Mass. House candidate could be first openly gay Republican in Congress

Richard Tisei could become the first openly gay Republican elected to serve in Congress, but he’s more interested in framing himself as part of the centrist wing of the party than as a trailblazer.

“Overall, I consider myself a ‘live and let live Republican’ — the government should get out of your bedroom, off your back and out of your wallet,” he told The Hill when asked about the historic nature of his campaign. “That’s a pretty traditional Northeastern Republican philosophy. We’ve always had a pretty strong libertarian flavor in our politics up here.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Tisei said that in his home district, being gay is a “non-issue,” but noted his profile as a pro-gay-marriage, pro-abortion-rights Republican could help him knock off eight-term Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), whose campaign has been tarnished by his in-laws’ legal troubles.

The 6th congressional district, just north of Boston, gave President Obama 57 percent of its vote in 2008 but broke for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2010. If elected, Tisei would be the first Republican House member to represent the state since 1997.

Despite his not fitting the typical GOP profile, House Republicans are high on Tisei, who served in the statehouse for more than two decades and was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010. 

Tisei has raised just shy of $50,000 from House Republicans, including donations from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Boehner also hosted a fundraiser for Tisei and New Hampshire’s two Republican representatives about a month ago.

Tisei said he would “work really well with [GOP] leadership” if he won but promised to break with them on social issues. He called the Defense of Marriage Act, which congressional Republicans are fighting to uphold in court, “unconstitutional,” saying there would never be “true equality” as long as the law stands. 

He said he has “no problem” with government funding of Planned Parenthood, and would have voted against Sen. Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) amendment that would have repealed the Obama administration’s requirement that some religious-affiliated institutions pay for their employees’ contraception.

But on economic issues, Tisei sounds much more like a traditional Republican. 

“America is in a lot of trouble when it comes to debt, this whole idea that free enterprise is a bad thing,” he said. “I’ll line up closely with leadership on a lot of those issues.”

He supports repealing Democrats’ healthcare law and blasted Tierney for voting to uphold the part of the law that creates a tax for medical devices, saying that he “put party first” with the vote because there are many medical-device suppliers in the district. While he hasn’t committed to backing House Republicans’ plan to overhaul Medicare — commonly known as the “Ryan Plan” — he’s praised Ryan for his ideas.

While Tisei defended the healthcare reform law he helped pass in Massachusetts, which has a number of similarities to the law passed nationally by Democrats, he called that bill a “work in progress” and said it should not have served as a national model.

“Gov. Romney is basically right — the goal in our country should be to get everyone insured and the role of the federal government, rather than push a ‘one size fits all’ solution, should be to provide incentives for every state to innovate,” he said, adding that he would push to repeal most of the bill but leave intact the portions that allow requirements for coverage of pre-existing conditions and allowing people to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans until age 26.

The family issues roiling the Tierney camp involve his wife and brothers-in-law, who took part in an illegal online gambling operation one of them alleged in late June that Tierney knew all about.

The congressman issued a fiery response, pointing out in an early-July press conference that that same relative had claimed until a week earlier that he was innocent.

Tisei has hammered Tierney on the issue.

 “Most people don’t believe his explanations that he didn’t know anything — they’re so farfetched,” Tisei said. “People were giving him the benefit of the doubt, but once [one of] his two brothers-in-law came out and said he did know everything, for a lot of people, he lost a lot of his credibility. A lot of people question whether he can be an effective congressman.”

 Tisei has called on Tierney’s wife to return the more than $200,000 she received from her brother for taking care of his personal tax returns and helping to take care of his children. Tierney’s campaign pointed The Hill to the July press conference when asked about Tisei’s remarks.

Tierney’s campaign also blasted Tisei for wanting to repeal the national healthcare law, for calling the extension of the payroll tax cut “gimmicky” and for refusing to disown the Ryan Plan.

“He knows he can’t win on the issues, “ said Tierney spokesman Grant Herring.

— This story was updated at 9:47 a.m.