Republican Massachusetts Sixth District congressional candidate Richard Tisei, an openly gay, fiscally conservative, and socially moderate former state Senate minority leader, is running against entrenched Democratic Rep. John Tierney with a new, exciting brand of Republicanism—and he thinks his style might just be the future of the northeastern GOP.
"I’ve never been about anything but job creation. Is that extreme?" Tisei told the Free Beacon, mocking Democratic accusations that the national GOP has been taken over by extremists.
"I’ve owned my own business, a real estate business, for the last 5 years. During that time, every business and every family has helped me. But the federal government hasn’t," Tisei said.
Tisei served in the Massachusetts legislature for 26 years beginning in 1984. He is quick to note he represented a state Senate district where only about 10 percent of voters are registered Republicans.
While Tierney has attempted to portray Tisei, 50, as the new recruit of the House Republicans’ "Young Guns"—a group of fiscal reform-minded Republicans led originally by Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, and whose PAC is supporting Tisei with television ads—Tisei said that he will work across the aisle in Washington to achieve his legislative goals, all of which are focused on the economy.
"I agree with the national party on some of the issues that are really important, like preventing higher taxes, but not on some of the social issues," Tisei said.
"I think people here [in Massachusetts] tend to be very libertarian on social issues. When Republicans put up candidates who espouse the views of the electorate, then they get elected," Tisei said. "Scott Brown is the latest example of that."
Tisei is often mentioned alongside Brown and fellow Republican congressional candidate Sean Bielat as representing a new wave in Massachusetts politics—one emphasizing fiscal responsibility while discarding longstanding GOP social positions used by Democrats to demonize Republicans in the press.
Tisei’s moderate image has earned him unusually fair coverage in the liberal Boston Globe, which, to his slight embarrassment, has prominently mentioned his sexuality.
According to Tisei, his policy views, like those of many conservatives, are rooted in a centrist Democratic tradition.
"There was always a wing of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts that was conservative. We had Ed King as governor from ’78 to ’82, and he was Ronald Reagan’s favorite Democratic governor. The legislature had a lot of conservative Democrats. Eventually the party in Massachusetts was big enough that there was an intraparty squabble. Conservatives felt they didn’t have a home in the party anymore," Tisei said.
The success of Tisei, Brown, and Bielat suggests that the migration of small-government Democrats to the Republican Party, which occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in most parts of the country, has finally reached Massachusetts, according to political observers.
"When the Massachusetts Republican Party can’t break 40 percent in elections, the party starts to atrophy. Less money comes from the national GOP and less party money gets spread out to the districts. Republicans regularly don’t even put up candidates for U.S. House races in Massachusetts. But that is not necessarily a symptom of voter demographics anymore," elections analyst Jay Cost told the Free Beacon in April.
"In the past few years, a lot of conservative Democrats don’t feel comfortable any more with the turn their party has taken. That’s why Scott Brown was able to beat Martha Coakley. A lot of people are realizing now that if you’re against higher taxes, more spending, and more people being added to the welfare rolls, then you have to consider the Republican Party," Tisei said.
"Elizabeth Warren is a pretty stark choice compared to Scott Brown," Tisei added as an example of the new party dynamics.
John Tierney, Tisei pointed out, is another example.
"John Tierney is ranked as the 20th most liberal congressman in the country. To put that in perspective, Charlie Rangel is ranked 25th," Tisei said, referring to the Democratic New York congressman who once said that tax cuts are the modern version of racism.
Tierney is also in the midst of a scandal involving his wife’s role in an illegal gambling operation, which led to her tax fraud conviction in October 2010.
Now running for his ninth term in Congress, Tierney has consistently voted with Democratic House leadership since he first took office in 1997.
"He’s never shown any independence. I think at this point most people in this state are not looking for an ideologue. They’re looking for problem solvers," Tisei said.
"A big issue in our race is the medical device excise tax in Obamacare," Tisei said, noting that Massachusetts is home to more than 400 medical device companies and that even Elizabeth Warren has opposed the tax.
"You would think that a Massachusetts congressman would be leading the fight to repeal the tax, he’s been one of the biggest proponents for that tax," Tisei said.
"Government’s role should be to help business. That’s how people in Massachusetts feel. That’s how I feel," Tisei said.