ConnecticutPlus.com believes that it is the civic duty of every one of us to make the best educated choice when it comes to electing the people to represent us at the different levels of government.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. That's why, we all have to make as much effort as possible to educate ourselves of the opinions and personalities of the candidates who ask for our vote so that when we go to the polls we are truly prepared and confident that we are making the right choice.
As we continue our tradition that we started when we began publishing in 2005 we present you our one-on-one interviews with the major candidates running to be the next U.S. Senator from Connecticut.
We hope that these interviews will help you in your selection process in these ever more important elections.
NOTE: Interviews have been conducted in person or over the phone during the month of July by our Editor-in-Chief Naiden Stoyanov and have been edited for brevity, clarity and grammar. We asked for half an hour with each of the four major candidates and they graciously accepted our invitations. Some candidates opted to speak with us longer. In our attempt to bring you as much information as possible, we did not interrupt our interviews at the half hour mark therefore some of the interviews are longer than others. Interview length was at the discretion of the candidate and should not be viewed as an indication of bias on our part. We are proud to be an independent media. Mr. Stoyanov is not a member of or affiliated with any party.
- Former Connecticut Secretary of State
- Website: susanforct.com
NS: Ms. Bysiewicz, thank you for taking time to speak with us. On the issues, what is the biggest difference between you and Chris Murphy?
SB: Well, I think that there are several differences between Chris and I. And the first, and really the big difference goes to the heart of this Democratic primary because a Democratic primary, and this Democratic primary, is about which one of us will best stand up for the middle class in our state, in our country. I strongly believe that I have the best record of standing up for the middle class and for fighting against corporate special interest and winning. And I believe that Chris Murphy has failed to stand up for the middle class when it counted and that he has been too cozy with corporate special interest and I’ll explain what I mean by that. I have spent my career in public service as a legislator and as Secretary of the State fighting for the working people of Connecticut. I’m going to give you a couple of examples and one is - I fought to ban drive-thru mastectomies in the late 1990’s. I’m from Middletown, and there was a lady in Middletown who was a breast cancer surgeon who brought to my attention the fact that insurance companies were forcing her to send her mastectomy patients home after surgery without even a full day in the hospital. I put forward legislation, and there were people at the time who said ‘you know Susan you can’t make this happen because the insurance companies are too powerful’, but we were able to pass a ban on drive-thru mastectomies. When I got to the Capitol in the mid 1990’s as a state legislator, I saw that the lobbyists were controlling the agenda in Hartford because they were contributing a large amount to legislators’ campaigns. They were wining and dining legislators, particular the ones who were chairs of big committees and, as a result, the legislation that was being put forward was [reflecting] priorities for lobbyists but not necessarily the people of Connecticut. I put forward legislation to ban lobbyist gifts, wining and dining and contributions. People laughed at the time and said, “You know, Susan, that’s a nice idea but you won’t be able to make that happen because the lobbyists are too powerful.” But with a bipartisan support and by building grass roots support I was able to pass one of the toughest gift bans in the country. Later the legislature was able to build on that and pass a ban on lobbyist contributions. I bring up both of those examples because I think that it shows that I have been able to fight special interest and big companies’ agenda that weren’t necessarily in the best interest of the people of Connecticut. That’s what we desperately need in Washington and that’s why I want to go to Washington. I want to go to Washington to stand up to Wall Street. We are in this terrible economy because Wall Street was playing fast and loose and now all of us are paying the price for it. We’re paying the price for it in terms of a terrible housing market: there are people whose homes are worth far less and we have 15 million people in America out of a total of 55 million homeowners who are at risk of losing their house because their mortgage is higher than the value of their homes. People’s home values are much lower. There are still a hundred thousand people in Connecticut without jobs and those high unemployment rates and that joblessness was created because Wall Street was engaging in casino style trading that hasn’t stopped. I say that because here we got Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan and he just lost $3 billion and counting of consumer money and we haven’t yet fixed all of the problems that caused the financial collapse on Wall Street. Every day people are paying the price as they look at their pensions or their retirement nest egg or their kids’ college education money. All of that is worth less as a result. And Chris Murphy has been in Congress for six years and hasn’t done anything to fight against that. In fact he’s taken more Wall Street money than any congressman, Democratic congressman in the country. He’s taken $1.5 million from Wall Street and corporate special interest and I don’t know how you can stand up to Wall Street when you’ve gotten all that money from Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo, you name it. In contrast I have an accountability plan which I hope you will take a look at it because it’s 35 pages of a very detailed plan about how I’d like to stand up to Wall Street, make Wall Street pay back a little bit for the pain that they’ve caused and I do that in the form of securities transaction tax. I would use the funds that that generates to provide mortgage relief to middle class homeowners who are struggling and to invest in renewable energy. My plan creates a million green energy jobs and my plan also would save $2 trillion over ten years. I think I differ from Chris Murphy in that I’ve shown that I can stand up to powerful corporations and special interest and win for the benefit of the people in Connecticut. I want to do that in Washington because I think that corporate special interest run amok and nobody in Washington is acting in the best interest of the citizens or not enough, I should say, not enough is being done. Chris Murphy on the other hand has been way too cozy with Wall Street and he didn’t stand up when he had an opportunity and I should give you a very specific instance about when he didn’t stand up when it mattered. In May of 2010 when the Democrats had a majority in the U.S. Congress, there was a bill before congress that would have provided tax credits to middle class families for college tuition. And I should say that I’m someone that’s got two children in college, so I know how burdensome college tuition can be. In addition to providing a college tuition tax credit, it would have provided unemployment benefits to long-term unemployed people. And it would be paid for by closing the hedge fund loophole that…and that’s the loophole that lets people like Mitt Romney and Warren Buffet pay 15% of their income in taxes when people who are making far, far less pay a bigger portion of their income in taxes. And so Chris Murphy had the opportunity—and there was a very clear moment—‘do you stand with middle class families, or do you stand with Wall Street?’ because Wall Street was fighting very hard to keep that hedge fund loophole open. Chris Murphy joined with 33 other Democrats and the Republicans, and that bill was defeated. So instead of standing with the middle class families and long-term unemployed people, he stood with Wall Street. And that was a bill that was supported very strongly by the AFL-CIO because it was something that would have been very beneficial to middle class people who are struggling. And so sadly the college tuition tax credits failed, the extending unemployment benefits to long-term unemployed initiative failed, and the hedge fund loophole is still open. Now, Chris Murphy will say, “Oh yes, but I voted other times to close the hedge fund loophole.” Well, yeah, but that was when the Democrats weren’t in the majority. So it was easy to vote for it because it didn’t matter to Wall Street then because the Democrats weren’t in the majority, and [the bill] was going to fail anyway. So the one time that it made a difference and the one time when he could’ve stood with middle class families, he didn’t do it. And so that’s one difference.
And the other difference is, as I pointed out, I don’t think you can stand up to Wall Street when you’ve taken one and a half million dollars in PAC money from Goldman Sachs, Citibank, AIG, you name it. There are so many financial PACs and executives from Wall Street firms, and that vote that I mentioned has showed that he won’t stand up to corporate special interest. And I’ve made a career in public service by standing up and advocating for the people of our state and I am the only candidate on the Democratic side of the aisle that has put forward a very specific plan about how we can create jobs, make the deficit smaller, hold Wall Street accountable, bring our troops home, make our military stronger and realigned for the 21st century and better equipped to deal with global terrorism and threats.
This is a very serious job, the job of United States Senator. And so we need people who have ideas that are going to fix our economy, fix our national deficit, and make our country stronger. And Chris Murphy hasn’t put forward a plan. Chris Shays, Linda McMahon, they’ve put forward plans. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but they have a plan. Chris Murphy says he has a record. I disagree with that too because he hasn’t passed one bill in the six years he’s been in congress. I haven’t seen him put forward a bill that’s been signed into law by the President of the United States. That hasn’t happened. The Buy American initiative that he has, certainly that’s a good idea, but it’s a small idea. We need people who are putting forth big ideas and bold plans to get our country back on track, and I’m the only candidate that’s done that.
NS: You’re calling Chris Murphy as being too cozy with Wall Street, yet many blue-collar groups associated with middle class have endorsed him. Why do you think is that?
SB: You know, it’s remarkable to me why a labor group would do that when that critical vote just flies in the face of people who are struggling. And you’ll have to ask them why they did.
NS: From your Republican opponents, who would you rather face in November?
SB: I expect that it will be Linda McMahon. But either way, I am ready to debate and have a discussion with either of those because this is about who can best stand up for the middle class. When Chris Shays was in Congress, he voted for the biggest tax breaks for the richest people in our country that has helped to bankrupt us. Those Bush era tax cuts, which he supported, have put us four trillion dollars into debt. And they cost even more than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was the biggest supporter of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m someone who, from the day I announced [my candidacy] and before, I have said we should bring our young people back from the Middle East as soon as is safely possible because for every month that we do, we save 10 billion dollars that we could be investing in our own country’s future, and we save 50 American lives. So I can’t wait to have that conversation with Mr. Shays if he’s the winner. And I do not believe that Linda McMahon is the person who should be standing up for working people in our state. Under her watch, she’s lost more than 40 of her own employees to either accidents or to steroid abuse.
NS: Fiscally there is a big change we’ll find ourselves at the brink of another need to raise the debt ceiling or risk a government shutdown. What’s your position on this issue, being that raising the debt ceiling means more debt, and potential government shutdown means potential worldwide economic meltdown? How would you vote?
SB: I think that we may have to raise the debt ceiling, if we come to that, but I’ve got a plan that would save two trillion dollars over ten years. And my plan begins to get rid of the debt by causing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the wealthiest people. Those are too expensive, and we need to let those expire instead of keeping them going. I think we can also immediately save money by bringing our troops home before the 2014 deadline that the president has put forward. And I was just pointing out, for every month that we bring our troops home sooner we save 10 billion dollars that we could be investing in infrastructure in education. And for every month that we bring our young people back sooner we save 50 American lives. We have overstayed in the Middle East, and I say that because we are losing more troops now in the Middle East to deaths from suicide than we are to deaths in combat. We have accomplished our mission, and it’s time to bring our troops back. And so if we want to save money, that’s really, really important to do as well.
NS: What’s your opinion on taxes? What should we do with the tax code? Do you think that lower taxes stimulate the economy? And what role should the government play in growing the economy?
SB: What I’d like to do in the way of taxes is, first I would get rid of corporate welfare by getting rid of all of the special interest tax breaks. I would close the hedge fund loophole, that I mentioned, that allows hedge fund executives to pay a much lower tax rate. I would get rid of the oil and gas subsidies to the oil and gas industries that cost us 60 billion dollars every year. I would get rid of 30 billion dollars in tax subsidies that now go to agribusiness while small farmers are struggling, and I would let the Bush era tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. And I think that every American corporation also should pay their fair share. Right now, the largest American corporations pay very little in corporate income tax. Twenty five percent of the biggest corporations pay no corporate income tax at all. Every corporation should pay their fair share, and we could even lower the [corporate tax] rate if every corporation were paying their fair share. But the question that you ask about tax reform really goes to the kind of reform that we need in Washington because the reason that the oil companies, the gas companies, agribusiness, the hedge fund executives, the big companies get special tax breaks is because they have all these fancy lobbyists.
And a company can make a small investment in having a government relations firm or by hiring lobbyists to advocate for them, and then they save millions and billions in taxes as a result. And that’s why I feel like I’m the strongest advocate for middle class people because the people who are struggling now are the middle class. They’re the people who have been losing ground. The very wealthiest in our country have increased their wealth two hundred times over in the past two decades, and everybody else who’s struggling and the middle class is losing ground. We need advocates for the middle class in Washington. The wealthiest people, the biggest corporations, they have advocates. And you can see it in the tax benefits that they get.
That’s why part of my plan is to reform Washington, so I’d like to get rid of all gifts from lobbyists. I’d like to extend the ban, extend the ban on congress people and senators when they leave from going into lobbying. I’d like to make that a five-year ban instead of a two-year ban because a lot of congressmen and senators now just go into lobbying shortly after they leave office. I stopped the revolving door when I was in the state legislature. Before, you could go directly into lobbying when you left the state legislature. And now there is a waiting period. We need to lengthen the waiting period. Also, I would like to change the way we re-district in Washington. Right now, when you have a congressman retires or leaves, the Republicans, if they’re in control will try to make the seat more Republican. The Democrats would do the same. And I think that contributes to this incredible divisiveness and terribly partisan gridlock that we’ve got going down in Washington. And I think that we should do what California does, which is to allow citizen commissions, not politicians, to draw the district lines. And I’d like to ban lobbyist contributions in addition to lobbyist gifts just like we did in Connecticut.
NS: What do you think of the 1 percent versus 99 percent debate? We’ve always been a nation of different opinions, and that’s democracy of course. But this seems to be one of the most dividing issues of our time. What do you think of that?
SB: I guess I don’t think of it in terms of the one percent versus the ninety nine percent. I think of it in terms of who’s going to stand up for the middle class. Who’s going to advocate for the lion’s share of the people because, as I pointed out before, the big companies, the wealthiest people, they have enough advocates. And the people who need advocates in Washington are everyone else. And I am someone who wants to be in Washington to fight against the corporate special interests that have fought for tax breaks for the biggest companies, for the wealthiest people. And what we really need to focus on is job creation and tax relief for the middle class.
NS: What’s the middle class?
SB: The middle class is everybody that goes to work every day. It’s the people who worry about paying for their kids’ college tuition and having enough money to retire. It’s the people who worry about making sure that their elderly parents can stay in their homes. It’s most of the people in Connecticut. It’s the people who need advocates in Washington because, as I said, if you’re Mitt Romney or you’re Warren Buffet, you’ve got enough advocates.
NS: Were you surprised at the decision of The Supreme Court to uphold the healthcare bill?
SB: After the debate in The Supreme Court and oral argument, I was personally hoping that the bill would not be overturned because I think there are some good things in it. But I thought the oral argument seemed to suggest that the court was moving in that direction, and I was pleasantly surprised that the court did not overturn it.
NS: Do you fully support the healthcare reform, or are there parts that you do not agree with in there?
SB: Here are the parts that I like. I like the fact that children with pre-existing conditions will continue to get coverage. I like the idea that young adults can be on their parents’ policies. I like the protections against insurance companies just denying coverage for inappropriate reasons. I think in large part what is in the healthcare legislation are insurance reforms. I think ultimately we have to put more of a focus on how we can keep costs down because ultimately our healthcare system won’t be sustainable unless we figure out how to continue to improve care for people while at the same time lowering costs. I think people are going to have to take some personal responsibility for their own healthcare. But I think healthcare is a right, and everyone should have access. And right now, countries in Europe are competing with our country in a much more favorable way because they have healthcare for everyone, and we don’t.
NS: What’s your position on education?
SB: Well, my position on education is, if you’re question is do you support No Child Left Behind, I guess I would say that that bill, as Arne Duncan has very aptly said, is a slow motion train wreck because very shortly, 90 percent of our schools are going to be labeled failing. I think what we really have to look at is how we can reduce the achievement gap. And more and more testing and more and more mandates without adequate funding are not necessarily effective in reducing the achievement gap. I think what’s effective in reducing the achievement gap is our initiative, for instance, to increase early childhood education so that kids get a better start, especially in urban areas, and very close monitoring of high school students from the time they start as freshman to insure that kids graduate from high school with their degrees because right now we have school systems like in the city of Hartford where only half of the young people who start high school end up graduating. And that’s unacceptable.
NS: What do you think of the recent decision of Obama’s administration on the issue illegal immigration? What do you think about both the question of illegal immigration and legal immigration as well? What do you think should be done?
SB: I think that the Supreme Court…on the issue of immigration I think the Supreme Court has been extremely clear that the role of the federal government in immigration is to enforce our immigration laws. But our immigration laws are very broken, and I’ve put forward a very sensible and practical immigration reform proposal which just gives the 11 million undocumented workers in our country a path to citizenship if they are employed, contributing, and law abiding, I should say. And so I like the president’s small step in that direction. I think the president is clearly frustrated that congress has not made more progress on immigration reform, and that’s why he has announced his initiative, and I support it. But I’d like to do more, and that’s why I’ve put forward my immigration reform plan.
NS: It sounds like you’re pro-amnesty maybe some would say. Wouldn’t that be rewarding people who have already broken the law coming here?
SB: No. I’m just saying that it is a reality. There are 11 million undocumented workers in our country, many of whom are doing important work and who are contributing. And I think we should get those workers out of the shadow economy. I’m not saying give them preferential treatment. I’m saying let them go to the back of the line. But if they show they have a job, they’re paying taxes, they’re established in their communities, they’re law abiding, then there should be a path for citizenship. And I think we need a system in place so that all of the scientists and mathematicians and computer experts that we are training who are coming here from other countries…we should have a guest worker program that gives those people an opportunity to work here instead of to just leave after they’ve been educated here and take their skills to other countries and compete against us.
NS: Would these college graduates have a path to citizenship as well, or are you talking about just a guest worker program?
SB: I think they should have an opportunity to work here. And why not give them a path to citizenship when we are not producing enough scientists and people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathemathics) backgrounds? We are lagging in the production of engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists. As secretary of the state, I worked with Professor Shvartsman at the University of Connecticut, he’s a computer science professor, and in his graduate computer science program he has not one American student. They were all from other countries. I think it’s really important that we be training more Americans in those fields, but in the absence of that then if we need more scientists so that we can be on the cutting edge of research and development, we should allow the people who have been trained by American universities in STEM areas the opportunity to be able to stay here and work because it’s in our national best interest to do that, especially when we’re not producing enough scientists.
NS: It’s no secret that the outsourcing of jobs has caused the U.S. manufacturing sector its legendary vigor and it’s continuing to pound our industry. The service sector is also in the crosshairs right now. How do we get the jobs back in the United States and back in Connecticut?
SB: Here’s what I would do, and I would say that we should get rid of the tax loopholes and incentives that give American companies incentives to put manufacturing facilities overseas. I mean, right now, American corporations have gotten tax benefits into our tax code that actually rewards them is they build facilities overseas, and we should get rid of those incentives. We should also renegotiate NAFTA because some of our free trade agreements have unfortunately…like for instance, NAFTA, it’s estimated, helped us lose a million manufacturing jobs, and that’s because we’re really not on equal footing. I think we should have fair trade agreements, not free trade agreements. So if we had fair trade agreements, our trade agreements would recognize that we have tougher health and safety laws, we have tougher environmental regulations and worker safety laws. And in other countries, like China, they don’t even have any of that. Or in Mexico, they don’t have the environmental and the worker safety laws that we do. And I think we should renegotiate those [trade agreements]. I also think it’s really important that we enforce our intellectual property laws because China is stealing our intellectual property, and they are also manipulating the currency.
NS: Which of those three things that you mentioned…intellectual property, currency manipulation, and tax code loopholes, which one of those do you think is the biggest reason why American companies are exporting jobs?
SB: I think I’d be hard pressed to say which one because I think each of them has wreaked havoc. In particular, NAFTA was passed years ago, and so we’ve had a lot of jobs leave. But also the Chinese are continuing to steal our ideas, and they’re continuing to manipulate currency.
NS: On your website you call for the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan as you just mentioned, and for the closing of the bases in Europe and Japan. Yet the world remains a complicated and a dangerous place so my question is how do you think such pull back would affect our ability to ensure our national security?
SB: It would make us stronger and better able to deal with global threats because, and by the way, we put out our plan in December prior to the President announcing his plan to re-align our military and there are some strong similarities between his plan and my plan. What we have now in Europe, for instance my plan calls for closing bases in Europe particularly in Germany, because we have many bases there, those bases were put there in the aftermath of World War II and in a Cold War-era Europe and then the threat was Soviet tanks, one [threat] that we [don't] have to deal with now. Now we have global threats. So for instance it’s important to have the ability to quickly get our military personnel to global hotspots. It is easier [to do it] with very sophisticated air power and with naval power and those are two strengths that we coincidentally have right here in Connecticut. Our plan is based on ideas that I have proposed for so long, several years ago I proposed closing down our European bases because now we don’t have the same kind of need as we did in a post-World War II Europe.
NS: Do you agree with what was our involvement in Libya and what should be our role in Syria, right now, as a hotspot?
SB: Right now it looks as if Mr. Assad's regime is weakening. We have the sanctions in place; we should keep those economic sanctions in place because they are working. Some of Assad['s regime] has defected. I think that shows major weakening of his regime and we should encourage Mr. Assad to go through diplomacy and through economic sanctions and when he does that would be a very significant blow to Iran because Mr. Assad is probably one of Iran’s strongest allies so if he goes I think that is a very strong blow to Iran.
NS: Should have we been part of the military action in Libya, just briefly?
SB: Here’s my view, because I know that you’re asking should we get involved in and some of our military to Syria, and I think that our experience in the Middle East has shown that putting American ground troops in the Middle East is a really bad idea. We’ve had our own Defense Secretary say so and so I think we should avoid military action as much as possible. I think that should be a very last resort and in the meantime we should look for diplomatic solutions, we should continue to step up economic sanctions and get other countries to join us but I think economic sanctions and diplomacy are always the best way to go.
NS: What part of Mitt Romney’s plan do you agree with?
SB: Well, I can’t say that I agree with anything [in this plan]. I think that Mitt Romney is not someone who understands what middle class people are going through, and I don’t think that he’s the right person to lead our country. And I think that President Obama has much better plans for our country's future. For instance, I think we should be investing in infrastructure and this is something that has been a Republican initiative in past decades, but for whatever reason, Republicans in Washington seem to refuse to cooperate with Democrats on infrastructure and I think that is something we have. We’re $500 billion behind in investment and road and bridge repair and that’s something that should be a top priority. It’s something that everybody benefits from and I think President Obama has a better tax plan for the middle class than Romney does.
NS: Tell me one thing where you think President Obama has failed. One thing that he is doing wrong or thinking wrong, something that you don’t really agree with him?
SB: You know, I think that the President has done a very good job in a difficult set of circumstances. He inherited a really big mess, a bad economy, a very large deficit. I think he has excelled in foreign policy. He has brought Osama Bin Laden to justice and I think he’s doing his best to extricate our troops from Afghanistan, bringing them home from Iraq. I would just move up his time table. It’s easy to play a Monday morning quarterback. It’s easy to say after the fact what he should or shouldn’t have done. I think the biggest issue that we have in our country is our lagging economy and I hope that that is our President’s very top priority and whoever is elected needs to make that priority because we’re never going to move our middle class families forward until we get the economy going. We got to fix the housing market. We got to start investing in infrastructure in order to get our country back on track.