue that some of these [Baltimore] neighborhoods, [...] they've suffered from a lack of attention.
We're in the middle of the sentencing phase for convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Should we have cameras in federal courtrooms so we can see what's going on?
We have cameras in Congress. I don't see why cameras are a bad idea. [...] People who are interested ought to have the right to see what goes on in these courtrooms. I'm sure there are arguments that people have against it.
Former Mass. Lieutenant Gov. Tim Murry has said he doesn't want Boston to be the main beneficiary as the result of landing the 2024 Olympics, at the expense of the rest of the state. Since you represent his city (and others) in the second district, where do you stand on the Olympics?
I think the concerns that the former Lieutenant Governor raised are legitimate concerns. [...] There's a way to do this and do it right so the entire state benefits. Listen, I like the Olympics, [...] and I thought it was kind of an honor that Boston was one of the cities being promoted here. [...]
So you're worried cities like Worcester and Springfield will be left out of the Olympic planning?
There's a whole other part of the state that's beautiful, that's vibrant, that's every bit as important as Boston. I think that people don't think they're getting the attention or the support they deserve. [...] It shouldn't be either-or. It should be, How do we develop a plan and how do we finance a plan for the entire Commonwealth? That's where the discussion goes.
Gov. Baker recently met with FEMA representatives to apply for emergency funding for the 2014-15 winter. We understand you met with him, too. How is your relationship with Gov. Baker?
So far so good. I mean, we have a good working relationship with him, the entire delegation [does]. He's been accessible. [...] This is a work in progress. The whole story is not in the initial announcement, and we've been working with FEMA [...] in terms of the funding. [...]
But so far you and Baker have gotten along?
There's a time for elections and there's a time to work, and the election is over, and we ought to have at least a little bit of time. [...] If that should change I'll be happy to tell you so, but so far we've had a pretty good working relationship.
Actor Gwyneth Paltrow recently tried to live on food stamps and failed. Was this a laughable attempt?
I think I would've explained it differently than she did. Look, let's be honest. You know the food stamp benefit we provide people is inadequate. [...] The number of people that go to food banks at the end of the month rises, because [they run out of money].
So you think Paltrow actually got the message across, if maybe a little backwardly?
We have close to 48 million people in the United States who are hungry. We're the richest country in the history of the world! [...] There are people who are still struggling and they deserve this benefit.
>>To hear the entire conversation with Massachusetts Second-District Congressman Jim McGovern, click the audio above.