Rep. Tierney: GOP Attacks Distracting Voters From 'Real Issues'

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Seven-term incumbent U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a Democrat, is in a fierce fight to hang on to his seat in Massachusetts' 6th Congressional District.

We recently spoke with Tierney's Republican challenger, Richard Tisei, who's been telling voters he'd be a moderate voice in Congress who would work across party lines.

"Washington has become dysfunctional. You have people down there who are putting party before what's right for the country," Tisei told us in Wakefield on Wednesday.

Now, we hear from Rep. Tierney, who met with us at Petrillo's Restaurant on Foster Street in Peabody. We started by asking him if he's reelected and Republicans keep control of the House, would it be difficult to get legislation passed?

Rep. John Tierney: I've had no problem with individuals in the House, working with different bills on that. I think it's [the Republican] leadership and I think that's why it's important that Democrats get the leadership back, because they've shown that they're willing on too many occasions to bring things to a halt.

Rep. John Tierney at  Petrillo’s Restaurant in Peabody, Mass. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)
Rep. John Tierney at Petrillo’s Restaurant in Peabody, Mass. (Kathleen McNerney/WBUR)

Bob Oakes: This campaign between you and Tisei has been such a hard-fought, bitter campaign. Do you think you can erase the partisan bitterness and work across the aisle?

Well look, the partisanship on this race comes from the right-wing zealots that he's aligned himself with. I mean, he went to Washington and he asked the Republicans down there, the right wings, to fund his campaign and do his strategy. They agreed and they do this smear thing, and they're doing it all across the country.

We're going to have to work on resolving that issue — convincing them that this is not the way that America works or the political system works. But when we're in a majority, we've got a history of reaching across aisle.

Let me talk about an issue that is going to be very partisan when it comes up on Capitol Hill if Mitt Romney is the next president. One of his priorities is going to be to try and immediately overturn the national health care law. You support [the law]. Do you think it's a lost cause if Romney gets in?

I think the public is not going to go along with somebody who wants to no longer let children until they're 26 be on their parent's policy if they're not covered. They're not going to go along with putting back in annual and lifetime caps. They're not going to go along with [not covering those with] preexisting conditions. I think it's a lost cause for Mitt Romney to think that he's going to do that unilaterally or any other way.

Let's talk about the campaign for a minute. The most recent independent poll was by the University of New Hampshire for The Boston Globe last month, and it showed Tisei with a very slight lead — 37 to 31 percent — but nearly a third of the voters in that poll were undecided.

Some analysts have said there should not be that many undecided voters considering that John Tierney's been in office 16 years because people know you. Why do you think so many people are up in the air?

Well, I think there's a degree of people that are undecided because the Tea Party and the right wing and my opponent have spent $3 [million] or $4 million trying to instill doubt on people or whatever. And they try to raise the noise so loud that they don't want the answers and the truth to get through.

Let's talk about the noise and what's caused the noise. A lot of the voter uncertainty or voter questions in this campaign revolve around the legal troubles of your wife and her brothers. She served a month in prison for willful blindness for helping [her brother] file false tax returns from an illegal gambling ring. Tisei, as you know, has really pounded away at you on this, and you've fired back. Why shouldn't this be fair game?

This is my brother-in-law's stuff going on. My wife helped his children. She was doing the best that she could. There's no unpaid taxes that I know about in either her brother's account, certainly not in ours. And she took responsibility for saying maybe she should have asked more questions. But the fact of the matter is that had nothing to do with me.

Look, it's a way of distracting people off of the real issues.

But there is a little more to it, it seems at least in the mind of voters, at least in this way: a WBUR poll taken at the beginning of September showed that only 19 percent of likely voters thought you were honest. The question is how could you not know?

Well let's answer the first part of that. When I say to people, "What is it you think I did wrong?' They say, 'I don't know, but, boy, I've seen all this nasty stuff on TV." This is exactly the point.

But for those people who have been influenced by that $4 million in advertising and have questions, tell them right now why they should trust you and give you another term?

Because for 16 years, my honesty and integrity has been unquestioned. I have fought for the middle class and fought for them at every way. I'm the one that stood up for education at every level and to make higher education more affordable and more accessible, with success. Fought for workforce investment act to make sure people have job training, with success. So my performance down the line has been something they can count on, as has been my honesty and my integrity.

Did you think it was going to be this difficult to run again?

No because I tell you, Bob, I didn't think anybody would be as low and as base as my opponent has been to go and attack my wife and try to get me through her family and her. If it’s not about her, why is her picture on every single handout that he puts out? Why is she involved in his TV advertisement? I just think that that’s a reflection on him more than anything else. And I think it’s a lack of courage and I think it’s really shameful.

I have not attacked his family. God knows, from what I hear, there’s plenty out there. But I haven’t said a word. I’ve been running this campaign on the issues and what he says about what he would do and what I say about what I would do and what I’ve done for 16 years.

Are you going to pull this out?

Absolutely, absolutely.

Thin margin for you?

I think it'll be tight, but I think in the end, people are going to come back to my column and the Democratic column and we're going to win.

For our interview with Rep. Tierney's Republican opponent, Richard Tisei, click here.

This article was originally published on October 26, 2012.

This program aired on October 26, 2012.

Headshot of Bob Oakes

Bob Oakes Senior Correspondent
Bob Oakes was a senior correspondent in the WBUR newsroom, a role he took on in 2021 after nearly three decades hosting WBUR's Morning Edition.


Headshot of Kathleen McNerney

Kathleen McNerney Senior Producer / Editor, Edify
Kathleen McNerney was the senior producer/editor of Edify.



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