Democrat Murphy says he can lead from the center in Senate

“Madison and Jefferson are turning over in their graves,” Democrat Chris Murphy said during a recent sit-down interview with Hersam Acorn Newspapers.

The three-term U.S. Representative from Cheshire, said the current U.S. political system “incentivizes dysfunction” but there’s hope for more bi-partisanship and he claims he’s the one help bring that to U.S. Senate — because he’s helped lead the middle in U.S. House.

He may have a big lead in the Democrats’ primary election polls, but Murphy says he’s taking nothing for granted by thinking ahead to a potential fall showdown with Republican Linda McMahon, who leads Chris Shays in their party’s primary polls.

Murphy, a former state representative and state senator who now represents the state’s 5th Congressional District, insisted that he is not looking past the Tuesday, Aug. 14, Democratic primary against former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. But McMahon’s name and policies came up several times.

Murphy not only has a 30-point lead in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll but has the solid backing of the state’s Democratic party, including Gov. Dannel Malloy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal. So one could forgive him for eyeing the likely general election battle with McMahon, who has a wide lead amongst Republicans and has closed the gap against Murphy to only three points.

Still, Murphy insists that he is taking nothing for granted in his primary against Bysiewicz. He said he is focused on this election first, while at the same time not forgetting that a far more difficult race is likely looming. And unsurprisingly, Murphy said that the economy and jobs will be the dominant issues this year.

“Jobs is the No. 1, 2 and 3 issue right now,” Murphy said. “Everybody knows somebody that’s out of work, but it’s not just the people who are out of work. It’s also about the people who are working part-time instead of full-time. It’s about the people who have had their hours cut back and haven’t gotten a raise in five years. The economy has affected people who are not just unemployed, but underemployed.”

Investment needed

Saying that the state has been “stuck in neutral” for the past 15 years without any economic development vision at the state level, Murphy praised Gov. Malloy for “starting to realize Connecticut needs to have a very focused economic development strategy.” And, as senator, Murphy pledged to work on economic growth by getting the federal government to invest in infrastructure, education and science.

“Doing that will help Connecticut more than almost any other state in the nation,” Murphy said. “Connecticut’s economic salvation is tied up in transportation. So long as Interstate 95 is a parking lot, Connecticut can’t grow. In addition, Connecticut gets 1.6¢ back on every cent we send to the federal government in transportation taxes. When the federal government invests in transportation, it helps a gridlocked state like Connecticut and it also comes at a discount. Connecticut is never going to be the cheapest place to manufacture, but we can be the smartest if we invest in education. We grow jobs here not because of the price of labor but because of the quality. So when the federal government invests in education, it plays to Connecticut’s strengths.”

On investment in science, Murphy said this is another area where the federal government can help state residents. He said it not only would help the existing bio and pharma industries in Connecticut but also in growing new industry in the state.

Murphy said he has a record of achievement in this area, including working with his colleagues in the Connecticut Congressional delegation to bring in federal funding for a commuter rail line from Springfield to New Haven that he says “linked the knowledge corridor of the Northeast.”

He also looked back to his time as a state legislator where he said he wrote the state’s stem cell investment bill, something he claims has resulted in “hundreds, if not thousands” of jobs being created. Murphy said then as a congressman he’s been able to bring in money to Connecticut to open the commercial incubator facility in Farmington to help spin off public stem cell research into private companies.

Murphy believes there are a lot of companies that want to come to Connecticut but can’t find the usable, unpolluted commercial and manufacturing space they need in areas such as Waterbury, Bridgeport and Norwalk. He claimed to have worked to get the state the biggest brownfields remediation grant it had ever received “in almost a generation” and it can be used to turn polluted manufacturing spaces into areas ready to be reused as industrial space.

“Our next U.S. senator has to be fighting for government investment in science, education and transportation, not fighting to shrink government so small that it erases the advantages that come to Connecticut through public investment,” Murphy said.

McMahon record ‘fair game’

Murphy criticized McMahon’s much-publicized plan to have a tax cut while also reducing government spending by 1% a year until there is a balanced budget.

“We’ve tried Linda McMahon’s economic plan and we’re living the reality of that nightmare,” Murphy said. “When you cut taxes and refuse to invest in basic public services like schools and roads and bridges, you end up with an economy that does very well for the top 1% or 2% but leaves everybody else behind. We need an economic development strategy that invests in broad wealth creation. That involves a fair tax code that makes sure everyone is paying close to the same rate and admitting we have some overdue investments in our country. If we continue to fall behind in school and road construction and science investment, then we’re going to get lapped economically around the world.”

Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager, responded with a statement to the Hersam Acorn, saying, “It’s baffling that Congressman Murphy would so openly oppose much needed middle class tax cuts for Connecticut families, which Linda McMahon’s jobs plan would do. It’s not surprising though, given the fact that Congressman Murphy’s jobs plan is still a ‘work in progress’ despite the fact that he has been in office for more than a decade. The last thing Connecticut voters need is another career politician who spends more time making false accusations about his opponents than he does working to solve the many problems facing our state and nation.”

Despite his strong lead in the polls among Democrats, Murphy said he wouldn’t call on Bysiewicz to drop out before the primary. But he’s also looking to his likely race with McMahon and said that with her recent advertising blitz and her fundraising advantage is a strategy he needs to use.

“Given McMahon’s money it would be a mistake to wait to start the general election on Aug. 15,” Murphy said. “I have engaged with McMahon and I just think her unique wealth means we have to start organizing for the fall campaign right now.”

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, McMahon has come under scrutiny for the content of the company that made her a multi-millionaire. While in recent years WWE has adopted a far more family friendly tone with a TV-PG rating for its programming, clips from the late 1990s-early 2000s time period — called the “WWE attitude era” — have come back to haunt her in this campaign as they feature sexual content and over the top violence that brought in great profit for WWE at the time, but aren’t what a political candidate wants to talk about on the trail.

Murphy indicated he believed bringing up WWE content would be fair game during the campaign.

“Linda McMahon’s entire campaign seems to be premised on the fact that she created jobs at WWE and thus she can create jobs throughout this country,” Murphy said. “She’s made her record with WWE the centerpiece of her campaign and thus it’s going to be a big part of her campaign. I think people are going to ask ‘What kind of boss was she?’ ‘What kind of jobs did she create?’ ‘Do we think it’s OK she didn’t give health care to employees?’ ‘What do we think about her merchandising being done overseas?’ Just like my record in the U.S. Congress will be fair game to McMahon, WWE will be fair game in the election.”

The McMahon campaign has denied Murphy’s assertion that WWE employees are not given health care.

Will message resonate?

Murphy said he understood McMahon would outspend him in this campaign by a “5-1 or even a 10-1 rate” but that he can win this race through volunteers and “true believers” in his message.

“McMahon tried to buy this election once and it didn’t work and I don’t think she’s going to have any more success this time trying to win an election with money instead of ideas,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he believes his message that will resonate the most — even in the more Republican-leaning Fairfield County.

“I think there’s no way to drive through Fairfield County and not understand the overdue investments that we have to make in infrastructure,” Murphy said. “There’s no way to spend time in Norwalk and Bridgeport without understanding the need we have to get more kids in community college through our higher education system. I think the conversation that we have to have throughout this state is, to the extent we’re going to ask people to pay a little bit more in taxes what is it for? I think people who have done very well in this state are willing to pay a little bit more in taxes if they know there’s a real plan to bring down this country’s deficit.

“People have no interest in giving more to the federal government just to fund the current financial trajectory and I don’t blame them, but if we can put a plan on the table to reduce the deficit by $4 to $6 trillion dollars while finding a way to make sensible investments in education and infrastructure, I think that people who have done very well in life, whether they live in Fairfield County or elsewhere in Connecticut will be willing to invest in it. That’s what we’re going to ask them to do.”

Murphy said there has to be discussion about taxes that isn’t just about raising rates, but also about “broader, comprehensive reform.” He said by broadening the tax base, you can add revenue while lowering rates. Saying there’s “no reason” the country needs to have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, Murphy said he believes American and, more specifically, Connecticut corporations will accept paying a little bit more in corporate tax if it means having a simpler code that doesn’t necessitate “employing an army of accountants to avoid.”

Need for bi-partisanship

Calling for a plan that will “right-size” the federal government without compromising public investment, Murphy said it can be accomplished through bi-partisan work. And while the deep partisan divide in Washington and the record low Congressional approval ratings that go with them might seem to make that impossible, Murphy said he’s not ready to give up on the idea of Democrats and Republicans working together for a common goal and notes the Center Aisle Caucus, of which he is a co-chairman and is made up of an equal number of members of both parties, tries and find common ground on legislation while promoting civility.

“I’ve been one of the few people in the House of Representatives who has put my actions where my mouth is when it comes to bi-partisanship,” Murphy said. “Every member of Congress says they work across the aisle but the truth is very few actually do it. It can be hard to get people to join our group. Most people in the House of Representatives seem content to just yell from one side of the chamber to the other. But in the Senate, to set our country’s finances straight, it will have to be written by people who know how to reach across the aisle. I’m one of the few people in the House that’s invested time in figuring out ways that Republicans and Democrats can work together and I’m sure I’m going to be able to bring those skills to the Senate even as a junior member.”

Murphy said he would support filibuster reform if elected, acknowledging the unprecedented use of the filibuster in recent years by the Republican minority in the Senate that has essentially left every bill needing 60 votes to pass instead of the 51 that used to do in a body of 100.

“Madison and Jefferson are turning over in their graves,” Murphy said, adding that his support for reform would be consistent whether Democrats are in the majority or the minority.

He also criticized the current political system as one that “incentivizes dysfunction” but said it is possible to change things so bi-partisanship is “rewarded rather than discouraged.”

Campaign finance reform

To do that there has to be a change in campaign finance because he said currently it “breeds” the kind of dysfunction through “having to create an enemy to raise money.” Criticizing the Citizen’s United decision that let corporations give unlimited money to political candidates as “the worst Supreme Court decision of my lifetime,” Murphy called for public financing of campaigns.

“If you do that you would erase overnight some of the primary reasons for yelling and screaming in Washington,” Murphy said. “I’m a big believer in the public financing of Congressional elections. I think we have to admit there’s a cost to democracy and to elections and voters would get better government if they all pitched in a small amount of money to help fund Congressional elections rather than allowing donors who have political or commercial agendas to drive debate.”

In a post-Citizens United world, which is already seeing record spending by political action committees and is expected to go up even more dramatically with the coming presidential election, Murphy said he is worried the country “is on the verge of allowing a handful of billionaires and corporations to take control of our democracy.”

He said if there can’t be public financing he would want to see a constitutional amendment to bring back a system where candidates have to raise money from publicly disclosed donors instead of the anonymous system now under Citizen’s United where one man can keep a presidential campaign going through donations, as Murphy said billionaire Sheldon Adelson did for Newt Gingrich earlier this year.

Admitting it was not an easy decision to run for the Senate given the often rancorous partisan wrangling he sees in the House, Murphy said he was doing it because he wants to be “part of the solution.”

“I want to leave a better government for my two kids,” Murphy said. “As hard as it is to be away from them during the week, to walk away when government needs more people committed to reform and bi-partisanship would be irresponsible and something I would regret.”

Ken Borsuk is editor of the Greenwich Post, a Hersam Acorn newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected].

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