Shays says he has experience needed in Senate

While to many he’s a longshot to win the Republican primary for U.S. Senate on Aug. 14, former U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays says his supporters have more energy than his rival, former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, and he expects that energy to translate into more votes on Election Day.

Shays stopped by Darien’s Sugar Bowl for the weekly community coffee held by The Darien Times last Thursday, Aug. 2, where he spoke with about 20 residents about his policies, the race to win the Senate seat, and his time growing up in town. But with the election looming and McMahon far ahead in recent polls, and her refusal to participate in more debates, Shays’s opportunities to catch up appear grim.

“I’ve never run against a candidate like this,” Shays said. “[McMahon] doesn’t want debates. She doesn’t even want to meet editorial boards. And frankly when she was [at the Sugar Bowl], she doesn’t even want to answer your questions.”

When McMahon attended the weekly coffee, she was asked five times whether she would vote for the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process, known as BRAC. McMahon said she would fight to keep the base open, but did not answer whether she would vote to oppose another commission or not.

Shays said he has less respect for McMahon than any other candidate he’s opposed in his 20-plus years of public service.

“I don’t respect it at all,” Shays said of McMahon’s campaigning. “That’s why it’s going to make it impossible for her to win the general election.”

Shays also criticized his GOP opponent for getting signatures to appear on the Independent Party line after receiving her party’s endorsement at its May convention.

“What I believe with all my heart and soul is, I am a candidate who has always run as a Republican, not as an Independent,” Shays said. “Why would someone who got a Republican endorsement then want to set up a party competing with the Republican Party?”

Shays said he’d vote for McMahon if she wins the primary, but would not campaign for her because of her choice to put her name on two lines. “That to me is trying to be too cute times 10,” Shays said.

Kie Westby, a Southbury Republican who finished fifth behind McMahon at the GOP convention with just five votes, is also seeking 7,500 signatures to get on the Independent Party line.

Democratic candidate and current U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy leads McMahon in most recent Public Policy polls, although McMahon seems to have more independent voters on her side. However, the poll indicated that 19% of Republicans would vote for Murphy if McMahon is on the GOP ticket, which could counter her margin with the independents.

“Shays is so far behind his general election numbers are barely worth noting,” Tom Jensen wrote on the Public Policy Polling website.

Shays said he might be a longshot, but if voters choose him, they’re choosing experience.

“If they vote for [McMahon], they’re going to be saying they want a new face,” Shays said. “I don’t think she’s that new. We’ve seen a lot of it.

“If they vote for me, they’re going to say they vote for experience.”

Shays added that if he won, having only spent $1.1 million — all of which was raised — compared to McMahon’s $8.4 million — most of which was self-funded by McMahon — would send a strong message to the country that money can’t buy an election.

“I believe my voters are more energized that her voters,” he said. “I believe her voters are broader … but thin as paper. I believe some people have supported her because they think she wins and I lose, so that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“I know people who have endorsed her who are voting for me,” Shays continued. “That may sound crazy to you.”

One of the things that separates himself from McMahon is his proposed corporate tax rate. Shays would like to bring the rate down from 35% to 15%, whereas McMahon supports a 25% corporate tax. Canada’s rate is also 15%.

“North America will be an absolute magnet for capital” if the U.S. rate was 15%, Shays said, adding that American companies have around $2 trillion sitting in other countries, much of which could come back to the States if the corporate rate were lowered.

Shays said he’d also like to review all rules and regulations to ensure economic impact is minimal. “We need to mentally think about zero-based regulations,” he said.

Ensuring the economy grows and avoiding another economic collapse are some of Shays’ top priorities. He said reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act should be open for debate. The act, which was passed in 1932 but repealed under the Clinton administration, essentially prevented commercial banks from acting as investment firms. Once repealed, it allowed bankers to gamble with depositors’ money, which some critics have claimed contributed significantly to the 2008 financial crises.

Shays, however, said he didn’t think the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a primary contributor. Instead, he pointed to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored, publicly traded enterprises that were allowed to function without SEC oversight. These entities owned or guaranteed a high number of home loans across the country, including many of the subprime loans that were given by unscrupulous banks to dreaming homeowners.

When asked if Shays would ever sign the pledge to never raise taxes, an idea promulgated by conservative activist Grover Norquist, Shays said he would never sign such a pledge.

“No one should sign a pledge like that,” Shays said. “You may increase one tax and cut five taxes … . If I could have $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increase, I’d say yes to that.”

The student loan system is also something that needs reforming, Shays said, although he did not comment on whether loan forgiveness to students with current college debt was something he would support. Instead, he said loans should go to the student and not the university, to prevent universities from increasing its cost to students whenever the federal government increases its loan amounts.

Shays also lamented Congress’s inability to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. “Before you start talking about all the new ways to spend money, the Senate has to pass a budget,” Shays said. “The American people want [spending] to be within a budget. If it’s not, we’re just going to keep seeing spending going up and up and up.”

Lawmakers reached a tentative deal on July 31, but nothing has been finalized. Last year a partisan stand-off over whether to raise the debt ceiling or not ended with a last minute bill signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 2. Four days later, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating for the first time in the country’s history. Avoiding situations like that are what Shays hopes to bring to the table, he said.

He also said he’d like to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care for America Act, what’s commonly referred to as Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the law was constitutional, although many Republicans, including Shays and McMahon, have been vocal in their disapproval of the decision.

“If something is free, the law of gravity is everybody will overutilize something that is free,” Shays said of the health care plan. “It is always the case.”

Even though polls have Shays far behind McMahon, he said he enjoys being a part of what makes the United States a beacon of democracy.

“I love the democratic process,” Shays said. “I love the whole concept that I can run for public office, make my case, and then the people decide.”

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