BOSTON — Republican Sean Bielat ran a lively but ultimately unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Barney Frank in 2010, and now he is again running for Congress — this time for the seat Frank will vacate when he retires later this year.
In this campaign, Bielat’s most prominent Democratic challenger is likely to be Joseph Kennedy III, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy. And when Bielat formally announced his run Tuesday night, he wasted no time taking a barely veiled jab at Kennedy, saying, “Nobody should expect to succeed in this country by virtue of their birth.”
Bielat, a 36-year-old Marine reservist who runs a political social networking start-up, joined WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer Wednesday to speak about his candidacy in the 4th Congressional District.
Sacha Pfeiffer: I first want to ask about that Kennedy dig, because in comments you made to the crowd immediately afterward you basically made it clear you were talking about Kennedy. He announced this month that he’s forming a congressional exploratory committee, and your approach so far has been to basically dismiss the Kennedy name. But how much of a challenger do you truly anticipate him to be?
Sean Bielat: Well, of course it will be a huge challenge. I think my point is, really, that if we were talking about a different 30-year-old who had never lived in the district, who hadn’t run for anything before, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. Because he’s a Kennedy, obviously, that’s not the case. And with that comes the ability to raise a lot of money and have instant name recognition. And then the downside, of course, is there is a lot expectation that comes with that.
Expectation on your part or on his part?
On his part. I haven’t met him. His resume looks impressive. I have nothing against him personally. I do question this notion that anybody should be either entitled to or inherit a seat.
Is your sense that that is why he’s running — out of a sense of entitlement?
I don’t want to assume motivation for him. I will say that there are many people in Massachusetts who seem to reflect that idea. You read in the paper — there were some interviews in Fall River where people were saying, “Oh, he’s a Kennedy? I don’t know who he is. I’d vote for him.” That sort of sentiment.
When you ran against Frank in 2010, you were widely acknowledged as having given him a pretty lively run for his money, even though in the end you lost by 11 percentage points. Why run again?
We started something in 2010, and in a state that’s been basically single-party for so long, I think it takes more than one cycle to get enough people to come around and consider another party, another alternative. The district is a more level playing field than it was before.
Because of the redrawn district?
That’s right. It’s not gerrymandered the way it was, and as a result it’s more competitive, and I think competitive elections benefit anyone.
As you know, the state Democratic Party is already writing off your campaign. They say if you couldn’t win last time, when there was a lot of malcontent about Democratic candidates — arguably, more than there is now — and when there was a very strong Tea Party support out there, then you can’t win today. Do you think they’re right about that?
Well, I would argue that they’re not writing off my campaign. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be making those comments. They’re not just out there trashing every Republican candidate whose name comes up. Our campaign was about building a base of people who hadn’t been represented well in the past, who hadn’t had good options. There hasn’t been a Republican representative in the 4th district, which has been redrawn several times, in 60 years. That’s a long time to have one party holding that office.
What do you think you offer voters that they haven’t had offered to them in a long time?
A different view on the economy, a different view on the role of government in the economy, a different experience set. I have no intention, no desire, to be a career politician. I don’t want to be in Congress for 30 years.
In fact, I believe you’ve said you would self-limit yourself in terms of terms.
Two or three terms.
Take more of a citizen legislator approach where you then go back to private life.
That’s right, and I think that’s healthy. I think that enable legislators to bring relevant experience, very topical experience, to Washington to represent their district, and then come back and bring the benefits of their experience in Congress to their district.
If you had to summarize your campaign platform in 15 seconds, which I acknowledge is very difficult to do, how would you do it?
Well, it’s a focus on jobs, it’s a focus on economic growth. That’s the primary problem facing America today.
So many people run on the idea that they will jump-start jobs and improve the economy. How will you do it?
Well, to be clear, not running as an executive candidate, but running for the legislature, you do it in conjunction with a lot of other people. My vision is really focused on creating a stable and predictable regulatory environment. Without that predictability, you see a reduction in investment and thus a reduction in creation of jobs — and of growth, ultimately.
The second point is a flatter, fairer tax code. One that’s more predictable, one that gives individuals and businesses more money back to make their own decisions about allocation of funds and the growth that then comes from that.