NORTH ANDOVER — State Rep. David Torrisi regrets using vulgar language in an e-mail response to an invitation to appear on a conservative radio talk show, but defends the sentiment behind his refusal to appear on the show.
"I responded from my BlackBerry," the North Andover Democrat said yesterday. "It was probably a little impulsive on my part."
Torrisi's insulting two-sentence reply was sent to a WTKK producer who had e-mailed Torrisi asking him to appear on Michael Graham's show to discuss his opposition to legislation barring state benefits for illegal immigrants. Torrisi e-mailed back: "Michael Graham is an (expletive). He can go (expletive) himself for all I care."
Graham's website posted a copy of the e-mail, which Torrisi confirmed he sent.
"I obviously regret the choice of words, but I don't regret the intent," Torrisi told The Eagle-Tribune. "To me, people like Michael Graham and other radio talk show hosts ... I don't think they add anything to the debate at all."
The House voted 82-75 Wednesday to send Rep. Jeff Perry's proposal to study, killing it for the year and sparking an outcry from supporters of the proposal, who say illegal immigrants should not have access to taxpayer-supported services.
Torrisi said the state already does "a pretty good job" of screening immigrants applying for public benefits, adding that he believes exceptions should be made for children who grow up in the United States and people who overstay their visas to care for sick relatives here.
"I think the subject of immigration is much more complex than these talk radio hosts make it out to be," said Torrisi. "I said what I said and I probably shouldn't have used those words, but I still feel the same way about talk radio hosts, left-wingers and right-wingers alike."
Graham, one of the region's most popular talk show hosts, discussed Torrisi's response on the air yesterday morning.
"The reaction is not commensurate with the action," Graham said, adding, "It seems like people get really angry with you because you dare to say this isn't right."
In a telephone interview, Graham told the State House News Service that he sensed that among voters, based on "the feeling that he conveyed towards me, the feeling is mutual, and they'll be expressing that feeling in November when it counts."
Torrisi will run for re-election to a seventh term this fall. He has represented the 14th Essex District, including most of North Andover and sections of Lawrence, since 1999.
Immigration policy is a recurrent and emotional issue on Beacon Hill and across the country. An Arizona law enacted this month empowering law enforcement officials to question suspected illegal immigrants has touched off a national debate.
Torrisi said the debate is "preying on the fears and anxieties of people, with the economy in the shape that it is, and we're blaming it on a target that's unpopular."
Torrisi also accused Perry of pressing the amendment in an effort to boost his campaign for the 10th District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. William Delahunt.
Perry faces Republican Joe Malone in the primary.
"I think it was just an opportunity for Rep. Perry to use a hot-button issue to raise his political profile," Torrisi said. "It raises people's blood pressure."
Noting that he has filed the same proposal the last two terms, Perry said, "That's disappointing that someone would suggest that."
Last year, the House voted 118-40 to relegate the same amendment to a study committee.
"The reason, I think that it's getting so much attention is because of the Arizona issue and the continued fiscal crisis in Massachusetts," Perry told the State House News Service.
Graham said Torrisi had engaged in "name-calling and insults rather than enlightened debate."
"I'd love to have a conversation with Rep. Torrisi on my show, but instead of taking the opportunity to have a conversation ... he chose to describe me in anatomical terms and suggested I engage in an activity that I think is anatomically impossible," Graham said.
"There are plenty of people on Beacon Hill that feel the same way about me. I was just kind of taken aback that one of them put it in an e-mail," Graham said.
Material from the State House News Service was used in this report.