By Jesse Roman
---- — LYNN — The national political director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worked double duty yesterday in Massachusetts, first stopping in Roxbury to endorse Sen. Scott Brown, then making a trip to Lynn to formally endorse U.S. House candidate Richard Tisei.
In the first stop, director Rob Engstrom called Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren “a threat to free enterprise,” then did one better on Tisei’s opponent Rep. John Tierney in front of a room full of business leaders and Tisei supporters.
“I didn’t think anyone could be more extreme than Elizabeth Warren, but we might have it here with John Tierney,” Engstrom said at the formal endorsement held at Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn. “He has perhaps the most hostile voting records in Congress when it comes to business, and that’s saying something in this day and age.”
Tisei, a Wakefield Republican and former longtime representative and senator in the Massachusetts Legislature, said he was happy to receive the U.S. Chamber’s endorsement and vowed to repeal the medical device tax, remove obstructive regulation and enact legislation to promote free market growth.
“I understand that free enterprise system in America is what made this country so special,” Tisei said to supporters in a speech yesterday. “It’s the reason we have such a high standard of living today. ... You’ll never hear me say small-business owners are extremists or have a radical agenda as our congressman did.”
When the chamber first announced its endorsement of Tisei in July, Tierney fired back, saying the private organization had an “extreme agenda” that includes privatizing Social Security, repealing President Barack Obama’s health care act, opposing attempts to block the outsourcing of jobs and denying climate change.
About a dozen Tierney supporters gathered outside the chamber’s endorsement event yesterday holding signs that read, “A vote 4 Tisei = A vote for Ryan,” referring to vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has authored Republican-backed budgets that propose to cut spending and tax rates and privatize Medicare, which have drawn the ire of Democrats. Another sign read, “Hey Tisei: Hands off my Medicare.”
“The chamber endorsement really underscores that Richard Tisei supports the Ryan plan to end Medicare and supports the chamber’s agenda of providing tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires over the middle class,” Grant Herring, a Tierney spokesman, said yesterday. “The U.S. Chamber is very different from the local chambers here. The small businesses in the district know John Tierney has been an advocate for them.”
The small-business owners who gathered inside Old Neighborhood Foods, a small meat company, offered a much different assessment. They said they could not afford more regulation, taxes or Tierney.
“We need a congressman who is looking out for our interests, the independent business guy, not for the unions and what they want done,” said Arther Bourque, a former Lynnfield selectman and the owner of Surveillance Specialties in Wilmington. “I don’t want an extremist in Washington, I want someone who watches out for small businesses.”
On Tierney’s claim that his organization and its policy positions are radical, Engstrom turned the table.
“If he thinks creating jobs is a radical position, I take that as a sign of a campaign that’s failing,” Engstrom said of Tierney. “We stand by our record, and if the congressman thinks job creators are radical, then he’s going to find himself in need of a job.”
Tierney, a Democrat, and Tisei, a Republican, are entwined in a very tight election race to represent the Massachusetts 6th District, which stretches from Lynn to Amesbury and as far west as Billerica.
“This is one of the closest races in the country, that’s why we’re here,” Engstrom said in an interview yesterday.
Tisei, while saying the chamber’s endorsement “means a lot,” said afterward that he will be an independent congressman, not beholden to all of the organization’s ideas.
“I don’t agree with the chamber on every issue, but I do on the main issue: getting people back to work and jump-starting the economy,” Tisei said.
The Tisei camp tried to use Tierney’s rhetoric against him, saying it’s “funny” that Tierney, once the president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, now calls the U.S. Chamber “radical” after its endorsement of his opponent.
The Tierney camp argued that local chambers have no ties to the U.S. Chamber.
In Salem, at least, that was confirmed by Salem Chamber Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek.
“That’s a firm absolutely not,” Oosthoek said when asked if his chamber is at all affiliated with the U.S. Chamber. “I would be surprised if any local chamber takes a position (on the election) because you can’t win. On a personal level, yes, but as a chamber I don’t think you should or can.”
Oosthoek said the Salem Chamber works well and has a great relationship with Tierney now and “will happily” work with whoever is elected to Congress this November.