One afternoon in 2007, Ed Markey stood outside the doors of the US House chamber, balancing plaster models in his hands. He was waiting to enter the nearly empty chamber, to make a speech for C-SPAN junkies illustrating the lack of screening of cargo on US airliners — a loophole that Markey feared a terrorist might exploit. It was a point he had hammered home after 9/11, while airlines and cargo companies insisted that existing precautions were sufficient. But he wasn’t about to give up, and, with a big smile on his face, bounded onto the House floor.
Though Markey’s district included people who died on 9/11, there was no special reason why he, of all House members, should be leading this particular cause. He simply saw it as his job to do what he could to improve the country.
Now, after 37 years of legislative action — sometimes fruitful, sometimes fruitless, always engaged — Markey is seeking to move to the Senate. His primary-election rival, fellow US Representative Stephen Lynch, casts Markey as a creature of Washington, beholden to its ways. It’s an understandable argument for Lynch, since many voters are frustrated with the paralysis in the capital, and looking for ways to register their disapproval.
But it’s hard to see what Ed Markey has to do with the partisanship and discord that have turned people against Congress. He’s a happy warrior, eager to join with Republicans on matters of national importance. To reject Markey simply because he knows how to get things done wouldn’t be a blow against congressional dysfunction; it would further it.
Like Markey, Lynch is also a long-serving congressman, albeit for 12 years. But he is, for better or worse, an antiestablishment figure. He doesn’t seek to be part of the congressional leadership, and tends to go his own way on major votes. Like former Senator Scott Brown, Lynch sometimes seems to believe the job of legislator is to wait until others have shown their cards — until all the hard work of drafting bills is done — and then vote thumbs up or thumbs down. He famously turned thumbs down on Obamacare, despite passionate entreaties from most of his colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation, President Obama, and Vicki Kennedy.
Lynch’s complaints about some of the details of the act were reasonable, but his decision to oppose it wasn’t; opportunities to reform health care come along every two decades or so, and passing one up would have been disastrous. Of course, Lynch’s career shouldn’t be judged solely by the times he’s bucked the system: In some areas, such as providing congressional oversight of the Afghan war and reforming the postal service, Lynch has been a diligent House member. But he’s chosen, in this campaign, to present himself as a principled outsider taking on the ultimate company man. The alleged company man, however, has delivered more for the people of Massachusetts; the achievement gap between Markey and Lynch is vast.
Markey has been the House’s main architect of federal telecommunications policy, guiding the creation of millions of jobs — including many in Massachusetts. He’s also a leader in energy policy, and the prime mover of the far-reaching bill to address climate change that passed the House in 2009 but got bottled up in the Senate. He helped create the legislation that enabled President Obama to negotiate a 54.5 mpg fuel-economy standard for the 2025 model year — one of the greatest accomplishments of Obama’s first term. The list goes on and on.
Of course, some Lynch supporters hope that voters’ eyes will glaze over, and that Markey’s work will morph into images of tedious congressional hearings and floor fights. There have been plenty of those, but Markey hasn’t lost his connection to the values of Massachusetts Democrats. On some values issues, such as abortion rights and gun control, he’s been a more forceful advocate than his rival.
Still, Lynch deserves credit for making the race. He’s brought needed competition to the short special-election campaign. He’s forced Markey to be a better candidate. Most Democratic strategists and power brokers preferred to clear the field for Markey. Lynch stepped forward anyway — and rightly so. But Markey didn’t get where he’s gotten because of strategists and power brokers. It took hard work, through years of laying groundwork for measures that improved people’s lives.
On that afternoon in 2007, Markey could have been anywhere else in Washington — or Massachusetts, for that matter — than the floor of the House, intoning about cargo screening. But the opposition finally relented: Markey’s bill became law. On cargo screening and dozens of other issues, Markey’s legislative exertions have paid off for America and Massachusetts. He is the best choice for Bay State Democrats.