Between the postures and positions | Joanna Weiss

Legislator revels in getting hands dirty

By Joanna Weiss
Globe Columnist / December 2, 2009

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MIKE CAPUANO spent much of the debate with a look of frustration on his face, as if he were an air conditioning repairman who had just stepped into a symposium on the philosophical underpinnings of the air conditioner.

He stood out as the guy who preferred verbal combat to measured conversation - the promoter of action over study, ugly truth over carefully-considered six-point plan. While his opponents spun theoretical answers over the need to curb health care costs, Capuano raised the less-palatable truth that most people, faced with the illness of a child or parent, want to spend whatever it takes on whatever cure is possible. There was even awkward honesty in his response about what he’s done, personally, to weather the recession: “Mostly light bulbs.’’

Overall, Capuano presented himself as the guy who understands Congress (and, as he noted derisively at one point, what Stimulus One actually did). It’s a tricky thing to run as the insider. Most campaigns assume every voter is dying for hope, change, and the chance to send the bums home.

But then, this is a race to fill the seat of the consummate insider, a man whose understanding of the Senate helped him accomplish his goals, and whom Massachusetts voters sent back to Washington time after time.

Capuano isn’t about change and doesn’t pretend to be; he’s about the realities of the sausage-making process. His challenge lies in convincing voters his gruffness has a purpose - frustration can translate into action, and ugly truths can turn into legislative gains.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at