Ed Markey’s 40+ year political career has come a long way. His biggest state legislative accomplishment (a bill eliminating part-time district attorneys) incurred the wrath of then-House Speaker Tommy McGee, who threw Markey off the Judiciary Committee and moved his desk into the hall. Markey, a tall and skinny 29-year old two-term state rep from Malden, went from the state legislature to the U.S. House of Representatives on the slogan “They can tell me where to sit, but nobody tells me where to stand.” When he arrived in Washington in 1976, he had never before been to the nation’s Capitol.
He was a refreshing blend of old school B.C. politico and new politics reformer. New House Speaker Tip O’Neill made sure Markey had choice committee assignments. Over four decades, now-Senator Markey has made good use of those opportunities. He has been ahead of the curve on era-changing developments, drilling down on the intricacies of issues, learning from experts he reached out to. Notwithstanding his often unabashed Democratic partisanship, he has been able to work collaboratively across the aisle.
He was heavily involved in shaping the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which sparked a trillion dollar investment in new technologies and helped bring about the world’s transition from analog to digital. Ever since, he has remained at the forefront of new developments, now advanced manufacturing and “the Internet of Things.” Friday, our junior Senator looked out the Seaport Hotel windows at The New England Council luncheon and reflected on the significance of what’s happening in Massachusetts. “It’s all the internet,” he said, noting that all appliances and machinery today have to be “smart,” and, as General Electric’s decision to move here validates, “we are at the epicenter of all that is taking place.” He is right that “we are the cutting edge.”
Markey’s committee assignments have also enabled him to be a key player in the development of clean energy, which accounts for 100,000 Massachusetts jobs. “We are the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind energy on the planet,” he declared. His language speaks to our potential. Our work is cut out for us because China is clearly at the top of the list of wind energy producers, generating nearly twice as much wind power as we. Markey is trying to stop the phasing out of tax incentives to wind companies. He’s been just as active on the solar front, where the United States is the fifth largest producer and has a long way to go. He opposed a vote to export oil, believing it ill-advised because our level of oil imports still complicates our Middle East foreign policy.
Markey predicts that by 2030, if we sustain our push on wind, solar, hydro, and keep nuclear in the mix, the percentage of our non-polluting power could reach the mid 60’s. But, he warns, we have to make conditions right for young people to go into clean energy. This, too, is happening right here, just as their older brothers and sisters flocked to Massachusetts for the telecom revolution.
One more figure he threw out: Right now there are 65,000 coal miners left in the country, and by end of 2016 there will be more than 300,000 workers in New England solar alone. I’m sure that those in Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky are not terribly enthusiastic about Senator Markey’s push for renewables, but he stands out for taking the long view.
Another magnet for young people is the research money that Massachusetts gets from the federal budget. Just one example: we get ten percent of all funding for the National Institutes for Health (NIH), a staggering $2.3 billion. Another half a billion comes from the National Science Foundation, with $150 from the Centers for Disease Control coming to Massachusetts. This all represents a dramatic turn-around from funding cuts under President George W. Bush.
From his perch on the Transportation Committee, Markey can work for the modern infrastructure essential to making Massachusetts a place those young people want to live. Increasingly, they want to be downtown and build their lifestyle around mass transit. We are third in the country in car-free households. As of the last transportation budget, Massachusetts will get $1 billion a year for five years for transportation improvements.
Markey, a longtime fighter for improved port security, has also looked ahead at the opportunities to be gained from the Panama Canal expansion. That project, expected to be completed by the end of this year, will double the number and size of cargo ships going through. For Massachusetts to be a global port, it has to be able to accommodate those larger vessels. Markey secured $300 million for Massport to improve Boston Harbor, and that money, he said, will leverage private dollars and represent a $2 billion investment in the state’s shipping capacity.
Like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, Markey is concerned about the opioid crisis. This morning’s Globe reports he put a hold Obama’s nominee to head the FDA, because Dr. Robert Califf seemed soft on reversing the FDA’s allowing pediatric use of OxyContin. Markey proposed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they had a common interest in addressing the opioid and heroine problem, he said, whether in Lexington, MA or Lexington, KY. Markey’s idea? a Surgeon General study on the issue, directed to be complete by the end of the year, which he hopes will be as effective in tackling the opioid crisis as was the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the dangers of smoking.
Markey’s remarks included topics from gun safety to ISIS. (He also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee.) His wide-ranging speech was long and substantive but unfortunately left no time for questions. A former colleague of his from the Massachusetts House said it was probably the best speech he’d ever heard Markey give, and I’d agree.
I started covering Ed Markey’s career when he was just a state rep and, in 1976, (I was just ten years old) covered his race for Congress. At that time, my co-author Jim Barron and I said that Markey was the best choice in the 12-candidate field. He was, we wrote somewhat snarkily, “light but educable.” That was four decades ago, and, over the years, he and we have laughed about the condescending language. I can say today that this man has grown and grown, in knowledge, experience, and effectiveness. He remembers his roots and is articulate and polished – a man of substance. He is Senatorial through and through – in the very best sense of the word.
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