Pulling into the parking lot of Peabody Cable Access a couple of weeks ago, a sixth sense told me that the white SUV a couple of cars down contained Seth Moulton. I was scheduled to meet the first-term congressman for an interview, and the car had that shiny new – dare I say slick – congressional vibe. Right on queue, out popped Congressman Moulton, his communications director, Carrie Rankin, and a driver.
We would chat about many topics during the half hour cable show called the Mass Factor, which appears on several cable systems around the state, and what stood out most was Moulton’s sincerity. He seems willing to say what he feels without listening to the little guy who sits on the shoulder of elected officials – a Devilish little political consultant who neuters their humanity by forcing them to recite focus-grouped phrases, stripped of meaning. The SUV may be slick, but the man who came back from Iraq and unseated an unpopular congressman in his first try is decidedly not.
Isn’t a paid staff of 15 people too small for a congressman with an office in Washington and another in Salem (Moulton just moved the office from Peabody) I wondered? Seth didn’t argue. “It is pretty small. I think the size of congressional staff hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, even though the size of congressional districts has gone up almost by a factor of two as the population has gotten bigger,” he pointed out. There hasn’t been an increase, he said, because it wouldn’t be popular.
On whether he had a role in General Electric’s recent decision to move its corporate offices from suburban Connecticut to the Boston waterfront, Moulton was humble – not a common political trait. “It’s a huge win for Massachusetts, and although I can’t take any credit for getting GE to come to South Boston, we work very closely with the GE facility in Lynn.”
His job as a congressman includes cutting red tape, he said, (i.e. government bureaucracy) so that local projects won’t be slowed down by regulatory morass that he represents in Washington. “We want to be able to be a sort of broker – a convener – someone who can bring together all the different elements and try to make something happen.”
Which is why Moulton has done something he believes is unusual. “We’ve hired Jason Denoncourt to be our economic development director.” said Moulton. “One of the first things Jason did is he got the federal approvals expedited for a new brewery that’s coming into Lynn.” Such businesses, along with other creative restaurants, can be triggers to economic activity in downtown areas, suggests Moulton.
“Also art, which is interesting. Those are some of the early signs that this is becoming a great, desirable place to live again.” We were unable to find another Massachusetts congressman with an economic development director with an online search.
Moulton did four tours in Iraq, spending five years in the military, so I asked him about a pet peeve of mine – how it was possible that it took years for the Bush administration and congress to respond to the need to reinforce Humvees that were being ripped apart by IEDs (bombs) during the Iraq occupation. “You’re right, it did take years to actually get proper bombproof doors. One of the questions I sometimes ask people in the district is if every member of Congress had a son or daughter in the military do you think we would have invaded Iraq? The answer I always get is ‘no way.’”
The 37-year-old, who just completed his first year in office, sees the need for young people to be more involved with serving the country, although not necessarily in the military. “One of the things I’m an advocate for is expanded national service. Right now there are five to six applicants for AmeriCorps for every one open slot. Peace Corps, City Year, etc. I think we’d be a stronger country if more people served. People would have a stake.”
Moulton also thinks Congress should vote to authorize the use of troops in an expanded Iraq effort or in Syria, its constitutional responsibility. That’s when “Congress decides whether or not we should go to war,” said Moulton, who argued that the leadership is reluctant to hold votes on whether to reinforce troops in Iraq or to send troops to Syria, “because they don’t want to go on the record. But,” implored Moulton, “that’s doing our job as members of Congress.”
How long does Moulton think he wants to spend in Congress? “I don’t know… what I don’t want to do is be one of these 20 year congressmen whose just kind of there getting reelected and not getting a lot done,” an apparent reference to his predecessor. “I’m there to make a difference and to represent the people of Massachusetts.”
After being sworn into office, Moulton said he wasn’t sure how he’d like the job. “I didn’t know if I would enjoy it on a day-to-day basis since I’d never done anything like it,” confessed Moulton. But, he said, it’s worked out. “I love the job, I really enjoy helping people and I feel that I’m continuing the public service that I enjoyed so much as a Marine.”
Moulton operates without the ‘smooth operator’ skills that one associates with a politician, appearing shy and a bit uncomfortable at times. While it’s safe to assume he’ll develop these skills over time, he is charming just the way he is, succeeding without being slick.