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U.S. Representative Edward Markey '72

hot seats, cool heads

U.S. Representative Edward Markey

On the BC Law School ethos:

I will never forget Father Drinan, who was Dean of the Law School for 14 years from 1956 to 1970, and a member of Congress for 10 years after that. Father Drinan liked to quote Hammurabi, the author of the world’s first code of laws, who said that “the purpose of law is to protect the powerless from the powerful,” which Father Drinan sometimes translated for us as “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”In his life and in his work, Father Drinan embodied the spirit of lines written by St. Alberto Hurtado, the newest Jesuit saint, who said: “In order to teach, it is enough to know something. But to educate, one must be something. True education consists in giving oneself as a living model, an authentic lesson.”

These are lessons that I learned at BC Law, which have stayed with me throughout my life. Since I was first elected to Congress, I have been shaped by these principles in standing up for the powerless and developing and supporting legislation that provides opportunities for hardworking men and women who are struggling to improve their lives and the well-being of their families. 

On effective leadership:

For me, leadership means the ability to identify an issue or problem and then work, sometimes collaboratively with others, to develop practical, effective solutions that make a tangible positive difference in people’s lives. I have always believed that every political issue has three phases. It’s a leader’s responsibility to guide the effort for change and build momentum during each phase: first, political education, followed by political activation, and then political implementation. Leaders need to effectively educate the public and other stakeholders about the issue so that there is a clear, compelling case for change. Once there is a common understanding of the need for change and strong support for the proposed solution, a leader then needs to harness the energy and enthusiasm for change and organize and coordinate the effort to make it a reality. During the implementation phase, a leader ensures that the change, now adopted and accepted, is put in place according to the group’s intent and established in a way that is sustainable for the long-term. This often requires a leader to undertake periodic monitoring and oversight to ensure that the policy change continues to operate as intended.

On your leadership style in practice:

I spent many years fighting to strengthen federal fuel economy standards (known as “CAFE standards”) for cars and light trucks. The first fuel economy law, which was signed by President Gerald Ford, required the standard for cars to increase from 13.5 miles per gallon to 27.5 miles per gallon between 1975 and 1985. And as the standards were phased in, oil imports fell from 8 million barrels per day in 1979 to 4.2 million barrels per day in 1985. As fuel efficiency standards stagnated due to resistance from the auto industry, oil imports tripled between 1985 and 2005 to 12.5 million barrels per day. I began offering amendments to energy legislation to mandate an increase in the CAFE standards—forcing votes in 2001, 2003, and 2005. My amendments were cosponsored by Republican Congressman Sherry Boehlert from New York.  Each year, I would lose the vote, but each year the vote would get closer and closer as rising gas prices and increasing dependence on oil imports led the public, the press, and more and more members of Congress to recognize the need for change. By 2006, the House Republican leadership actually used a procedural mechanism to block my amendment from being offered because they were worried that I just might have the votes to pass the amendment. Following the 2006 Congressional elections, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, and I worked closely with Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to successfully incorporate new fuel economy standards into the Energy Independence and Security Act. Once the bill was signed by the President, I continued to closely monitor its implementation, pressing the Transportation Department to move forward to issue strong standards and encouraging the President and the EPA to work with the Transportation Department on combined fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards that will result in the fuel economy of our vehicle fleet rising to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Interestingly, recent press reports indicate the most popular vehicles now being sold by automakers are the very fuel efficient cars that they had successfully resisted making for so many years.

On promoting inclusivity and cooperation:

While there often are sharp ideological differences between the political parties, I have worked to find common ground whenever possible to move our country forward.  For example, I founded the Bi-Partisan Alzheimer’s Task Force to shine a light on the need to defeat this devastating disease. Working with my Republican colleagues, I have developed legislation to create the nation’s first-ever strategy for curing Alzheimer’s, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which President Obama signed into law last year. I also created the Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus with Congressman Joe Barton, a conservative Republican from Texas. We have co-authored many pieces of legislation to strengthen consumer privacy safeguards and are currently building support on both sides of the aisle for our Do Not Track Kids Act. Our bill improves privacy protections for children 15 and younger, ensuring that they are not targeted by marketers while also enabling the use of an “Eraser Button” so parents can remove from the internet photos or postings of their children that they consider inappropriate. Even in a polarized political environment, there are opportunities in Congress to work together collaboratively, and I have always believed in seizing these opportunities to craft policies that benefit everyday Americans.

On exemplary past leaders:

Tip O’Neill was beginning his historic tenure as Speaker of the House when I was starting my first term in Congress. Tip was an extraordinary leader. He rose quickly through the leadership ranks in Congress due to his extraordinary political skills, mastery of the legislative process, and sharp wit. With his “All politics is local” approach, Tip focused on making a difference in the lives of his constituents, but he also had a national profile, defending the anti-poverty and crucial social programs that help millions across the country against assault by the Reagan administration. Tip’s tenacity and hard-nosed negotiation skills—delivered with a smile or a touch of humor—is an enduring model of political leadership.

Father Drinan was a living model of leadership to all who knew him. He helped build the Law School into a world class institution. In Congress, he introduced the first Articles of Impeachment against President Nixon, thereby elevating him to the top of Nixon's “enemies list.” That never seemed to bother Father Drinan because he had his own, far more significant “enemies list”: poverty, ignorance, disease, discrimination, and neglect. Father Drinan’s leadership inspired millions.

My first year constitutional law professor, Herbert O. Reid, also was a tremendous example of leadership. Professor Reid was a visiting professor from Howard Law School back in 1969, and nothing had quite prepared me for him. He was an African-American professor teaching white middle- and working-class students. He was Muhammad Ali’s lawyer, was involved in the Chicago Seven trial, and had worked with Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education. Professor Reid taught us, through his own work on the frontlines in the fight for justice, that the 14th Amendment—equal protection under the law—was finally starting to mean something tangible in the 1960s. Professor Reid taught us that when we graduated and started to make our way in the legal profession, it would be our job to interpret who was entitled to coverage under the 14th Amendment—and so followed debates over the rights of women, minorities, individuals with disabilities, and other groups in our society.

On changing your mind:

In the landmark Waxman-Markey legislation, a bill that for the first time in history would have reduced carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, compromises needed to be made to pass it in the House of Representatives. The bill passed in June 2009, and it included funding for wind power, solar energy, and energy efficiency measures. It also included funding for nuclear power and carbon capture sequestration at coal plants, two policies that I have not been identified with. Nevertheless, the larger goal was reached, and the legislation passed the House.