Outgoing Congressman Barney Frank, who is openly gay, yesterday endorsed Democratic Congressman John Tierney of Salem over Tierney’s openly gay Republican challenger, Richard Tisei.
Frank endorsed Tierney in what is a tight race for the 6th Congressional District. Frank said in a 12:30 p.m. conference call with reporters that the climate in Washington has become so partisan that “there are no effective moderate Republicans.”
“I have become more partisan in reaction to the tea party,” Frank said as he explained his endorsement, adding that Tierney’s election would be “better for the advancement for the legal equality we are seeking.”
“The fact that Richard Tisei is openly gay is a good thing now, and a good thing for the country,” Frank said, but it is not a reason to endorse him.
Tisei said it is not news that Frank would back Tierney, who he admits “has a good record on LGBT issues, and so do I.”
Tisei, who does not endorse the national Republican platform against same-sex marriage, said if elected he would have a national voice on equality and fairness issues close to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, especially as a member of the House majority party.
“There is not an analyst in the entire country who is predicting the Democrats will retake the majority,” Tisei said, giving him an opportunity to break the mold of what it means to be a Republican. “You will never have equality unless you have people on both sides.”
But Frank said Tisei’s party affiliation would only add to a Republican majority with a leadership that has moved so far to the right, it would refuse to take up any anti-discrimination legislation Tisei might champion.
“Tisei’s election is a further obstacle to them even coming up,” Frank said, because there is no guarantee that even if he is elected, Tisei will be effective. “If Mr. Tisei is suggesting he will get (House Speaker) Mr. (John) Boehner to bring up LGBT legislation, he is wrong on that.”
Tisei, a former state senator and state Senate minority leader from Wakefield, said he understands there are those in the Republican leadership who disagree with him on social issues, but said his calls for equality will stand out.
“He’s singing in a chorus with a lot of other people,” Tisei said of Tierney and the Democrats. “I will provide leadership.”
Tisei also said being in the majority party in the House would allow him to do more for the district, not just on issues of equality, but on taxes, issues important to small businesses and ways to control the national debt.
Frank pointed out that Tisei already had a hard time getting his party leadership to go along with him 2010, when he backed a transgender anti-discrimination bill, also known as “the bathroom bill.” At the time, he was also candidate for lieutenant governor and running mate for Republican gubernatorial challenger Charlie Baker.
“He couldn’t get Charlie Baker to stop making fun of it,” Frank said.
“There was tremendous pressure for me to change on that bill,” said Tisei, who said he refused to back down. “I stood for what I believe in, and that’s what you need in Washington.”
At one point in the conference call, Frank was asked about an organization that supports him, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and its endorsement of Tisei. Frank said that, given the number of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community serving in office, it does not make sense to back someone solely on their orientation, as had been the case 10 or 20 years ago.
“I think the Victory Fund is suffering a cultural lag,” Frank said.
Tisei, however, said it is Frank who is behind the times.
While Tisei said Frank played an important role in the advancement of gay rights, Tisei said: “I represent the next wave.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.