After a short and at times fiery campaign, Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., won the right to raise his right hand, swear an oath, and join the upper chamber as its newest member and the Bay State’s junior senator.
But, as the saying goes, getting there is only half the battle. After 19 terms in the House, Markey is the dean of the Massachusetts and New England delegations and is tied for the fifth-most senior member of the lower chamber. Yet he will join the Senate at the bottom of the seniority list, a fact worth lamenting, some of his new colleagues say.
“Try to come in with some seniority,” freshman Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a former House member, said jokingly. “It doesn’t work that way. If you think you understand it over here, it still takes a while—the culture, the pace. It’s completely different. ”
At 66, Markey is also older than many who start in the Senate. The average age for the current group of 100 at their swearing-in was 51 (and the average age of the Senate as a whole is 61). Only two current senators, Angus King, I-Maine, and Dan Coats, R-Ind., were older at the start of their first terms. King was 68 and Coats 67.
At the same time, moving from the House to the Senate is a well-worn path. Fifty-two senators, including Markey, came to the upper chamber after serving in the House. It’s a transition that takes some getting used to, lawmakers say, but one they predict Markey will make quickly.
“Ed Markey has many, many years of experience,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “I think obviously it takes some time to get adjusted, but he knows the Congress, and I am absolutely certain that in a short period of time he’ll be playing an important leadership role on the issues he has for many years.”
Still, he will face changes. One big one, lawmakers say, is the uptick in requests from constituents for meetings.
“If you’re representing, in my case, 20 million people instead of 700,000, that’s pretty obvious right there,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a former House member. “I get here and I’ve got three meetings going on at once. And it goes like that all day.”
Markey’s House experience suggests areas where he is likely to concentrate in the Senate, lawmakers said. In the House, Markey built a reputation as an environmental and telecommunications crusader. After the 2008 election, he helped then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spearhead a plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and implement a cap-and-trade program, which after some changes eventually passed the House 219-212. But the measure did not clear the Senate.
In 2010, he backed the Cape Wind project, which called for a wind farm off the Cape Cod coast; he and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., shepherded a bill through Congress that gave tax rebates for energy-efficient home modifications. In 1992, he produced a cable-TV bill that garnered enough support among members to override President George H.W. Bush’s veto.
“I’ve known Ed Markey for many years. He has certainly been one of the important environmental leaders in the House,” Sanders said. “I know he is very concerned about global warming. I hope very much he will continue his efforts and play a leadership role here.”
Markey’s elevation to the Senate was the result of a hard-fought victory over Republican businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez, 55-45 percent, on Tuesday after he had led in many public polls throughout the six-week-long general-election campaign, propelling the veteran lawmaker to an office he’s long coveted.
For all his service in the House, Markey reached for the Senate during much of that time. In 1984, he passed on a chance to run when then-Lt. Gov. John Kerry challenged for the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas. When Kerry remained in the Senate after losing the 2004 presidential election, another chance passed Markey by, and in 2009 after the death of Edward Kennedy, it was Attorney General Martha Coakley who won the Democratic nomination.
Markey’s predecessor, Sen. William “Mo” Cowan, D-Mass., said that even though Markey comes in with career-spanning experience, relationships matter. Saying he voted for Markey and that he would make a good senator, Cowan offered some advice.
“I would say because he’s new to this body—spend some time getting to know colleagues,” Cowan said. “I think if the Senate got back to those good old days when people knew each other on a much more personal level, we might be able to see a lot more positive stuff coming out of here.”
This article appears in the June 26, 2013, edition of NJ Daily as Markey Wins—and Starts Another Climb.