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Republican Lt. Governor candidate Tisei poised for history

by Sue O’Connell
Thursday Oct 28, 2010
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Notes from a conversation with the openly gay Lt. Governor hopeful.

Senator Richard Tisei, Republican Charlie Baker’s running mate in the Massachusetts’ race for governor, would make history if elected on Nov. 2. It would be the highest statewide office held by a member of the LGBT community in the nation, and it wouldn’t be his first record. Now 47, he won his first election in 1984 at age 22, making him the youngest Republican ever elected to the state legislature.

He isn’t the first gay to seek statewide office. In 2000, Governor Jane Swift chose openly gay Republican Patrick Guierriero as her running mate. The ticket dropped out of the race and Mitt Romney and Kerry Healey became the Republican nominee and won the election. Openly lesbian candidate Grace Ross ran for governor as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate in 2006 with her openly lesbian running mate Martina Robinson, and Ross launched a bid as a Democratic candidate in this race.

Tisei’s current job is as state senator representing the Middlesex and Essex District, which includes Lynnfield, Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, and Wakefield. Tisei has an impressive track record, winning ten consecutive Senate terms in this district, where Republicans are outnumbered 9-1. He also serves as Senate Minority Leader.

Baker and Tisei face incumbent Democrat Governor Deval Patrick and Lt. Governor Tim Murray, Independent Tim Cahill, and Green Party team Jill Stein and Rick Purcell.

Tisei came out publicly just days before the November 2009 announcement of his addition to the Baker campaign. No hoopla or "Yup, I’m gay" moment. Just a public acknowledgement of what many already knew.

The candidate sat down with Bay Windows on Oct. 13, answering a broad range of questions. The Senator also responded to follow-up questions via e-mail. Bay Windows has repeatedly requested an interview with candidate Charlie Baker, but has not received a response.

Describing his "coming out."
I never felt like I was in, I appreciate the fact that I’ve had the space to grow and develop as a person. My partner and I have been together for 16 years. I never told anyone I wasn’t gay. I didn’t feel like you had to have a big press conference and tell everybody "here I am."

Regarding his vote against the 1989 Gay Rights Bill as a State Representative, a vote he has said he regrets.
I didn’t have it all figured it out at that time [referring to his sexual orientation]. I was young and a state representative. [I was] around 28 when elected to senate and my record has been good. Before [same-sex] marriage I stood up for domestic partnership. I’m the co-sponsor of the Transgender Civil Rights Legislations. I’ve been elected 13 times in a row. I’m judged on my performance.

On whether his orientation was an open secret.
I wouldn’t use the word "secret." I don’t think everyone who is gay has to get up [and make a statement]. They can just live their life, be who they are, and let people know that way rather than get up and have a big dramatic press conference. I’ve never been asked by anyone [about my orientation] prior to my jumping into the statewide race and I never told anyone I wasn’t gay.

On coming out just before the official announcement of his addition to the ticket.
I wanted [my sexual orientation] to come out as a positive thing.

On the opportunity to make history.
I know it’s never easy to be the first to do something and I have great respect for everyone who trailblazed before me. As far as having the opportunity to be the first statewide gay official goes, I am sure that I will not fit neatly into everyone’s preconceived image of who that person would be, but I have learned in life, especially political life, that the best way to handle challenges is to just be yourself and that is what I intend to do.

On his role during the same-sex marriage battle, when his orientation was not widely known.
During the gay marriage debate, I was a strong and vocal supporter of upholding the Supreme Court’s ruling and worked with my colleagues to help defeat attempts to amend the constitution to take away marriage equality. I spoke at the constitutional convention, coordinated efforts to secure republican votes, authored several op-ed pieces that ran in over a dozen newspapers, spoke to a number of groups, and attended many forums as an advocate for same-sex marriage. At the end of the day, I look back and feel very confident that I made a difference and also very comfortable that I did everything I should have at the time to advance this important civil rights issue.

On answering people who wonder how he can campaign with anti-gay marriage Republican candidates.
President Barack Obama does not support same-sex marriage. He holds the same position as many Republicans. The fact that I’m the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, and I’m gay, makes a positive statement.

What I would say to people is that we will never have true equality unless we have strong voices and allies speaking out for fairness from both sides of the aisle. This is a historic opportunity to elect a republican team to govern our state that is obviously committed to equality. I believe that our success on Nov. 2 will represent the beginning of the sea change that needs to occur on the national level.

At the State Republican Convention in August, candidate Baker shocked the LGBT community when he called the bill for transgender civil rights by the derogatory term "the bathroom bill." Senator Tisei, a sponsor of the bill, was standing next to Baker at the time.
He [Baker] made a mistake in referring to the bill. He believes everybody should be treated equally under the law. Over the next couple of years there’s a lot of work that has to be done.

Knowing Charlie as well as I do, I know that he judges everyone based strictly on their character. Charlie has repeatedly said that as Governor he will not allow discrimination against anyone and will ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law. He certainly demonstrated his commitment to equality by asking me to join him on the ticket.

The fact is, that the bill was co-sponsored by a majority of the House and Senate membership. Yet throughout the entire legislative session, not only were advocates unable to secure a vote on the bill, they also failed to even win its release from committee.

What this demonstrates is that there are concerns about the legislation that need to be addressed and supporters of the bill still have much work to do to educate the public as to what the really does and that is to prevent discrimination and provide equal protection under the law to transgender individuals.

On his support for the Transgender Civil Rights Bill.
I co-sponsored the bill last session and my support has been unwavering. I suspect that given the historic nature of my candidacy, I have had to defend the merits of the bill more than any other politician in Massachusetts. My record speaks for itself.

On his priorities for the LGBT community.
First, as I have met with members of the LGBT community, I have found that they are concerned with the same issues as Massachusetts voters as a whole. Those issues include high taxes, mismanagement of state services, local aid cuts, and a terrible business climate. LGBT families are under the same financial pressures as everyone else and many have lost their life savings, jobs, and in some cases their homes during this economic crises. I will work to make Massachusetts more affordable, competitive, and friendly to small business in order to create jobs.

Aside from those broad issues I would point out that, under Governor Patrick, the account which funds AIDS Prevention Treatment and Services has been cut for the last four budgets. I will work to ensure that that proper resources are allocated to these important programs. Another policy area that I have an interest in is ensuring that LGBT seniors have access to safe and supportive services and that there are no disparities in state programming.

Most importantly, over the past year we have witnessed a rash of youth suicides where students were bullied based on their perceived sexual orientation. As Lt. Governor, I will work very closely with the Governor’s Commission on LGBT Youth in order to do a better job promoting suicide and violence prevention efforts and to bring more attention to this issue.

The most effective thing I can do for the LGBT community is to be a visible role model and do my job effectively as Lt. Governor.

On his choice to be a Republican.
I’m entrepreneurial. I own a small business I believe the government has a responsibility to help its citizens, but not to over-reach.

I’m concerned about younger people moving out of Massachusetts because the are unemployed, under-employed, struggling to make ends meet, or their companies move out of state. It’s a lost generation. The budget crisis has driven the state instead of the state getting in front of it. A big mistake is the cuts on police forces. The biggest problem seems to be the state government has an operating model that is vintage 1970 or 1980. People want the fat cut, but the state government is like marbled meat -- the fat is throughout. The state lacks a business plan.

On why voters should choose the Baker/Tisei team.
If you believe that the state is heading in the wrong direction, that taxes are too high, that the state is overspending and being mismanaged, and that small businesses are being killed by over regulation and a hostile environment created by state government, then you should feel comfortable voting for Baker/Tisei. We have a plan to put the state back on track and will work hard to make Massachusetts more affordable and competitive.

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Visit www.richardtisei2010.com for more information.

Copyright Bay Windows. For more articles from New England's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.baywindows.com

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