Republican Lt. Governor candidate Tisei poised for history
Notes from a conversation with the openly gay Lt. Governor hopeful.
Senator Richard Tisei, Republican Charlie Baker’s running mate in the Massachusetts’ race for governor, would make history if elected on Nov. 2. It would be the highest statewide office held by a member of the LGBT community in the nation, and it wouldn’t be his first record. Now 47, he won his first election in 1984 at age 22, making him the youngest Republican ever elected to the state legislature.
He isn’t the first gay to seek statewide office. In 2000, Governor Jane Swift chose openly gay Republican Patrick Guierriero as her running mate. The ticket dropped out of the race and Mitt Romney and Kerry Healey became the Republican nominee and won the election. Openly lesbian candidate Grace Ross ran for governor as a Green-Rainbow Party candidate in 2006 with her openly lesbian running mate Martina Robinson, and Ross launched a bid as a Democratic candidate in this race.
Tisei’s current job is as state senator representing the Middlesex and Essex District, which includes Lynnfield, Malden, Melrose, Reading, Stoneham, and Wakefield. Tisei has an impressive track record, winning ten consecutive Senate terms in this district, where Republicans are outnumbered 9-1. He also serves as Senate Minority Leader.
Baker and Tisei face incumbent Democrat Governor Deval Patrick and Lt. Governor Tim Murray, Independent Tim Cahill, and Green Party team Jill Stein and Rick Purcell.
Tisei came out publicly just days before the November 2009 announcement of his addition to the Baker campaign. No hoopla or "Yup, I’m gay" moment. Just a public acknowledgement of what many already knew.
The candidate sat down with Bay Windows on Oct. 13, answering a broad range of questions. The Senator also responded to follow-up questions via e-mail. Bay Windows has repeatedly requested an interview with candidate Charlie Baker, but has not received a response.
Describing his "coming out."
I never felt like I was in, I appreciate the fact that I’ve had the space to grow and develop as a person. My partner and I have been together for 16 years. I never told anyone I wasn’t gay. I didn’t feel like you had to have a big press conference and tell everybody "here I am."
Regarding his vote against the 1989 Gay Rights Bill as a State Representative, a vote he has said he regrets.
I didn’t have it all figured it out at that time [referring to his sexual orientation]. I was young and a state representative. [I was] around 28 when elected to senate and my record has been good. Before [same-sex] marriage I stood up for domestic partnership. I’m the co-sponsor of the Transgender Civil Rights Legislations. I’ve been elected 13 times in a row. I’m judged on my performance.
On whether his orientation was an open secret.
I wouldn’t use the word "secret." I don’t think everyone who is gay has to get up [and make a statement]. They can just live their life, be who they are, and let people know that way rather than get up and have a big dramatic press conference. I’ve never been asked by anyone [about my orientation] prior to my jumping into the statewide race and I never told anyone I wasn’t gay.
On coming out just before the official announcement of his addition to the ticket.
I wanted [my sexual orientation] to come out as a positive thing.
On the opportunity to make history.
I know it’s never easy to be the first to do something and I have great respect for everyone who trailblazed before me. As far as having the opportunity to be the first statewide gay official goes, I am sure that I will not fit neatly into everyone’s preconceived image of who that person would be, but I have learned in life, especially political life, that the best way to handle challenges is to just be yourself and that is what I intend to do.
On his role during the same-sex marriage battle, when his orientation was not widely known.
During the gay marriage debate, I was a strong and vocal supporter of upholding the Supreme Court’s ruling and worked with my colleagues to help defeat attempts to amend the constitution to take away marriage equality. I spoke at the constitutional convention, coordinated efforts to secure republican votes, authored several op-ed pieces that ran in over a dozen newspapers, spoke to a number of groups, and attended many forums as an advocate for same-sex marriage. At the end of the day, I look back and feel very confident that I made a difference and also very comfortable that I did everything I should have at the time to advance this important civil rights issue.
On answering people who wonder how he can campaign with anti-gay marriage Republican candidates.
President Barack Obama does not support same-sex marriage. He holds the same position as many Republicans. The fact that I’m the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, and I’m gay, makes a positive statement.