Red or Blue?
A Close Call for the 4th Congressional District Race
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A Harvard graduate and former Rhodes scholar, Jim Himes worked as an investment banker focusing on mergers and
acquisitions and Latin America at Goldman Sachs for twelve years and is currently vice president of a nonprofit organization that focuses on urban poverty and affordable housing. He has served on the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation and as chairman of the Greenwich Housing Authority and Democratic Town Committee. He is on the board of the Fairfield County Community Foundation. Himes lives in Cos Cob with his wife Mary, an editor with atHome magazine (a Moffly Publication), and two daughters, Linley, six, and Emma,eight.
Q: What three issues do you find voters in the district are most concerned about?
A: Getting our economy back on an even keel, national security and finding a responsible way to withdraw from Iraq, and developing an energy policy that is forward-looking but doesn’t put Americans in the position of paying $4.50 per gallon at the pump. We find ourselves in the economic situation we are in due to years of unprecedented fiscal irresponsibility on the part of our leadership. As a consequence, we’ve seen huge fiscal deficits and a ballooning of the federal debt, which has caused the world to lose faith in our currency and has created economic instability. We’ve seen gross negligence with respect to oversight of our mortgage business; and the utter absence of an energy policy and activities in the Middle East that have raised the price of gas have combined to really crush the middle class underneath an economic hammer.
Q: What do you think are the main differences between you and your opponent?
A:The first difference is that Chris Shays has been an ardent supporter of [the Iraq] war all along and continues to be a supporter of keeping our troops there. There’s an important difference between what he says and what he does. He said in August 2006 that he supported timelines for withdrawal of our troops. Then he went to Congress and voted against timelines time and time again. It’s important to differentiate between what he says and what he does. The other key difference is in the area of the economy. He supports the privatization of Social Security, and having watched a twenty percent decline in the American stock market, I would say that is a catastrophic idea. Secondly, he has been out in front advocating for Bush economic policies, and we sit amongst their ruins. He was one of the leading advocates for making the tax cuts of 2002 permanent. I support tax cuts, but tax cuts at a time we were going into two major wars was just the height of economic irresponsibility. And we are paying the price.
Q: What do you propose for our Iraq policy?
A: Success in Iraq comes when the Sunni and the Shia and the Kurds have made the tough decisions around oil-revenue sharing and governance. While it’s wonderful that violence has declined — we should all celebrate that — we haven’t seen adequate progress on that reconciliation. The only thing that is going to bring about the making of those hard choices is when the three parties in Iraq no longer believe that we are going to babysit their country, when we begin withdrawing our troops. I would begin awithdrawal of our troops tomorrow, and the day after go to the Iraqis and say: Sit around the table and make the hard choices because we can no longer lock down the nation of Iraq. We can’t afford it in terms of lives, and we can’t afford it in terms of dollars. I would like to see our troops out as soon as possible, but there are both logistical and tactical considerations that will govern how fast we can withdraw them. And we need to do it in a way that prevents chaos in the region.
Q: What kind of priority do you give to reducing our $9 trillion national debt and balancing the federal budget?
A: It’s a huge priority. I worked for Bob Rubin [former cochairman of Goldman Sachs and U.S. Treasury secretary] whose mantra was “deficits matter.” Deficits do matter. A growing national debt reduces confidence in our economy and reduces the value of our currency, so it’s of critical importance that we get the government back on track to responsible spending. I think we can achieve a lot of that through better priorities. When all is said and done, we will have spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion in Iraq. We need to stop spending that money. We have a catastrophic agricultural plan that is immensely expensive, providing price supports to our farmers at a time when our commodity prices are high.
Q:What is your position on the 2002 Bush tax cuts and on the Alternative Minimum Tax?
A: I think that we’re going to have a very interesting political discussion in 2009 on our priorities. When do we want to fix our infrastructure, which has a $1.5 trillion price tag? How fast do we want to pay down our national debt, which is huge? How fast do we want to implement universal healthcare? And the answers to those questions are going to give us the answer of how much tax revenue we need. I don’t support raising taxes at all; in fact, I support lowering taxes on the middle class. If we are going to raise taxes, if we are going to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, it’s going to be for a reason. The Alternative Minimum Tax is a key point of difference between Chris Shays and myself. It was designed to keep wealthy families from taking too many deductions but is now capturing a lot of middle class families. It absolutely needs to be overhauled, and Chris Shays voted against its reform. I’d love to see it eliminated, but that begs the question, how do you replace the revenue?
Q: How would you address the problem of 50 million people without health insurance and the rising cost of healthcare in the country?
A:We need to develop a system of universal healthcare that is available and affordable to all Americans; and those that cannot afford it would receive a subsidy from the government. As a businessman, I then say that we have to find ways to take substantial costs out of the system. Lots of money is spent to fix people; little money is spent to prevent people from getting sick. The technology in the industry is awful. We need to find ways to keep doctors from practicing the immense amount of defensive medicine that they currently practice. I think we should try to develop a hybrid system that starts from where we are today and creates government pools that potentially can be more competitive than private providers of health insurance. But I don’t think where you are talking about a $2 trillion industry that you just snap your fingers and say everything changes overnight. I think you evolve to a system that is more efficient and more equitable.
Q:What impact do you think the presidential campaign will have on your race?
A:I think the level of general amorphous hunger for change is going to help me and having Barack Obama at the top of the ticket is going to be very helpful. It also provides me with some interesting questions to ask Chris Shays. Chris Shays says he fully supports reproductive rights, and yet he is the Connecticut cochair of a presidential candidate who explicitly says he will appoint people to the Supreme Court who will reverse Roe v. Wade. How do you square that?
Q: What do you say to someone who asks: Why should I vote for you instead of your opponent?
A: That person needs to look around and answer: How are we doing traffic-wise? How are we doing economically? How are we doing on affordable housing? How are we doing abroad? Consider whether a guy who spent twelve years in business and six years doing nonprofit community development, affordable housing, whether that guy doesn’t bring to the table a more practical mindset than someone who has had twenty-one years to deliver the world that we live in today. That person should also ask: Who’s going to do better by the district? Who’s going to be able to walk into [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi’s office and say, "I need A, B, C and D for Bridgeport or for highways and trains in my district?” With a Democratic majority, we are talking about a world of difference in terms of being able to deliver to the district.
Q: Who are your political heroes?
A: Teddy Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy. These were deeply thoughtful, pragmatic individuals, hugely proud of their country and deeply aware of the inequities in their respective societies, who had a huge impact on our history.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Why I jumped into this. I’m a huge patriot; running is not a partisan thing for me. What we are talking about doing in 2009 isn’t achieving Democratic objectives, it’s about restoring core American values to Washington. I’m talking about values like the rule of law, like being thoughtful and prudent in how we engage internationally, about having a competent government that puts a man on the moon rather than failing catastrophically in New Orleans. These are things that, regardless of party, we should be proud of, yet we have drifted.