Massie ’93 in U.S. House of Reps.

MIT alum represents Ky., formerly county judge-executive

On Nov. 6, Thomas Massie ’93 was elected as U.S. Representative for Kentucky’s Fourth District. Massie graduated from MIT in 1993 with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and also received a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from the Institute in 1996. Massie, a Republican, won the seat after a seven-way primary and has already been sworn in due to his predecessor’s early retirement.

Massie came to MIT in 1989 from Vanceburg, Kentucky, and was followed two years later by his future wife, Rhonda Massie ’95. The pair started SensAble Technologies, based on haptics (tactile feedback) systems used in 3D design. Massie won the first $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 1995 based on this work. SensAble acquired over $40 million in venture capital funding and developed many important patents over the next few years. But profits eventually declined, and in 2003, Massie and his wife returned to their hometown in Kentucky.

He wanted to stay with SensAble “as long as it made sense,” said Massie in a phone interview with The Tech, but he and his wife preferred a rural setting to raise their children.

“We built our own house with our own timber on the farm, and it’s powered by solar panels,” he said, adding that the decision to live off the grid is consistent with his personal values.

Massie became interested in regional politics after proposed tax increases in his county, and in response, organized local opposition. In 2010, he ran for and won the position of Judge-Executive of Lewis County, vowing to decrease wasteful spending. He ran for the U.S. Representative seat this year vacated by the retiring Geoff Davis and easily won the general election.

His political ideology is “pretty much the same” as it was during and before his time at MIT, said Massie.

“My political beliefs were forged with an upbringing in Kentucky and involve self-reliance, personal responsibility, and freedom,” he continued. Massie has ties to the Tea Party and endorsements from Ron and Rand Paul.

Although he powers his home with solar technology and participated in the MIT Solar Car Team, Massie does not support subsidies for solar panels. “I think if you leave the market and people to their own decisions, people will make the right decisions,” he said. “I’m not in favor of subsidies for any form of energy.”

In light of the upcoming “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Massie believes “the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” While he hoped the negotiations would succeed in preventing automatic cuts, he pointed out that “if we can’t even agree to solve a fraction of this problem, then the cuts should go into effect.” The changes in discretionary spending would affect institution such as MIT, and Massie said he supports a bill proposed by Rand Paul to cut discretionary spending to 2008 levels.

“We need more engineers in Washington D.C. and maybe not so many lawyers. Lawyers are trained to take a position and look for facts to support that position whether it is true or false,” said Massie, summarizing a talk at MIT by former New Hampshire governor John Sununu that represents his view of politicians. “Engineers try to collect facts and come up with the answer based on that.”

Anyone interest in a career in politics should “get real-world experience first,” Massie added.

While Massie pointed out that he expects both his business experience and MIT economics concentration to be useful in office, the biggest similarity between MIT and Congress so far is that “the first week of each is like drinking from a fire hose.”