Markey didn’t reinvent himself, he was rediscovered

Boston media tend to forget those in Congress

IN 1972, a 25-year-old Ed Markey came to the Massachusetts State House as a freshman state representative straight out of Boston College and BC Law. He was a product of the Immaculate Conception Parish School and Malden Catholic High. He was the literal definition of “parochial” in every sense of the word.

As he listened and learned, he also became restless. He became a reformer. With a seat on the Judiciary Committee, he didn’t understand why the Commonwealth had part-time judges, presiding on the bench one day, and appearing in the same court as a lawyer the next day. Didn’t these lawyer-judges and their clients have an unfair advantage?

So a young Ed Markey pushed for reform. Make a choice: lawyer or judge, but not both. With a Legislature full of lawyers, the leadership of the House forcefully opposed Markey. He pushed forward and won. The next day he returned to the State House to find he had been thrown off the Judiciary Committee and, in the dead of night, his desk had literally been thrown out into the hall.

House Speaker Tom McGee later joked with Markey, asking him how a nice, young, Irish Catholic kid from Malden had become such as pain. Markey replied that when the Speaker assigned seats, he placed Markey between Barney Frank and Mel King, two of the most powerful progressive voices of their time. He had no choice, Markey declared. Markey listened and learned from Barney Frank and Mel King, and it changed his life.

When he arrived in Washington in 1976 as a new member of Congress, he was already a passionate reformer. In the years that followed, long before Sen. Elizabeth Warren took on Wall Street, Ed Markey took on the nuclear industry for a nuclear freeze. He took on Ma Bell to break up the Telecom monopolies. He took on Detroit and the auto industry to push for fuel efficiency standards and more miles per gallon. He took on the internet providers for net neutrality to insure internet access and fairness. Today he’s taking on the fossil fuel industry fighting climate change with the aspirational goals of the Green New Deal.

With the recent high-profile US Senate primary race over, and the general election ahead, reporters and pundits ponder who Ed Markey really is and how he won?  How did he get such strong, progressive support?  How did he mobilize the young?  They argue he must have “reinvented” himself.

In reality, the Ed Markey who won the recent primary is the same Ed Markey who took on the nuclear industry, auto industry, fossil fuel industry, and internet providers. He’s the same reformer he’s been since day one. He hasn’t been reinvented. He has been rediscovered.

Since our capital city is, somewhat uniquely, also our largest city, Boston media cover City Hall, the State House, and the White House. When you get elected to Congress from Massachusetts, you fall off the face of the earth in terms of media coverage. For example, do voters know the two most powerful political figures in the Commonwealth? It’s not Baker, nor Walsh, nor Warren, nor Markey. It’s US Reps. Richard Neal and Jim McGovern, the powerful chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee and House Rules Committee, respectively.  They control the revenue and legislative agenda of the nation. But they’re from Springfield and Worcester. Boston media forget they’re there.

Markey also lives in the shadow of luminaries like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Elizabeth Warren. It’s tough to shine by comparison in that crowd. But Markey arguably has the second most productive legislative record in the history of the Commonwealth. He’s a workhorse, quietly reaching across the partisan divide to get funding for Alzheimer’s research and opioid treatment. He’s challenging the status quo on the future of our economy with the Green New Deal offering infrastructure and new jobs building wind turbines and solar panels, with the first jobs going to communities of color and others burdened for decades by pollution. He’s long been recognized as a national leader fighting climate change.

He’s recognized everywhere but here.

Meet the Author
If political pundits or the media were surprised by Markey’s victory, they shouldn’t be. He didn’t reinvent himself. They simply woke up at long last to rediscover the Markey that’s always been there. And we need more from him now than ever.

George Bachrach led United for MA, the environmental PAC supporting Ed Markey. Bachrach is the former president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and a former state senator.