October 7, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay Republican seeks to unseat Mass. congressman
Richard Tisei, Republican, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

Richard Tisei may become the first non-incumbent openly gay Republican elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. (photo courtesy of Tisei)

BOSTON – Massachusetts congressional candidate Richard Tisei remains confident that he will become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress next month.

“I feel pretty comfortable and pretty confident at this point,” Tisei told the Washington Blade during an Oct. 4 interview near Copley Square. A poll the University of New Hampshire Survey Center conducted on behalf of the Boston Globe late last month shows that the former 2010 lieutenant gubernatorial candidate is ahead of incumbent Congressman John Tierney by a 37-31 percent margin.

Thirty percent of respondents said they remain undecided, but the survey further indicates that Tierney’s wife and brothers-in-law’s involvement in an illegal gambling ring has adversely impacted his re-election campaign. “A lot of people in the district are ready for a change and they are looking for a different type of congressman than we have right now. I’ve gotten a great reception from folks.”

Tisei, a former Massachusetts Senate minority leader who co-owns a real estate brokerage company in suburban Lynnfield, announced his candidacy against Tierney last November. He would represent Massachusetts’ Sixth Congressional District that includes portions of Middlesex and Essex Counties north of Boston if elected.

Tierney and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continue to compare Tisei to a Tea Partier in an attack ad currently airing on local television stations. He quickly brushed aside the comparison.

“I’m the only gay, pro-choice Republican who wouldn’t sign the [Grover] Norquist pledge being called an extremist anywhere in the country,” said Tisei. “It’s funny because people who know me find it laughable. I don’t think he’s realized how much he’s damaged his own credibility. Rather than talking about what he’s done over a 16-year period. Trying to paint me as some type of Right Wing extremist is just so off-the-wall that it damages his own credibility.”

He further noted that the economy and jobs are among the top issues on voters’ minds.

“Most of the jobs are created by small business owners who employ 10 or less people and those are the people who don’t feel comfortable or confident hiring anybody right now because there’s so much uncertainty emulating from the government,” said Tisei. “We have a dysfunctional government so nobody knows when the next tax increase is going to be, the next regulation that comes out or how they’re going to be affected. I think a lot of people are just holding back right now hence the reason our economy really hasn’t jump started.”

Tisei would be the first non-incumbent openly gay Republican elected to the House of Representatives. Both former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe and former U.S. Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) came out after being elected.

GOP establishment continues to back Tisei

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who volunteered for Tisei’s first state representative campaign in 1984, was among the first prominent Republicans to endorse his campaign. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio,) House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and the National Republican Congressional Committee have all backed Tisei’s candidacy in spite of their continued support of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“A good number of representatives here in Massachusetts support gay marriage right now and have seen that it’s not the end of the world. And both Democrats and Republicans and the body politic as a whole has evolved,” said Tisei in response to the Blade’s question about how he could spur Capitol Hill Republicans to no longer support DOMA if elected. He further noted he was among the first Massachusetts officials to applaud the state Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark 2003 ruling that struck down the commonwealth’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.

“Being in Washington, being a member of the caucus, I can help be a catalyst or help bring that process along. I realize that the party as a whole has been a tougher nut to crack, but there are a lot of people within the party who want to see a chance to take place or they want different voices within the party and if an issue like DOMA comes up, somebody like me on the Republican side can stand up and say you know what, this is about fairness, it’s about treating people equally under the law and really appeal to the American ideals to make the argument. If I’m in a position to do that, I think I can change a lot of hearts and minds.”

Tisei, who has also been endorsed by the Victory Fund, further referenced this GOP support to dismiss retiring Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s claims last month that he would be “no use to us in Congress.”

“Barney’s a smart guy, but hearing that argument is so convoluted and most of the people I know within the gay community were baffled by it,” said Tisei. “It’s a bit far-fetched for him to make the argument that he did. I think most normal, rational people can understand that we’ll never have true equality in the country unless you have advocates on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up and say, you know what, everybody should be treated fairly.”

Romney “knows how the economy works”

Tisei spoke with the Blade hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama squared off in the first presidential debate in Denver.

He noted that he disagreed with Romney on marriage rights for same-sex couples, abortion, stem cell research and other issues. Tisei stressed he feels Romney “knows his stuff as far as what it takes to get companies to create jobs.”

“On economic issues, I think he knows how the economy works,” he said.  “I’ve sat with him over the years in a lot of different meeting when he was the governor here and he really does have the knowledge of how the free enterprise system works. Last night he shows he has a depth. People probably see that he could be a good steward of the economy and help jump start the economy.”

Tisei predicted that Brown will ultimately defeat challenger Elizabeth Warren, but he said it will be “a really close election.” He also opposes a federal judge’s decision last month that ordered a taxpayer-funded sex-reassignment surgery for convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek.

“Governor Patrick has come out against this, which should automatically tell people that just how off the charts that decision was,” said Tisei, who sponsored a bill while in the state Senate that would have added gender identity and expression to the commonwealth’s anti-discrimination law. Patrick signed the measure last November. “You’re talking about somebody who murdered another human being. I just don’t think that the state should be doing that.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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