NIKI TSONGAS has pulled off something rare in today’s Congress: even though she’s a Democrat, Tsongas has still managed to steer important measures through a Republican-controlled Congress riven by dysfunction. That’s a testament to her political skill, and a good reason for voters in the Third District to send her back to Washington for another two-year term.
Since her victory in a special election in 2007, Tsongas has picked her battles wisely from her spot on the House Armed Services Committee. The committee offers her some traditional bring-home-the-bacon opportunities — a plus in a district that contains many defense contractors — but it’s also provided her a platform for a much greater cause: shaping the national response to the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military.
Along with Ohio Republican Mike Turner, Tsongas has pressured the Pentagon to take the problem of sexual assault more seriously, and passed legislation to reform the military justice system. All assault cases are now handled by higher-ranking officers, commanders can no longer overturn guilty verdicts, and service members convicted of sexual crimes must be dishonorably discharged.
Of course, serving constituents and leading reform efforts ought to be considered basic duties for any member of Congress. Yet the partisan climate in Washington makes it difficult for anyone — especially members of the minority party —
Tsongas’ Republican opponent this year is Ann Wofford of Haverhill. A former chemical engineer, Wofford jumped in the race to give voice to conservative opponents of Obamacare and illegal immigration. Wofford should be applauded for running, making the Third District one of the few contested congressional elections in Massachusetts. But she hasn’t made a case she’d be a better representative than Tsongas.
In supporting unseasoned candidates like Wofford, one of the arguments Massachusetts Republicans sometimes offer is that the state needs GOP representatives to keep its influence when Republicans control Congress. But in Tsongas, voters in the Third District have a representative who has shown a deft touch no matter who runs Capitol Hill.