GOP businessman mounts campaign for Tsongas’ seat

 Rick Green for Massachusetts

BOSTON — Rick Green is a longtime Beacon Hill critic who has blasted the Democratic-controlled Legislature over issues such as welfare reform, expanding charter schools and voting itself a pay raise.

Now the Pepperell Republican and multimillionaire auto parts salesman wants to take his conservative activism and message of fiscal restraint to Washington.

Green, who narrowly lost a bid in 2013 to become chairman of the state Republican Party, is making his first run for a publicly elected office by seeking the 3rd Congressional District seat now held by Democrat Niki Tsongas.

Tsongas announced in August that she won’t be seeking a sixth term in next year’s mid-term election, shocking supporters and sparking a scramble for the rare open congressional seat.

“As a businessman with real-world, private-sector experience creating jobs, I think I’ve got a compelling case to make to the voters,” Green, 47, said Tuesday at a kick-off party at the home of Rep. Jim Lyons in Andover.

Surrounded by supporters at his barn, Lyons, a Republican, said he thinks Green has a good shot at winning.

“Rick is exactly the kind of guy we need in Congress,” he said. “He knows how to grow a successful business, and he’s going to put the taxpayers first. That’s missing in Washington.”

About the candidate

Green is a graduate of Cornell University, where he played football and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, according to his campaign. He worked in the aerospace industry after graduating, landing a job with NASA. He went on to get a master’s degree in business from the University of Virginia. He started 1A Auto Inc. with his brother, Mike, out of their garage in Pepperell.

The company — which now has offices in Pepperell, Littleton and Westford — employs more than 250 people and boasts $150 million in annual revenue. It sells online auto parts and features YouTube videos that show customers how to install them.

Green also is the founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a tax-exempt group that has attacked Beacon Hill Democrats for their votes on the budget and other legislative matters.

Democrats have accused the group of flouting state campaign finance laws by operating like a political committee. Democrats complain the group refuses to disclose donors whose money is used to target them with negative mailers and robocalls to voters in their districts. It also posts a “scorecard” of state lawmakers, ranking them based on key votes. Republican lawmakers top the rankings.

Green said he has separated himself from the group and stepped down as its chairman. A spokesman for the group said it is focused on Statehouse politics and won’t be getting involved in his campaign.

Still, Green wouldn’t rule out the possibility that some members of the group will individually go to bat for him.

“People associate my involvement with the group as part of my record,” he said. “I’m sure it will have some role, but I don’t know what it will be.”

Democratic competition

Green faces an ever-growing field of Democrats who’ve been cautiously testing the waters for a run.

Among them are state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover; Dan Koh, of Andover, a former chief of staff for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh; Cambridge City Councilman Nadeem Mazen, who has also moved back to his hometown Andover to run; and Lori Trahan, of Westford, a former chief of staff for then Congressman Martin T. Meehan.

North Andover Democrat Abhijit “Beej” Das, president and CEO of Troca Hotels, announced his bid last week. State Rep. Juana Matias, D-Lawrence, announced her candidacy this week.

Several other Democrats are weighing bids, including Steve Kerrigan of Lancaster, the 2014 nominee for lieutenant governor, and Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini.

Still, Green said he believes the GOP has a shot at winning the seat held by Democrats since 1997.

The state’s 11-member congressional delegation is comprised entirely of Democrats, including Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

To be sure, Republican President Donald Trump won several of the towns in the district — including Dracut, Tyngsborough, Ashby, Winchendon and Green’s hometown —- in the 2016 presidential election even while losing the state to Democrat Hillary Clinton.

MassGOP spokesman Terry McCormack said the party expects a competitive race.

“After watching Massachusetts Democrats raise their own pay while canceling a sales tax holiday for consumers, voters in the 3rd District will be looking for new leadership that is accountable to the people — something GOP candidates can provide,” he said.

Green took a dig at the field of Democrats, pointing out that several moved into the district to run. L’Italien and Das live just outside the congressional district, while Koh and Mazen have moved back to their hometown of Andover to run.

“The question has to be raised whether this is about representing the people of the district or personal political opportunity,” he said.

Of course, there’s no legal requirement for House candidates to live within the boundaries of congressional district. The U.S. Constitution mandates only that members of the Congress live in the states they represent. Under federal law, one need only do that by Election Day.

Only Republican to date

So far, Green is the only Republican officially running for Tsongas’ seat.

Scott Gunderson of Groton, a former U.S. Navy pilot and Iraq War veteran, filed paperwork in January to challenge Tsongas but decided not to run.

The only other declared Republican is Louis Marino, who until two weeks ago was a Democrat running for a state legislative seat.

Political observers say Democrats are concerned about losing the district, which stretches along the New Hampshire border from Winchendon Springs to Haverhill and south to Hudson and Marlborough.

“Democrats are worried about losing this seat, but if Republicans are looking to win it, I don’t know if Rick Green is the right candidate,” said Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “He’s ambitious, but not a great choice if you’re looking to win as a Republican in Massachusetts.”

Cunningham said he expects Green’s group, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, to play a role in the campaign, likely by targeting the Democrats.

“I would be shocked if they didn’t get involved,” he said. “They’re a sleazy, dark money operation.”

Green’s supporters say they believe he’ll run a positive campaign focused on pocketbook issues, not attacks on his competitors.

Alex Vispoli, a Republican and vice chairman of the Andover Board of Selectmen, said Green’s focus on lower taxes, jobs and the economy will resonate with many GOP moderates and independent voters.

“At the end of the day most people are concerned about freeing the log-jam in Washington,” Vispoli said. “Rick is a pragmatic thinker who would bring a fresh perspective.”

Original story by Christian M. Wade , GLOUCESTER TIMES

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