MALDEN, Mass. (AP) — After a nicotine vaporizer accidentally started a small fire in the cargo hold of an airplane at Boston’s Logan International Airport, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey pledged to ask the Federal Aviation Administration whether electronic cigarettes should be banned on flights.
For more than three decades in the U.S. House, Markey built a record of responding to concerns large and small. Critics say that’s evidence of a lack of focus, but Markey says he’s just representing Massachusetts voters.
“They don’t want you to be limited to one or two issues. They want you to be working on everything,” Markey told The Associated Press. “A narrowly defined agenda for a United States senator from Massachusetts would be ahistorical.”
The Democrat is seeking a full six-year term in November after winning a special election last year to complete John Kerry’s Senate term.
Unlike the special election — which featured a contested primary, a well-funded Republican opponent and three prime-time televised debates — this year’s contest is generating little buzz. Markey had no primary opponents and is facing Republican Brian Herr, a businessman and former Hopkinton selectman.
The only scheduled debate is a half-hour, Friday afternoon televised face-off.
For Herr — with little money, a sparse campaign organization and virtually no statewide name recognition — that’s proof Markey has become such a creature of Washington and a die-hard Democrat that he’s not taking the election seriously.
“Mr. Markey has continuously demonstrated that he is hyper-partisan, that he will only vote the party line, the far left line for that matter, and everything else be damned,” Herr said during a recent “Retire Ed Markey” campaign stop in Markey’s hometown of Malden.
Herr has plenty of energy — he’s run the Boston Marathon 25 times — but during the campaign stop he gets little more than polite nods from people who, almost without exception, appear to be hearing his name for the first time.
“In November, don’t vote for him, vote for Herr,” he says, hoping the play on words might help people remember him at the ballot box.
He reassured one woman that he would be on “everybody’s ballot” in November. But at a bus station, Herr encountered Patricia Kean, 51, of Medford, who told him that she always votes for Democrats and appreciates what Markey accomplished for his district while in the House.
It typifies a challenge faced by many Massachusetts Republicans, even moderate ones like Herr: a tendency of many voters to reflexively cast ballots for Democrats.
Markey bristles at the partisan charge.
He says that since arriving in the Senate, he’s collaborated with a number of Republican lawmakers — including Utah’s Orrin Hatch, New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Idaho’s Mike Crapo — on a range of bills.
He points to a National Journal report that ranked him 8th in the Senate on the number of bills he’s sponsored or co-sponsored that have eventually become law during his congressional career.
Each new law — all 506 of them — had Republican co-sponsors, Markey said.
Markey works alongside one of the best known members of the Senate, fellow Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a hero to the liberal wing of the party, some of whom have been trying unsuccessfully to persuade to run for president.
Unlike Warren, who has tried to narrow much of her focus to a handful of issues like student debt, banking reforms and consumer protections, Markey casts a wide net.
He says he has worked on a slew of issues including net neutrality, Alzheimer research funding, student privacy rights, flood insurance, automobile defect disclosure, and protections for bystanders who administer opiate overdose reversing drugs.
He says he also helped win tougher federal oversight of compounding pharmacies and $310 million to dredge Boston Harbor to receive massive new cargo ships.
Herr finds solace in polling that suggests ambivalence toward Markey.
But the reluctance of many Massachusetts voters to embrace Markey may be offset by their disdain for the national Republican party and the prospect of the GOP seizing control of the Senate.
“If the Senate does go to the Republicans, it’s important that we have someone here who will work with both sides of the aisle to get something done,” Herr said.