By Austin J. Schofield
The presidential race isn’t the only area seeing Democratic primaries in 2020. In the Massachusetts 8th Congressional District, engineer Brianna Wu is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch for the party’s nomination. The Express recently spoke with Wu to ask her about herself and her campaign.
Q: Where are you from?
A: “I’m from Mississippi, but I’ve lived all over. I’ve lived in D.C., I’ve lived in Mississippi, I’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado, I’ve lived in Silicon Valley – where I got married.”
Q: What would you say your main background is in?
A: “I think it would be generally in tech start-ups, as I’ve started three throughout my career so far. Traditionally, however, I am trained as an engineer, and my specialty is graphical subsystems – so Vulkan, OpenGL, OpenCL, and so on.”
Q: So, you are formally trained as an engineer, and you’ve also worked in the tech industry establishing start-ups. Where did the interest in politics come into play?
A: “Well, I was adopted into a family of extremely right-wing republicans who were hyper-political. I grew up on a diet of Rush Limbaugh, Fox and others to a ridiculous degree. My father was a lieutenant commander in the navy — he used that career to break away from a life of poverty in Mississippi — and so my family had the kind of politics you would expect of someone from Mississippi of that generation. Therefore, I always had that interest in politics, but it was around the time that, frankly, George Bush started sending my friends off to die in Iraq — that really changed me.”
Q: What motivates your primary challenge of Stephen Lynch?
A: “I have been angry at Stephen Lynch for a long time. I think he is fundamentally out of step on Massachusetts’ values. I urge you to look into why he got into politics in Massachusetts in the first place. It was because he was angry at gay people for participating in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. In the ’80s, he got drunk and assaulted some Iranian students who were protesting American policies. [The Boston Globe reported in 2001 that the charges in the incident were dropped and that Lynch had struggled with alcohol abuse at the time. Fifty-two American hostages were held hostage in Iran from Nov. 4, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981 leading to a great deal of anti-Iranian fervor in the U.S. — editor]
For a long time, I have been frustrated with Lynch and the leadership he has shown. I think that, in the Trump era, that disappointment in even more morbid. I’ll give an example; we have an ad out today that is of Stephen Lynch literally yelling at the constituent asking him to do something on impeachment. He’s like, ‘yeah, yeah, it’s not going to work, you’re just going to get him reelected.’ So I feel like there is fundamentally a leadership vacuum here in District 8, and if you go and compare that to Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, such amazing leaders, and then we have this guy that seems so out of step with everything we stand for. I can accept that he has less progressive social policies than most people, but what I can’t accept is the feckless leadership style that he enacts. If there’s a fight to be had, Stephen Lynch is not the person who’s going to fight.”
Q: Where do you part on specific issues?
A: “I think women’s’ rights is a very big one. Stephen Lynch, for the longest time, was anti-women’s’ reproductive health care access — he stood against that forever. He was against it and then he tried to run for senate and lost, and that’s when he changed his view. I’ve been dead solid consistent on this. I don’t just say I believe in women’s rights. I’ve had bricks thrown through my window for women’s rights. I’ve gone up against the worst figures in the Republican party over women’s rights. I’ve had to get Katherine Clark to intercede with the FBI for me over my position on women’s rights during Gamergate. So, that’s something that I feel very strongly about.
“I also think there’s this. There’s a teacher strike in Dedham, as we speak, because their healthcare costs are so out of control that even in an affluent neighborhood, teachers aren’t being paid enough to get healthcare. Stephen Lynch has failed, fundamentally, at bringing money from DC back to Massachusetts. We pay far more than we get back. So when our roads are crumbling, you need to ask, where are our Department of Transportation grants? When our T is literally catching on fire, my question is, where is Mass. and our fair share of that federal money? He has not been effective at bringing money back to the district because he is not willing to fight.”
Q: Where do you feel Rep. Lynch has fallen short?
A: “I think that’s one of the big ones. There are many on social policy, and its also important to say that, for all of Lynch’s talk about unions, unions are far worse off today in our state than they were when he was elected. Participation in unions is down 4 percent in just the last few years. Its plummeted. And take National Grid — how long were those guys out there protesting in the cold last year? A really long time. I was out there — I never saw him; so I think Stephen Lynch has marketed himself very effectively as a pro-union guy but when you look at the reality, its not there.”
Q: Lynch is a former president in the IronWorkers union. How do you view what he has done for these workers? What is your view on them?
A: He takes it for granted. I think a lot of these battles, he doesn’t show up. My team and I were with Stop & Shop workers during their strike. Was Stephen Lynch there? I didn’t see him. He sat that one out. I’ve never seen him out with National Grid, or with the hotel workers striking in downtown Boston. He sure wasn’t at that teachers rally in his own district just a few weeks ago. So, this is what I would say. Steelworkers are incredibly important, and I want to have their back, but, we need to look at where Massachusetts is today. The top two fields, as far as revenue, in Massachusetts are Biotech and Tech. And we are having very serious talks in both of these fields about our need to unionize and I am working with those people day in and day out on those unionization measures. When it comes to media, I sure have never seen Stephen Lynch on twitter talking about Vox’s union. I know the leaders for that rwally well. So, my dream for union participation in district 8 is: I don’t think we need to be separating Vox media people and steel workers. We are all in this together and I think white collar tech workers need to get over the elitism that makes us think we don’t need to stand with teachers and other kinds of workers. I think when it comes to working on wider issues for the wider 21st century economy, Stephen Lynch has fundamentally failed.”
Q: What are the most important issues facing the 8th District in your view?
A: “Basically, there are two buckets. There’s the kitchen table, economic discussions that keep a lot of families awake at night. I am a software engineer and my husband is one of the senior IP people at a major Biotech company. We just managed to afford a house this year. That’s how expensive it is. There are spiraling health care costs. Stephen Lynch wouldn’t even vote for Obamacare, much less more aggressive measures. He’s not there. As far as people in this district, I am talking economic issues that focus on them like a laser.
“The other bucket is a grand vision of where Massachusetts is going to be 100 years from now, and this is where I am ridiculously qualified to take us. Stephen Lynch is flat out terrible on tech and biotech issues — this is my field; this is my husbands’ field. So, when we are talking about bringing tech and biotech jobs into the state, one of the things that really disturbs me about Massachusetts is, we spend all this money on education, as we should, but we are a brain drain state. People come here and attend college, and then they go back to Silicon Valley or New York or Austin, Texas and they take those skills elsewhere. That is because our leaders in this state have failed to keep start-ups and talent in this state, starting the companies of the 21st century. I know how to get us there, and Stephen Lynch doesn’t.”
Q: Lynch chairs the Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor. What committee assignments would you aspire to if elected?
A: “There is a committee in congress right now that is not being taken as seriously as it should be; that is the science, space and technology committee. This committee controls patents, it controls communication standards, it controls encryption standards, it controls a wide array of tech standards and we are embarrassingly ignoring this committee. When we think of Facebook and their negligence causing our democracy to be damaged immensely – that is something that this committee has the power to regulate. There’s a videogame called ‘Total Spectrum Warfare,’ and the idea behind this game is that the wars of the 21 century are not fought with guns and bullets and bombs and missiles, they’re fought by controlling an enemy’s economics, their power system, their shipping infrastructure, their media infrastructure, their water infrastructure – this is where the U.S. is vulnerable. You could take out power to a majority of this country if you were to aim a missile at a very particular two-mile area of our power grid, and we don’t have a plan for that. It is a fact that Russians hacked our nuclear powerplants. We don’t have a plan for that. So, when it comes to the kinds of wars and attacks on our democracy in the 21st century, I am serious about being on the forefront of that committee addressing it.
“We have a role to play in the U.S. safeguarding our democracy. I come from Mississippi. We had more people serving per capita than any other state in America. I saw a lot of my friends die in Iraq and when I think of all the brave men and women that have given their lives so that we can vote, it makes me furious to see Congress failing to safeguard our elections in common sense ways. We have got to take this seriously, and Stephen Lynch is fundamentally a part of that problem.”
Q: Before we wrap up, is their anything else you’d like to touch on?
A: “Yes. The demographics in this district have changed immensely since he was elected just after 2000. Please understand how he got elected. We were attacked on 911 and he was a part of the backlash against that and in that moment, we went with the most conservative choice. Stephen Lynch’s base has traditionally been South Boston, so when you look at what this district looks like today, almost 20 years later, what are the differences? It’s much younger, it’s more diverse racially – Asian voters are almost 11percent of our district the last time I looked. We have areas like Brockton that are fundamentally falling apart. He’s not there. Stephen Lynch has kept power by focusing on this one small area of district 8, which is massive. We’re going to go out there, we’re going to talk to the people in Brockton that don’t even know who Stephen Lynch is because he never shows up. We’re going to talk to them and win their vote. The truth is, Stephen Lynch has taken the seat for granted for a long time and it’s time he had a real fight.”