Since then Tisei has championed equal rights causes, including marriage equality in Massachusetts, filing anti-bullying legislation, and supporting bills to help the disabled and enhance individual rights.
Asked why there aren’t more gay Republicans, Tisei said it’s because the party of Lincoln has lost sight of its roots.
“The party in the last 20 years ... lost its way from what we were originally formed for and stood for for a long time,” he said, citing anti-slavery, women’s suffrage and civil rights as past Republican causes.
“I would say I’m a traditional New England Republican — the whole idea that you can be fiscally conservative but also libertarian when it comes to social issues, that you believe the government should not be involved in individual decision-making when it comes to an issue like abortion.”
Tisei, 50, found the Republican Party, like so many his age, through President Ronald Reagan.
“I liked the fact that he exemplified traditional American values and free enterprise, individual responsibility, the emphasis on the individual instead of the government as far as decision-making goes, and a strong national defense,” Tisei said.
As a college student, he interned in the office of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. His duty one year was to organize Reagan’s 72nd birthday party in the White House.
“This is my prized possession,” he said, pointing above his desk to an autographed photograph of Reagan wearing a cowboy hat that Tisei and the rest of the staff gave him as a present.
“My hearty thanks for your birthday serenade,” Reagan wrote to Tisei on the photo.
A history of success
Despite seemingly long odds at the outset of this race, winning elections in Democratic districts is Tisei’s specialty. He won 13 straight elections in his Statehouse district, which included Stoneham, Wakefield, Melrose, Malden and Lynnfield, before losing a bid for lieutenant governor in 2009.