Times have changed for Sixth district Congressman John Tierney, and things are looking good. This, though he faces a rerun of the 2012 challenge from Republican Richard Tisei and, in the September primary, four challengers within his own party. Tierney went through a few miserable years, thanks to his wife’s legal troubles (She pled guilty to helping her brother file fraudulent tax returns), and won in 2012 by a scant 1.1 percent. Cleared by the House Ethics Committee, this matter should now be behind him, though his challengers might wish otherwise.
Now in the throes of a campaign for his tenth term in the U.S. House, Tierney is running vigorously on his record, making the case that experience matters and that a Democrat who reaches across the aisle can get things done, even in a Republican-controlled House.
A couple of his opponents like to say that, in the last 18 years in Congress, only one bill has had Tierney’s name on it. That kind of criticism, Tierney told a meeting today of The New England Council, is “the last bastion of those who don’t know how legislation is made.” The idea is to work collaboratively and share credit, he said. “You don’t do it to get named after you unless you’re dying or retiring,” he quipped. In Congress there are show horses and work horses, and Tierney clearly prefers the latter role.
His whole career is a testament that working collaboratively and sharing the credit – especially given the bitter partisan divide in Washington today- is the only way to get things done. He attended a White House bill signing ceremony two weeks ago for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which brings together educators and employers to determine where the jobs are, then develop curricula that meet the needs of the workforce. It will prepare individuals for millions of new jobs opening up by 2020 in IT, energy, health care and more. The law used the sponsorship framework of a GOP bill that Tierney opposed, deleted the worst parts, and inserted key provisions Tierney had long worked for. President Obama congratulated him for not only getting a good bill through a do-nothing Congress, but getting it through a bitterly divided House with more than 400 votes. This is the politics of artful compromise.
Tierney has been a key player in the areas of higher education and workforce development. On the House Committee on Education and Labor, he co-authored a bill to educate people for green jobs, which was included in a major energy security act in 2007. He co-authored the College Affordability and Accountability Act, which, along with some his other proposals, became part of a comprehensive education opportunity act in 2008. He has continued to work on issues even while not in the majority. Along with Senator Elizabeth Warren and California Congressman George Miller, Tierney has filed a bill to allow borrowers to refinance student loans, potentially cutting down on the heavy cost of college.
Recently Tierney became ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee, with jurisdiction over all matters dealing with relationships between employers and employees including pensions, health benefits, labor relations, to name just a few. In other words, very quietly John Tierney has become a key player in the domestic economy. As New England Council President Jim Brett put it, “John Tierney is very important to New England.”
Being a Congressman – or woman – isn’t just about passing bills with your name on it, or even just passing legislation. It’s also about monitoring how those new laws are implemented, scrutinizing the drafting of regulations, deciding whether regulations as applied make sense or over-reach and judging when it may be necessary to adjust the original law in light of experience.
Being a good congressman also involves making sure that cities and towns in one’s own district get a fair share of HUD grants for subsidized housing, or infrastructure monies for roads and bridges. And Tierney works hard on all that, earning him the gratitude and substantial support from those in the district who value his experience.
Right now, Tierney has a commanding lead (64 percent of the vote) over all the Democratic challengers combined. But clearly the rematch race against Tisei in the general election is of a different magnitude.
Tisei distinguished himself by refusing to attend the Republican state convention this spring in protest of the GOP’s position on gay marriage. Tisei himself married his longtime partner more than a year ago and that was not a tough call. He was and could be an attractive candidate running for a statewide office. But his biggest problem is the Republican Party at the national level, especially in a Congress that increasingly moves ideologically rightward. Recently almost all House Republicans voted to sue Obama for abuse of power. Those who didn’t, preferred impeachment. How would Tisei have voted?
He either has to go along to get along with today’s majority Republican Party or, seeking to distance himself from it, probably limit his power and access. Beyond voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, in what other ways would Tisei align himself with the Republican caucus and, more importantly, how will his priorities differ from Tierney’s? I’d like to see some enterprising reporter ferret out what Tisei’s votes would have been on a whole range of issues, compared to what Tierney’s were. Sixth district voters need to go well beyond campaign rhetoric and gauzy political ads if they’re to make an informed choice.
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