6TH CONGRESS DISTRICT : EQUALITY FORUM FRAMES THE ISSUE

1 John Tierhey

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^ top : Congressman John Tierney. bottom : challenger Rich Tisei

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Who could have predicted, twenty years ago, that a time would come when candidates running for Congress would all appear — and be glad of it — at an issues Forum hosted by gay activists ? So it was, last night, that at the Hawthorne Hotel’s main ballroom in Salem, all five candidates seeking to represent the 6th Massachusetts District spoke their speeches and answered questions posed by Go Out Loud’s Chris Sicuranza.

Present at the table were all four Democratic primary candidates : (1) Marisa deFranco, a feisty, street-talking attorney who has gained a large reputation as an immigration lawyer and also represents many LGBT clients (2) John Devine, whom I had never met or heard of until last night and who spoke much too quietly to be heard (3) Seth Moulton, of Marblehead, the night’s most eloquent speaker by far but who, when faced with giving specific answers to Sicuranza’s questions, faded to gray; and (4) John Tierney, the nine-term Congressman, who needs no introduction and who had a bully-f0rce cheeri9\ng section on hand to applaud his succinct, authoritative remarks.

Equally present was the Republican challenger, Rich Tisei, whose 24 year career in the state legislature and Senate saw him, among other work, participating in our state’s pioneering legislation on gay and transgender rights.

Tisei had a huge advantage for a gay activist Forum: he is openly gay and married to a man who sat in the front row and of whom, as he told the full room of people, “I wouldn’t be where I am today without his love and support.”

Questions were asked of all five candidates, concerning specific gay rights legislation they would support, issues of housing and job discrimination, and the problem of homeless gay youth — homeless often because their families have rejected them. These questions were answered more or less effectively : the more effective answers came, not surprisingly, from Tierney and Tisei. Still, none of these questions had any effect on the central issue raised at the Forum by these two leading candidates :

Argued Tierney : “Yes this Congress did nothing. You want a Congress that does something ? change the majority. Don’t send Rich Tisei to Congress, because one man cannot change the GOP caucus.”

Tisei’s response : “Yes, send me to Congress because my being in the House GOP caucus changes it right there. Also my record of bipartisanship.”

Both arguments make sense. T^ierney is right : Congress will do nothing useful as long as the current GOP remains in the majority. Tisei is equally right ; putting an openly gay Congressman into the house GOP caucus DOES change the caucus irrevocably. (Note : Tisei won’t be as alone as Tierney thinks. openly gay Carl DeMaio, of San Diego, California, is sure to be elected. He leads the polls in his Congress district by ten points.)

So, which man’s argument do I choose ? It’s a terribly difficult choice. John Tierney has been an excellent Congressman, right on all the issues, tireless in attending our District,; and the troubles faced by his wife on account of her rather criminal brothers should not — must not — be held against him. On the other hand, changing the House GOP caucus seems to me a vital national mission. Our nation cannot rise to the occasion if it has one progressive political party and another that wants to regress. We need two progressive parties, differing on priorities and methods but not on the ultimate goal of a more just, inclusive, welcoming society.
Re-electing John Tierney will NOT change the majority. The GOP now controls the House by a majority of about 50. It is not likely to be ousted, now or in the forseeable future. Thus Tisei has the better practical argument : change the house GOP caucus. It’s also the more vital national mission. For the entire nation’s sake, the GOP must change — must change a lot. Only Republicans can change it.

The election of Richard Tisei is a strong start. I am glad that both he and Tierney framed the election in these terms.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

6TH CONGRESS DISTRICT : ISSUES, ATTACKS, AND AVOIDANCE

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^ John Tierney / Rich Tisei : will this be another campaign of generic GOP (Tisei) versus dumb attacks (John Tierney) ?

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The fight for who will be my Congressman next term has already begun. It would be nice if the candidates chose to voice issues that matter to a large number of actual people, but that’s not how campaigns for Congress usually play out these days. The issues that get voiced are those that big-money PACs and single issue pressure groups want voiced. Most of us do not belong — thank goodness — to single issue advocacy groups. Lives are not lived in a single isssue thimble. Lives face many issues, many that matter quite a lot. It’s hard to carve one issue without mutilating oneself, but many Congress candidates prefer to mutilate than to take up a whole person. As for big-money PACs, they have zero interest in you in me. Politics for them is all about them. Theirs is a Me, Myself, and I world.

That’s the context in which I, as a voter in the 6th Congressional District in Massachusetts, am asked now to vote whether John Tierney should be re-elected or if one of three challengers should re-place him. As it happens, I’m no ordinary voter; I’m also a journalist covering politics as my beat. I get to know a lot more about a lot of politicians than most voters have time to find out. Still, I’m not free of my own agendas, stuff that matters to me and which i think matters quite a bit to most of you. So let’s start with the agendas — the issues that I think really matter right now :

1. the income gap is growing, the opportunity gap expanding. It hurts the economy, and it hurts many of our fellow citizens living in the economy. If our Federal politics has any mission, it is to use Federal powers to abet opportunity and promote the income of everyone. Doesn’t the Constitution say, in its Preamble, that it aims to promote the general welfare ? An economy is everyone of us. If many of us can’t participate, the economy suffers just as much as the people who can’t participate.

2. student debt has become a huge impediment to economic growth. Yes we want to educate young people; that’s how they get the jobs of tomorrow; but education costs so much that only the wealthy can graduate free of debt. Student debt repayment commands a large part of young workers’ take home income. Student debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Deferring payments only increases the interest accruing. We are growing an entire generation of young workers indentured to student debt. If they’re lucky, they can pay it off by the time they reach age 40. If they aren’t lucky, they can never repay it. Indentured service was, in our nation’s early days, a way forward for a growing nation, yet it was only legally different from slavery, because indentured people in the early 1800s were shackled financially to individuals. Today, student indebted people are shackled to student lender corporations. Less personal, perhaps, definitely less confining, but no less burdensome.

3. Many states are enacting laws to suppress or discourage voting rather than easing access and encouraging. Many states are also trying to enact laws so restricting of women’s access to abortion and contraception that in effect they are taking access away. The people being hurt by such laws are those with very little access to income and for whom increased stress means even less likelihood of stable employment.

4. Some states are enacting laws taking away public workers’ rights to organize unions. Some states refuse to grant undocumented immigrants drivers’ licenses, in-state tuition fees for their children, or access to health care. Thereby the people targeted by these laws become less able to participate in the economy.

You will notice that all four of the situations that I think most significant in the nation today involve the economy, either directly or by consequence. We say we want to grow the economy, but how can we grow it best if we make it harder for many people to participate in the economy to their best potential ?

That said, how do the four candidates seeking to be my next Congressman respond ?

1. John Tierney just sent out a district wide mailing in which five (5) of his top six initiatives address the problem of student debt. (The sixth initiative calls for all kids to have access to early childhood education.)

2. Rich Tisei, who will be the GOP nominee and who came within 1100 votes of beating Tierney in 2012, sent out a mailing whose big point was that Massachusetts’s universal health care law should prevail over the ACA. His other point was that taxes on business should be lowered.

3. Seth Moulton, who is challenging John Tierney in the Democratic primary, calls upon Tierney to reinstate the veterans retirement pay cut that he voted for as part of the $ 1.1 trillion budget deal recently enacted in Congress. A bill to do exactly that is now making its way through Congress. He also calls the mild-mannered, pro-choice, pro marriage equality Tisei “too extreme for the families of this district.”

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^ Seth Moulton :  not much to say so far that merits attention

4. Marisa DeFranco, who is also challenging Tierney in the Primary, has this to say : “It is time for real talk about solutions and substance, not more of the same empty cliches. You are the real heroes and the real people who make a difference, and you deserve someone who knows you and will fight for the people of the Sixth District.”

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^ “real talk” redefined : Marisa DeFranco

I would hope that the above paragraphs speak for themselves.

Tierney has addressed one major issue that really matters. The other folks address less significant issues, issues given to them by PACs, a generalized negativity, or no issues at all. Early advantage, then, goes all to Tierney.

Advantage, too, in facing not one but two primary challengers, one (Moulton) unknown, the other (DeFranco) barely known.

But early advantages, terrific for the Primary, mean not much in the final election. Tisei is well known and liked, clearly perceived, an unique figure even in Massachusetts’s reasonably useful GOP. Tierney has badly injured his case against Tisei by allowing a spokesman to say that Tisei is “simply another vote for John Boehner and the Tea Party Republicans.”

The remark insults the intelligence of our district’s voters. Does John Tierney really think we’re that dumb, that blind, that dismissive of an opponent who has a long record of bipartisan accomplishment ? Tierney tried this attack last time, and it almost cost him his seat. (He would clearly have lost had not an independent candidate taken a full 5 % of the final vote). This time it’s a joke stale as well as bad.

But it won’t seem so much a joke if, darn soon, Tisei doesn’t address the issue overriding all : gaps in income and opportunity, inequality on the increase, and massive student debt. Many solutions are now on offer in Congress, in particular raising the minimum wage, increasing the earned income credit, or a compromise combination of the two. Last time, Tisei ran a generic GOP campaign with no local flair and not even a soupcon of originality. Even when prodded — by me at a couple of Town halls — he stuck to the same old same old.

Tisei needs to THINK. To speak to our District, not the GOP playbook. Yes it will cost him some PAC money : so what ? It’s time for PAC money to go take a hike anyway; it’s done nothing but distort and damage the nation’s governance. Tisei is well advised to run his own campaign, on his own turf — lose the same old — and to make income inequality issues his top mantra. if he does not do that, he’ll give Tierney’s stale bad joke a second life.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere