BOSTON — With new district lines and no incumbent, a particularly competitive race is heating up in Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District.
Two candidates are vying for the Republican nomination: Sean Bielat, who ran against Rep. Barney Frank in 2010 and lost, and Brookline psychiatrist Elizabeth Childs.
WBUR’s Morning Edition host Bob Oakes spoke with Bielat last week and asked him why he wanted to run again.
Sean Bielat: Three issues in particular that drive my campaign: the first is job and economic growth; the second is fiscal responsibility; and the third is a general vision of what the federal government should do and what it shouldn’t do.
Bob Oakes: What do you say to Republicans who may have been put out by the fact that, after you lost to Frank in the last election, you left the state and then decided to come back to Massachusetts?
It was the beginning of my wife’s third trimester and we had had some issues the first time around and we decided for family reasons to go and be near people.
And what made you decide to come back then?
We were always planning to. It was always temporary thing. You know, we didn’t give up our Massachusetts residency. It’s strange to me that people would make the argument that since I was gone for three months, that it’s somehow walking away from the 4th. And the other thing is, obviously, there’s a big name candidate who moved in the week before the election, and I haven’t heard as much discussion about that as I have about my leaving the state for a couple months for family reasons.
You’re talking about Joe Kennedy III, the leading Democrat. We’ll get to him in a few minutes.
I do want to ask you another question before we get to issues though. As I understand it, and I’ve actually seen some paperwork on it, as late as 2005, you were registered as a Democrat in upstate New York. Why were you a Democrat and why the switch to the Republican party?
Well, like a lot of people here in Massachusetts, I grew up that way. What happened was, I was always a fiscal conservative. And when I got to Harvard, after I left the Marine Corps, it was very much focused on, sort of, the left end of spectrum and I found myself playing devils advocate a lot just because nobody was taking that point of view. And, over time, I found the arguments more convincing and moved further to the right and ultimately thought the Republican party represented my views more closely.
Lets talk about some issues. How do you hope the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the challenge to the national health care overhaul? What would you like to see the court do?
I believe that the mandate to purchase insurance is not constitutional.
Do you hope that the law is struck down completely or do you just want the individual mandate in the law struck down?
I think I’d like to see it struck down completely. I think that there are a lot of troubling aspects of the law. There’s enough problems with the legislation that we ought to start from scratch again.
To be replaced by what then?
I think the more you can return to basic economic forces, and then where you need to add on top of that. We need a social safety net, obviously. The question is how we provide that and the question is what the repercussions are if we extend it too widely.
If the national law is struck down, would you want Massachusetts to reconsider the state health law [that is] viewed as, of course, the blueprint for the national plan now under dispute?
No, I agree with the argument that states should be able to come up with the solutions that are best for states.
A lot of finger pointing in Washington right now on the economy — over who’s responsible for the state of the economy and what should be done about it. What do you think Congress should do to spur it forward?
There’s two things. The first is enabling individuals and companies to use their own money, to allocate capital according to their own needs. A family is always going to know better whether they need to pay down a credit card or a student loan or buy a new car.
But the second part of a solution, I think, is regarding regulation. The first thing would be to assess what regulations are in the pipeline and how they’re likely to affect business and then to be very clear when they go into effect so that people can predict. Even if something bad is coming, if you know it’s coming, you know the timing of it, you can prepare for that.
But beyond clarity in regulations, a lot of businesses are holding back simply because they don’t know where the economy itself is going, so how do you provide that certainty?
What you can do is provide clarity among the things that are understood and controllable.
Let’s go to foreign policy a little bit here if we can. As a Marine reservist and a major, I want to ask how quickly you think the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan?
The answer to that really depends on what it is we think we’re trying to accomplish there, and it’s not clear to me that we have a good answer.
I think the answer isn’t as straightforward as setting a date by which we withdraw, because I think you create more potential for instability and what we’ve achieved there sort of slips away. But I do think you can go back to an earlier approach, which is a primarily a small unit, special operations-driven presence.
It sounds like you could support a drawdown.
A drawdown, absolutely. I could not support a date-certain withdrawal. I think that creates instability.
How should the White House handle the threat or at least the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program?
I don’t think we can take preemptive action off the table. I think we can work more closely with Israel. And I don’t think we’re going to arrive at a good solution without the threat of military intervention.
Let me ask about money. What do you figure it will take to knock out the heir of Camelot, Joe Kennedy III? Is he beatable?
He’s absolutely. I can absolutely win this election. From everything I know, I think that I’m going to be out-raised, but I’m not sure that that is going to be decisive. I have concerns as a citizen, as a candidate obviously, that because somebody has a certain name that they should be given opportunities that aren’t necessarily earned.
Are you worried then that Joe Kennedy’s been given a pass?
Yes, quite frankly I do think he’s been given a pass. There is a lack of examination by the media and by many people who are opening these doors of what are the basic qualifications of the candidate. Is this person bringing something to that table that would justify all this if the name wasn’t there?
But you still think if you’re both the nominees, you can beat him?
Because in this state, people have made their decisions largely around this Kennedy name. The media, I think is very interested in it because it’s an interesting story. But I think for voters it’s a lot less important.
WBUR’s interview with Elizabeth Childs will run Tuesday, April 10.