Richard Tisei is currently running for a congressional seat in Massachusetts’s Sixth District. If he wins, he will become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress.

Harvard Political Review: What are your priorities for office should you be elected?

Richard Tisei: What I’d like to do is jumpstart the economy, which is my number one priority and what I spend most of my time talking to people about—helping deal with chronic unemployment and underemployment and making sure that businesses have an atmosphere in which they’re comfortable hiring people.

[I want to see] some sort of tax reforms, regulatory reforms, and I want to see some, on the legislative end, to see some laws passed (which others have repealed) to make employers more confident in hiring people again.

That’s number one.  Number two, I want to fix our healthcare system. Obviously, I have a different perspective than most Republicans do because I voted for the Romney health care reform here in Massachusetts. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t 100 percent the way I wanted it, but at the end of the day it worked. It ended up insuring 98 percent of the citizens of Massachusetts.

And what we’re seeing in the years since Obamacare has been implemented is that Massachusetts was affected more than any other state in the country, as far as disruption, as far as complete annihilation of our bottom line connector system that we had here. Hundreds of thousands of people were affected in a very personal way by all of the mandates that Obamacare required Massachusetts to accept and adopt that really interfered with our system.

My favorite thing that I always talk to people about is the fact that we need to move forward as a country and most people think we’re just stuck at a dead-end or we’re in a cul-de-sac and not having Democrats and Republicans work together on any of the problems that are facing the country.  And a tremendous amount of people, particularly younger people, has totally lost faith in the ability of our government to function. There are people in your age bracket who have never seen the government function effectively.  There are a lot of other people who are losing faith in the American Dream. Those two things are extremely dangerous, and both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for them because you have too many people in Congress who are voting straight party-line, who are riding this part of the herd, not being able to sit and analyze legislation and think for themselves.

HPR: You boycotted the Massachusetts Republican Convention due to the party’s adoption of a platform that opposes gay marriage. How do you characterize your relationship with the Republican leadership in your state and the Republican voters in the electorate?

RT: I’m a Republican, first of all. And I’m a Republican because I believe in limited government, free enterprise, and strong support for small businesses and job creators.

And I believe in extending freedom and liberty to as many people as possible. On that point, I think the party has strayed from where we originally were set out to be. It’s a party that was created to promote freedom and liberty. Throughout the course of American history, it was always the Republican Party that was the vanguard of extending civil liberties to certain groups, whether it was the women’s suffrage movement or it was Republicans making Native Americans citizens of our country or it was the civil rights movement of the 1960s: it was always Republicans who led the way. I think that the party is far off track on those issues.

But I think I also represent a new breed, or new generation, of Republicans who live up to the ideals of what the party was originally founded on. I have a tremendous amount of support here in the Massachusetts Republican hierarchy and certainly in Washington. There are people who don’t agree with me, but they see how important it is to have Republicans elected from every part of the country. In our region, we don’t have anyone right now. You can’t be a national party if you don’t have elected representatives from every part of the country. One of the things I do want to go to Washington and do is help more of the majority in the House and help change the party and bring them along on issues, particularly on issues regarding equality.

HPR: How do you plan to tackle some of these issues when a large proportion of the national party strongly opposes gay marriage?

RT: I was in Massachusetts as a state senator and was a large part of the battle over equality we had here in Massachusetts. Over the last ten years, I’ve had an opportunity to see how people’s opinions have evolved. By the time the court came out and made [same-sex] marriage legal here in Massachusetts, most Democrats opposed the court action, supporting civil unions but not full-fledged marriage. So it isn’t just Republicans. Democrats have evolved on this over time.

The president was against gay marriage two years ago and fortunately, I think, he evolved on the issue. I think the Republican Party right now is at a point where it’s about to evolve as well, and I want to be one of the catalysts and help bring about change.

When you say there’s strong opposition in the Republican Party, I want to point out that most polls that have been done show that a substantial majority of Republicans under the age of 40 support marriage equality, and that’s throughout the country. There’s a generational change taking place in the Republican Party on a national level and you see issues like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, with a quarter of the Republican caucus coming out and supporting ENDA, which is something most people a couple years ago would have thought was impossible.

One of the congressmen I have a great deal of respect for is Representative Dent from Pennsylvania who recently came out in favor of marriage equality. I think you’re going to see those numbers grow pretty substantially in the Republican caucus, but you need someone there who’s willing to put themselves upfront and lead the way. The way you get people on your side on those issues isn’t by demonizing your opponent, it’s working with people, getting them to know you by the content of your character, and leading by example. I think that you just need a catalyst, and that’s what I hope to do. 

HPR: As Republican support for gay marriage grows, how do you think Democrats will respond?

RT: Democrats want to keep gay voters in their column. So you’ll have bizarre things happen like Barney Frank going through this district right before the last election telling people the gay rights movement will be set back twenty, thirty years if I was elected to Congress. From a smart guy like Barney Frank, that makes absolutely no sense. But it’s in Barney’s interest to keep Democrats in the plantation voting straight party-line.

I think at the end of the day, no matter what party you’re in, you have to recognize that we’ll never have true equality in America unless you win the battle in both parties, and people on both sides of the aisle are willing to stand up and say everybody should be treated equally and fairly under the law. It’s sort of like the same problem that African Americans have when they join the Republican Party—a lot of people don’t like that they’re conservative because they want them just to stay the way they are as a reliable voting bloc, to think in group think rather than in individual think as far as the way they vote.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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