Obsitnik says district needs an ‘independent-minded’ leader
Save for the last four years, the U.S. Congress seat in Connecticut's 4th District has traditionally been a Republican one. And candidate Steve Obsitnik is aiming to begin that tradition anew this year.
Mr. Obsitnik, a Westport businessman, is running as a Republican in the 4th District, challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat who is seeking his third term in office. While the district was represented for decades by moderate Republicans like Stewart McKinney and Christopher Shays, Mr. Himes was able to win election in 2008 and then increase his margin of victory in 2010, bucking a Republican trend nationwide.
But now in an interview with Hersam Acorn Newspapers, Mr. Obsitnik says he is the candidate who will better represent the district in the U.S. Congress. As the CEO of Quintel, which provides infrastructure to wireless providers in the United States, Europe and Asia, he said his business background is just what the Congress needs with so many economic issues needing attention.
Jobs have long been a central issue for the Obsitnik campaign, and he said he had four ways to create jobs through work in Congress. He said tax reform will help provide people incentives to leave the jobs they're in that they don't like to start their own, creating more jobs in the process. Too often, he claims, "the cost of doing business puts people out of business before they even start," and Mr. Obsitnik said that has to be dealt with as well. Then there's ensuring there are enough skilled workers around and, most importantly, making sure there is access to capital for people starting small businesses.
"You have to be an advocate for access to capital," Mr. Obsitnik said. "That used to be done through the Small Business Administration, and we need to be able to do that again. Then when you have those four things (tax reform, lower costs for businesses, trained workforce, and access to capital) we can create an environment for jobs. In Congress I can impact all four of those things."
Calling himself a "right-of-center Republican," Mr. Obsitnik said he doesn't want this to be his job for the rest of his life because he doesn't think that will serve the district well.
"I think what people want now in their representative is someone who is independent-minded, someone who is willing to go down and make tough decisions and someone who is going to be held accountable," Mr. Obsitnik said. "I am so confident of this, I'm term-limiting myself to eight years. I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. I don't want Washington to change me. I think Congressman Himes went there with great intentions, but now he's Washington's representative in this district. We need someone who will be Connecticut's representative in Washington."
He also calls for reducing the country's corporate tax rate, which he says is the highest in the world yet brings in the smallest amount of revenue. By making that rate more competitive, Mr. Obsitnik said, people will bring money back to the United States and "deploy it knowing they won't be taxed out of those returns," which he claims will create more stimulus to the economy than any government program.
Mr. Obsitnik has made an issue in recent weeks of tying Mr. Himes' votes to the House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who has become a bit of a bogeyman for Republicans in the same way Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner has been for the left. He said Mr. Himes has voted the same way as Ms. Pelosi 94.1% of the time, and while large numbers of shared views between leadership and members of their party is quite common on both sides, Mr. Obsitnik has joked that "not even my wife is right 94.1% of the time."
"I'm not right 94.1% of the time either, and neither is the Republican Party," Mr. Obsitnik said. "I'm a fiscal conservative, but I'm comfortable in saying there are areas where I am going to disagree with the Republican Party at a national level. I disagree on how we message immigration. I disagree on how we're going to deal with health care reform. And I disagree on women's issues. I'm independen-minded and confident enough to say where I agree and disagree with my party."
On health care, Mr. Obsitnik called himself a "pragmatist" and said if both he and President Barack Obama are elected, he wants to be able to work with him. So while other Republicans have centered their campaigns on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, Mr. Obsitnik said this can't be a black-and-white issue and there has to be real negotiation between both parties on the issue and on others, like Medicare.
"To me Obamacare did some very important things," Mr. Obsitnik said. "I have a pre-existing condition. My daughter has a pre-existing condition. It's important for people like us to not be denied coverage. I see kids coming out of college under 26 who don't have jobs. They should be able to stay on their parents' plans. There are good things here that need to be preserved or brought forward. I don't think we need a 2,700-page bill to accomplish this though, and we're already $500 billion in the red on a program that hasn't even gotten started. Some things need to be fixed for sure."
One idea is looking at the whole idea of who is covered, with Mr. Obsitnik saying he didn't want to "force people to be covered with a stick" but rather "do it with a carrot." He said some people won't want health coverage and it doesn't make sense for the government to force them to get it, but rather provide incentives to get it now and not later, like there are in place for Medicare Part D.
Mr. Obsitnik said he doesn't want to be known in Washington as a "stop it congressman" but rather as a "fix it congressman." The Republican-controlled House has held several ceremonial votes to repeal the Obama health care plan, and when asked where he would vote on that if elected, Mr. Obsitnik said it would depend on what alternative was being offered to it, adding that "without a path forward, it would be difficult for me to go down that line" and vote in favor of repeal.
"To fix it, you have to work with people," Mr. Obsitnik said. "You can't draw these lines out there. That precludes you from working with people and you become a stop-it person. We have to work through these issues and not demagogue a program. We have to be about change in Washington and not firming the cement around our feet."
Mr. Obsitnik said he prefers a mix where the government provides in some areas and the private sector in others, rather than wanting only privatized services or only government-run services. He listed Medicare Part D as "a model that shows it can generally work," combining both private and government service. Saying he won't use "scare tactics" on the issues, Mr. Obsitnik called for taking what was working and allowing for continuous improvement.
To that end, on the subject of entitlement reform, Mr. Obsitnik said he wanted to "preserve and protect Medicare." And while Democrats have wondered where he truly would stand in Congress since he has done campaign and fund-raiser appearances with Rep. Eric Cantor and Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, both of whom are regarded as wanting to privatize Medicare, Mr. Obsitnik said he is not necessarily in favor of it, but didn't outright pull it from the table either.
"We need to realize that the problem of Medicare is a bipartisan one that requires a bipartisan solution," Mr. Obsitnik said. "How does that happen? Well, first we need to say to anyone 55 years of age that we will guarantee they will get the system they paid into. For anyone below that age, we need to get the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats to come together to solve this. I will look at anything. I'm for continuous improvement, so what I want to see is for things to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. ... We don't have to scare people with the idea of vouchers. I'll listen to it. But I think we have good ideas now like Medicare Part D we can evolve with. I'm not here to scare people. I want the best idea, and if President Obama has it, I'll sign onto that."
Mr. Obsitnik pledged if elected to not be an automatic no vote on Democratic ideas, saying both Democrats and Republicans had to work in a bipartisan fashion where votes are made based on the merits of bills, not which party introduced them.
"It's time for leadership in Washington," Mr. Obsitnik said. "The most important thing the Navy taught me is to lead by example. If you vote 94.1% with your party, those people will follow you. If you're an independent voice like Stewart McKinney and Chris Shays, people will follow you. The question is, who you want to follow. An independent voice or a captive voice?"