Rhode Island's Jack Reed Might Be The Niftiest Senator You've Never Heard Of
C-SPAN video screenshot

When I was deciding which US Senate election to profile this week, I looked over our list of the 33 races his year and got stuck on a name I just plain didn't recognize: Jack Reed, Democrat, Rhode Island. Who the hell is that? Didn't ring a bell at all for me, and I was all ready to write an amusing little thing about how there's this guy in the Senate whose name was a complete mystery to me and isn't it weird that someone can be a member of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body and his name just didn't bring anything to mind? The other Senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, now there's a name I recognize, and he was pretty awesome in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and he's on the teevee all the time.

I can at least say that I share my ignorance with a bunch of people in this completely unscientific Twitter survey I set up this morning.

That says more about the media-politisphere than it does about Jack Reed. Turns out I can't do a story about this funny thing where the people of Rhode Island keep reelecting this one senator who's kind of a nonentity, because boy am I dumb. Dude may not be one of the senators you see on TV all the time (he does turn up on CNN now and then), but he's an entity all right, with an impressive record. His positions on most issues are progressive as anything, and so now let's take a look at why Dok was dumb and Jack Reed is pretty darn cool, in a very low key kind of way. (Important note from Robyn: I know exactly who he is, and ignoring Rhode Island is why no one else has any coffee milk, Del's Lemonade, hot weenies or baked stuffed shrimp. Your loss, really.)

Look at this freaking résumé! Reed was first elected to the Senate in 1996, after serving three terms in the House, and before that, three terms in the Rhode Island state Senate. He succeeded Sen. Claiborne Pell, he of the grants that have helped so many low-income kids go to college. Reed graduated from West Point, served in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1970s, got a master's at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and became a professor at West Point, where he taught in the Social Sciences department until 1979. Then, possibly because he was worried about seeming like some kind of slacker, he went to Harvard Law, where he graduated in 1982.

Not that credentials are everything; see Harvard Law grads Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, ew.

But the thing that really impressed me is his voting record. As you'd expect for a New England Democrat, he's solidly pro-choice, big on education and health care, and has advocated for LGBTQ rights going way way back. But he was also one of just 23 senators to vote against the Iraq War authorization in 2002, and in 2006-2007, Reed called for a deadline to be set to get the US out of Iraq. And that's what reminded me that I do indeed know who Jack Reed is; he was the former Army Ranger who wanted to get the troops the hell out of George Bush's terrible, never-ending war. Right — that guy!

There are other little surprises. Reed may be the ranking member on Senate Armed Services Committee, but he's also a housing policy wonk going all the way back to his time in the Rhode Island state Senate. He played a key role in putting together a mortgage relief bill during the 2008 financial meltdown, adding an affordable housing trust fund that was key to getting the bill passed and signed by George W. Bush. In that bill, it initially helped people refinance mortgages on loans that were greater than their homes' value, and then after three years, it became a fund aimed at helping people who couldn't normally afford homes to become homeowners, and to encourage construction of low-cost rental housing. Hooray for policy nerds.

Reed's name also came up about ninety times during the Obama administration as a possible Secretary of Defense nominee, but darn it, he just likes serving in the Senate too much. A local political columnist concluded in 2014 that

no matter how many times Reed's aides privately groan about another flareup of defense secretary speculation, they surely appreciate that each recurrence is a sign of the senator's positive reputation in Washington and Obama's esteem for him.

More recently, Reed helped get bipartisan agreement in the Senate to pass Elizabeth Warren's amendment to the annual defense bill, requiring the Pentagon to get rid of all tributes to the Confederacy in the US military, including base names, monuments, even street names on bases. Reed said that honoring the Confederacy "does not represent what I think should be consistent with our … honoring of American military heroes." The US military is about the diversity of all Americans, he said, and bases "cannot be named, I think, for someone who basically pledged his service to a system that was based on slavery. That has to be changed, and we will."

He also was an early opponent of Donald Trump's nominee for Defense Department policy overlord, the racist icky fraudy Anthony Tata, who was so awful the administration withdrew his nomination and then gave him a job anyway.

So Jack Reed has pissed off Donald Trump, and good for him!

Voters in Rhode Island seem pretty inclined to give Reed a fifth term in the Senate; he tends to win in landslides. He won his first Senate bid in 1996 by 63 percent to 35 percent, and his victories since then have all been pretty much wipeouts:

2002: 78-22

2008: 73-27

2014: 71-29

While nothing in politics is a dead certainty, Reed should expect similar results this year, since his Republican opponent is one of those perennial candidates who keeps thinking maybe they'll win something somewhere.

Dude's name is Allen Waters, and here's how bad his chances are: In June, the state Republican Party withdrew its endorsement of Waters after the Providence Journal reported that Waters had been arrested in a domestic violence incident in 2019 in Massachusetts. The case was dropped when Waters's wife refused to cooperate with police after the arrest. We won't get into the details (the Journaldoes, here), but ick.

Waters seems to have caught the politics bug in 2014, when he ran for Massachusetts state Senate, getting a whopping 360 write-in votes, half a percent of all ballots, which was actually way fewer than the number of blank votes (3,279) in the race. Waters also explored a run against Elizabeth Warren in 2018, telling the Boston Globe that one potential Republican contender (who eventually ran for Congress and lost instead) "might have millions, but he ain't an angry, conservative black man with a chip on his shoulder." Waters said he could definitely beat Warren because he was the only Republican who Black voters would cross party lines to support, and he was looking forward to a "GOP street fight" in the primary, but then he dropped out of the race before the filing deadline.

For 2020, Waters launched a bid to unseat Sen. Ed Markey in the Massachusetts Democratic primary, and he managed to find a rightwing radio talk show host who liked Waters's call to abolish the IRS and replace it with a flat tax or national sales tax. But sadly, Massachusetts is just too overrun with liberals, so in December of last year, he moved to Providence to run against Reed. And talk about a warm embrace! At the state GOP convention, even before the domestic unpleasantness came to light, state party nominating committee chair Paul Durfee said his committee recommended no endorsement in the US Senate race. But former state GOP chair Mark Zaccaria, who lost to Reed in 2014, offered this ringing call for the party to back Waters, if he got enough signatures on nominating petitions:

Many of you already know that he is a personable, photogenic adult, who could certainly be a satisfactory face for the R.I. GOP and stand up for the Grand Old Party.

We are all aware of what a politically heavy lift that is ... [But] if Allen does not make the ballot, we are giving Jack Reed a free ride.

Despite the lack of his own party's endorsement, Waters remains the sole Republican in the September 8 primary. We're fairly certain he won't get a chance to test the viability of his plan to bring down the cost of college by eliminating federal student loans. We'll undoubtedly hear from him again in 2022 when he runs for some other thing he'll lose.

Jack Reed seems to be doing OK with fundraising this year, having raised $3.4 million as of the last reporting period, and it seems unlikely Mitch McConnell's PAC or anyone else will be pouring cash into the race on Waters's behalf. Should you want to help Sen. Reed make his point, though, here's his campaign website. We're gonna remember his name going forward. And not to jinx anything, but Joe Biden probably ought to look elsewhere for a potential defense secretary.

[Jack Reed (US Senate site) / NYT / WPRI / NYT / Politico / Providence Journal / Boston Globe / Providence Journal / Jack Reed for Rhode Island]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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