“I want to be able to offer people a different philosophy,” said Republican Richard Tisei, who is running for the 6th District congressional seat, presumably against incumbent Democrat John Tierney.

When Richard Tisei began his political career in the Massachusetts Legislature in 1985, America was in the heady early days of the Republican resurgence experienced under President Reagan. Massachusetts had jumped on the economic conservatism bandwagon in a big way with Proposition 2 1/2, which went into effect in 1982. And as far as social issues were concerned? Gay marriage, universal healthcare, or any of the many other 21st-century accomplishments that have come to characterize Massachusetts progressivism were still decades away.
So as a state representative and, later, state Senate minority leader, Tisei was on the front lines of some historic epochs in Bay State politics. It's not hard, therefore, to understand his views on the political dysfunction of the Washington arena he hopes to enter; a few course corrections, he says, and both the Republican party and the nation can get back on track.
“I want to be able to offer people a different philosophy,” said Tisei, who is running for the 6th District congressional seat, presumably against incumbent Democrat John Tierney. “Whether you like Republicans or not, every handicapper says that they will be the Congressional majority for the foreseeable future, and I think it handicaps Massachusetts to have no one who can represent its interests within that majority. I think I have an opportunity to change the direction.”
This, the crux of Tisei's argument, reflects the reality that, if elected, he would be Massachusetts' sole Republican representative on Capitol Hill. For nearly two decades now, the North Shore has been represented by Democrats in the House, and barring Scott Brown's interim term, in the Senate as well. As the state Senate minority leader, Tisei's Republican colleagues on Beacon Hill numbered four.
And this week, the Massachusetts GOP released a platform which described abortion as a tragedy along with voicing support for ‘traditional marriage.' Tisei and his husband, Bernie Starr, celebrated their wedding reception earlier this month.
“My platform is the government should get off your back, out of your bedroom, and out of your wallet. I've always been pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage,” Tisei said. “The Republican party of old was the party that led the nation on woman's suffrage, the party that made Native Americans full citizens. We don't need to reinvent ourselves, we need to remember our past.
“I think I can be a catalyst for change,” he said. “I don't intend to carry any platform down to Washington, I am going to carry the values of the 6th District down to Washington.”
‘Bad judgment in Washington'
Tisei came within a whisker of unseating Tierney in 2012. A flurry of economic frustration, along with persistent allegations that Tierney was aware of his in-law's illegal offshore gambling ring, gave Tisei a commanding majority in the bedroom communities in the district. Tierney won by less than a percentage point, in part thanks to the support of larger cities like Lynn and Salem and in part because the conservative vote was split between Tisei and libertarian Daniel Fishman. (Fishman has since endorsed Tisei.)
The race, one of the most expensive and nastiest in the country, was characterized by mudslinging on both sides, with third-party mailers and advertisements attacking Tierney. Though Tisei's candidacy benefitted from the strategy, today he says he wishes the tone of the race had been different.
“I think the focus on Tierney's family hurt me if anything, because we couldn't focus on the issues, which was what I really wanted to talk about,” Tisei said. “I did a press conference on the medical device tax and nobody came.
“People like to focus on things that are hot and controversial; it's human nature,” he said. “And there was nothing I could do about the mailers and advertisements that weren't generated by my campaign; it's illegal [for candidates to talk to PACs]. So this time around, I'm hoping to talk about John Tierney's bad judgment in Washington. He's voted for more taxes, more spending.”
Specific goals
Getting down to specifics, one of Tisei's signature causes is his hoped-for repeal of the medical devices tax.
“The North Shore is the third-largest cluster for the medical devices industry, and the medical device industry is the only industry where we put this kind of 2.3 percent tax on gross earnings,” Tisei said. “The jobs in the medical devices industry are exactly the kind of good jobs we want in our district, and this tax inhibits job creation. Even Elizabeth Warren has criticized it as a bad tax. If I were elected, repealing it would be my first priority.”
Tisei is also sharply critical of the Affordable Care Act, a refrain that characterized his official campaign announcement earlier this year and surely a characteristic issue of the upcoming race.
“Gov. Patrick has been trying to secure waivers for Massachusetts, because we had a law that was working, one I was happy to be a part of passing as the Senate minority leader,” Tisei said. “With its federal mandates and one-size-fits-all approach, Obamacare has led to problems everywhere. We used to have one of the best health care websites in the country. Now we have one of the worst. If you have a state where things are working, the law should be flexible enough that places like that aren't harmed.”
Tisei also supports more conventionally Republican positions like a flatter tax code with lower tax rates, and is skeptical about raising the Massachusetts minimum wage to $11 an hour, though he has supported modest minimum wage increases in the past and believes the issue should be tackled at the national level.
“The government doesn't create jobs. Small businesses create jobs, and many small business owners don't want to hire because they don't know what'll happen next,” Tisei said. “I think everyone should get a fair wage, but at a time when we have historically low workforce participation rates we need to have small businesses that are willing to hire.”
Tisei said that he is looking forward to the race, and has high hopes that lower rates of Democrat turnout in a year without a presidential election, along with a focus on the issues, will give his candidacy a winning shot.
“You know, Tierney lost his first election for the 6th District seat, and then came back and won it,” Tisei said. “People deserve a debate about the issues. I'm not saying I would be able to go down to Washington and solve all their problems, but people in this district can send a strong message by electing me that they want things to change.”