For all the candidates running to replace Rep. Niki Tsongas in the 3rd District congressional race, Rick Green has one thing that sets him apart: He’s a Republican.
In Massachusetts, that’s generally a disadvantage; the state hasn’t sent a Republican to the House of Representatives since 1994. As the lone GOP candidate on the primary ballot this Tuesday, Green has at least a clear shot at the general election, in which he’ll face off against the winner of the 10-candidate Democratic primary field.
The 47-year-old Pepperell businessman even thinks his particular brand and platform give him a path to victory.
“Numerically, I know it’s possible,” he told Boston.com in a recent interview.
Who is Rick Green?
Green grew up in Townsend, where he graduated from North Middlesex High School. He went on to Cornell University and worked at NASA before starting a business, 1A Auto, with his brother Mike. The Westford-based online auto parts company has since grown from operating out of a garage in Pepperell to employing hundreds of workers.
After about a decade of spending most of his time focused on his company, Green says he first got involved in politics by working on Scott Brown’s Senate campaign. Beginning in 2009, he also began donating to Republican candidates. According to campaign finance records, Green donated thousands of dollars to Brown’s two Senate campaigns, Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, the state GOP party, and Sen. Rand Paul’s 2014 re-election campaign in Kentucky, among others.
Green was an early supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign in the 2016 presidential election, but eventually came around on Donald Trump. Not only does Green say he voted for Trump, but he also donated a total of $5,200 to the president’s campaign and victory fund after the Republican candidate clinched the party’s nomination.
“The president does not live in the 3rd District,” Green recently told The Telegram & Gazette.
Green also founded the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative government watchdog group, in 2010 and unsuccessfully ran for chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party in 2013. After reportedly considering a 2018 campaign against Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Green opted against it, tweeting that with “a young family and growing business,” his focus should stay on his work at the MassFiscal Alliance.
But one day last summer, Green came inside his house to find his wife standing next to his phone, which was “ringing off the hook.” Tsongas had announced she wouldn’t seek re-election this fall.
“I was like, ‘Wow, we’re going to have to talk about that,'” Green recalls telling his wife. “She was like, ‘Who are you kidding? You’re running.'”
Green cites “the two Pauls who came from the district” — former Republican Gov. Paul Cellucci and Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas, the current congresswoman’s late husband — as his political role models.
“I’ve been so blessed with the success I’ve had in my business,” he said. “This is my way of giving back. I’ve already got the best job I’ve ever had. I tell folks I’m never going to be a lobbyist. I’m not going to write a book or do a reality TV show.”
What is his platform?
“For me, it’s all fixing roads and bridges, addressing the opiate issue, and that’s what I stay focused on,” he told Boston.com, adding that he would forgo flashier committee assignments in favor of those focused on infrastructure, energy, and veterans.
“It’s all about the 3rd District,” he said. “I’m not going to go down there and be on the Ways and Means or Armed Services. I mean, those are the committee assignments you want if you’re trying to pad your resume.”
His infrastructure priorities include replacing the Rourke Bridge in Lowell (currently a work in progress), reconstructing the congested Route 2 rotary in Concord (another long-sought-after project), and upgrading Route 2 to help “open up” cities in the western part of the district, like Fitchburg and Gardner, to economic development.
When it comes to the opioid epidemic, Green says the current delegation and government agencies haven’t effectively organized to address the continuing public health crisis. His campaign has convened an “Empowering Recovery” task force, on which he’s appointing a staffer to serve as an interim “point person” on the issue. It’s a position he said would continue if he’s elected.
“Tons of good stuff is happening … but there’s no one coordinating,” he said of the current nonprofit and government work to address the crisis.
“I hear a lot police talk about ‘We don’t know what the feds are doing,” he said. “There’s not a lot of communication, and I think that’s something I could provide right off the top.”
Green also says his ‘grand vision’ is to treat addicts in similar way the government helps homeless veterans, such as by providing shared housing and case managers. The system, as he sees it, would be locally administered and fulfill their basic needs so they can focus on recovery.
“There’s one person who’s in charge of multiple benefits, but who knows the actual person getting the benefits,” he said. “You’re not going to five different agencies for different things.”
Green says his vision would take years to implement, but it provides an ultimate goal to work toward.
“I describe it as like Da Vinci or a great artist,” he said. “They have a vision of what they want the painting to look like, but then there’s ten thousand strokes. And with each stroke, they just have to make a decision: Does it fit the vision or doesn’t it fit the vision?”
Could he win?
Of course, Green’s vision is all based on the premise that he can win the general election in November, which is a big “if” for a Republican in Massachusetts.
“The 3rd District is a Democratic district,” Josh Dyck, a professor and co-director of the Center for Public Opinion at University of Massachusetts Lowell, told Boston.com.
Since redistricting in 2011, Tsongas won all of her re-elections by more than 20 percentage points, if not more. Dyck says that, even in an open race, the district is “virtually unwinnable” for Green this year, given the national political environment and Trump’s deep, local unpopularity.
“Green is running for a national political office, not a state office and so Donald Trump is a giant anchor tethered to his ankle dragging him down,” he said.
Green argues that Gov. Charlie Baker won the district by 10 percentage points in 2014 and is expected to carry it by double digits again this year. Even in statewide losses, Green says that Brown and Gabriel Gomez carried the 3rd District in their unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“They carried it with a different mix of towns, which shows that it’s not just kind of like this razor-thin — there’s different ways of cobbling together the votes you need,” he said.
Dyck says there were unique dynamics to those races and emphasized that the presiding force shaping the race is expected blue wave, in which Democratic voters disproportionately show up at the polls.
“In an open-seat election where the national narrative favored Republicans, I can imagine a scenario where the 3rd District could possibly be in play for the right Republican candidate — an off-brand moderate Republican,” he said. “But that’s not the national narrative of 2018.”
Green is counting on that narrative to be wrong and that Republicans will still control the majority in the House if he wins. And if so, he argues that it won’t be all bad news for Democrats. Green argues that he could serve as a liaison between the Bay State’s delegation and Republican leadership in Washington, D.C.
“Our delegation at the state level has been locked out. There’s tons of things I could do, not just for my district, but for the whole state,” he said. “I’ll be their best friend.”
Though they may not agree on many national issues, Green says he thinks he’d work “fantastically” with his Democratic peers on local issues specific to Massachusetts, as potentially the only person of the state’s nine House members and two senators in the majority party.
“Of course, if I don’t win, that’s a moot point, I guess,” he added.