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A progressive agenda for Ninth Congressional District candidates

FOR UNDERSTANDABLE REASONS, media coverage of the campaign to replace the late Joe Moakley in the Ninth Congressional District has focused on the horse race: Max Kennedy’s in-and-out; Stephen Lynch’s financial problems and his political persona; Brian Joyce’s switch on abortion; William Keating and Cheryl Jacques’s chances of jumping in. But all this has obscured coverage of the issues.

The constituents of the Ninth, which has elected Democrats for the past 70 years (excluding the late Joe Moakley’s first year in office, when he won as an independent), deserve a candidate who can deliver on a progressive agenda. Congress is engaged in a wide-ranging discussion of education reform. President George W. Bush’s tax cut will inevitably come up for review in the next few years. Debate continues over Social Security, Medicare, and health-care reform. Closer to home, the Ninth’s next representative will have to balance the needs of the suburbs with those of the city and deal with the changing complexion of the district, which has seen an influx of Latinos over the last 10 years. Also, the issue of a new runway at Logan Airport isn’t going away. But the three issues below make up the base of a progressive agenda.

Human rights

Moakley epitomized the local pol but learned over the years that he wasn’t doing his job if he wasn’t paying attention to international concerns as well. And that’s because many international issues are, in fact, local. Moakley’s exemplary work in El Salvador — where he determined that the military had been responsible for the murders of six Jesuit priests (see “Man of the World,” News and Features, May 31, available at — resulted in part from his advocacy for Salvadoran immigrants in his district. It also flowed from the Catholic Church’s growing frustration with Washington’s tacit acceptance of human-rights abuses in Central America; the Ninth is believed to be the most concentrated Irish-Catholic district in the country.

In recent years, Moakley had also taken an interest in ending the US economic embargo against Cuba. He forged a relationship with Fidel Castro in 1995 after meeting him at the United Nations. Later, he traveled to Cuba and exchanged letters with Castro. This week, Congressman Jim McGovern hand-delivered a letter that Moakley had written just one week before his death, in which he reiterated his support for ending the embargo and encouraged Castro to reach out to both Bush and the pope. He also urged the Cuban leader to free prisoners “whose only real crime was their non-violent disagreement with the State.”

The next representative from the Ninth should follow this example.

Reproductive rights

It’s no secret that reproductive rights are in jeopardy in this country. While abortion is still legal, it’s becoming increasingly inaccessible. As Susan Yannow of the Abortion Access Project told the Phoenix’s Kristen Lombardi last January, “Abortion may be legal, but who can get one? If you’re a poor, rural, or young woman, you already have trouble.” (See “Gearing Up for Battle,” News and Features, April 19, available at

Pro-life forces have maintained a majority in Congress for six years. During that period, Congress has taken 134 votes on reproductive-health issues; pro-choice advocates won just 24 of them, though former president Clinton vetoed some of the more odious restrictions. Bush, on the other hand, used his first full day in office to reinstitute a ban on federal aid to international organizations that even disseminate information about abortion. It’s only a matter of time before some of the anti-abortion legislation unthinkable under Clinton becomes law. This includes a ban on late-term abortions (commonly called “partial birth” abortions). Also, Congress may try to impose limitations on the availability of mifepristone (better known as RU-486, the “abortion pill”), which the Food and Drug Administration approved last fall after a decade of study.

Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to abortions, maintains a narrow 63 majority on the court. But Justice John Paul Stevens, 80, an ardent Roe supporter, is widely expected to step down within the next four years. And two of the other pro-Roe justices, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, have demonstrated ambivalence about their support. O’Connor, moreover, has had a bout with breast cancer and is also expected to step down. If so, Roe could be overturned with one or two anti-Roe appointments by Bush. Reproductive-rights advocates need as many allies as they can get in Congress.

The Ninth Congressional District, whose voters support at least qualified access to abortion by 80 percent, according to a June 10 Boston Herald poll, deserves an uncompromising supporter of reproductive rights. That means a willingness to say no to incremental measures such as parental-consent requirements, mandatory waiting periods, and bans on “partial birth” abortions.

Gay rights

Several bills that deal with gay issues currently languish in Congress. The most notable is the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which came within one vote of passage in 1996. The bill would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. (currently, federal law prohibits such discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability, religion, and national origin). There’s also the Permanent Partners Immigration Act, which would enable gay and lesbian citizens to sponsor their foreign partners for permanent residency in the United States. Any progressive candidate for the Ninth should support both measures.

That said, the most pressing issue facing the gay and lesbian community in this country today is the right to marry. (With such a right, there would be no need for the Permanent Partners Immigration Act.) With the exception of 1996’s horrid federal Defense of Marriage Act, this issue has resided mainly in the states. Last year, under orders from its state supreme court, Vermont’s legislature passed a civil-unions law giving gay and lesbian couples the same benefits accorded by state law to heterosexual couples. In April, seven same-sex couples filed suit in Massachusetts seeking the right to marry. In the meantime, 32 states have passed “defense of marriage” laws based on the federal law.

The next representative from the Ninth should support full marriage rights for same-sex couples. The issue may arise in Congress again, although that’s unlikely anytime soon. Until then, as the struggle for full gay-marriage rights gathers momentum, a politician’s stance on this issue will determine his or her ability to win progressive support.

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Issue Date: June 28- July 5, 2001

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