On the eve of his primary victory for the Republican nomination for governor, Greenwich resident Tom Foley sat down with HANRadio.com, saying his status as an outsider is what Connecticut needs now.
In his live interview, Mr. Foley said he was not only the best Republican to represent the state, but the best choice overall.
“I’ve been out on the campaign trail for over a year, talking to citizens of Connecticut, and people are not happy with where Connecticut is,” Mr. Foley said. “They want change in leadership. They want smarter policies and they want someone who is an outsider who can come in and get us headed in a better direction.”
Outsider vs. insiders
It’s the outsider status that Mr. Foley has made a centerpiece of his campaign, noting both primary opponent State Sen. John McKinney’s and Incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy’s long careers in politics. However, “outsider” campaigns haven’t always fared well in general elections as in 2006 when Greenwich resident Ned Lamont was able to upset U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman in a primary but lost to him in the general election. However, Mr. Foley said that in 2014, an outsider is what the people are looking for in state government.
“Insiders have been running the state for 40-some years with progressive policies that have gotten us in the pickle we’re in right now,” Mr. Foley said. “Governor Malloy came in with the largest tax increase in the history of the state and it slowed down the economy and cost us jobs. I think people feel he’s actually not solving the problems. People have a lot of problems and they’re getting squeezed. The cost of living is going up but people’s incomes aren’t going up. Jobs are leaving the state. People are leaving the state. I think people feel like something’s been taken away from them by this governor and that’s future prospects and opportunity here in Connecticut.”
Mr. Foley said he believes the people are more aware than ever that leadership and policy matter and that’s why his message will resonate, even more than it did in 2010 when he came close to winning the governorship. Pledging that electing him will restore “pride and prosperity” to Connecticut, Mr. Foley said that while he might consider himself an outsider he does have experience working as an executive. He added that someone with his experience would be far better suited to serve as governor than as a legislator.
A former ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Foley made his fortune working in the private sector, something he says gives him the skills the state needs at this time. His time in Ireland isn’t his only government experience, though it is less controversial than his time working in Iraq as part of the post-U.S. invasion reconstruction where his role on the team was to promote private business development there. He said those assignments gave him a chance to view government up close to see what worked and what didn’t.
“I’ve spent 35 years in problem solving, decision making, management and leadership roles,” Mr. Foley said. “From that point of view, I have a lot of qualifications for the job.”
The state’s legislature enjoys comfortable Democratic majorities and while Mr. Foley expressed some hope his fellow Republicans could take control of the state senate he pledged he could work across the aisle to bring everyone together on a path forward. And, if elected, Mr. Foley said that path will include undoing the recent tax increase in the state that he said was “the wrong answer to the problem,” and a cutback on spending, which he claimed had gone up close to 4.5% a year under Mr. Malloy.
A new administration also will include, according to Mr. Foley, a much more business friendly administration, something he said Connecticut has not had under Mr. Malloy. Mr. Foley said electing a businessman like himself would send a message to business owners that they should come to the state because he understands their concerns and what they need.
“[Mr. Malloy] is anti-business,” Mr. Foley said. “He’s driving a lot of jobs out of the state with mandatory paid sick leave and other mandates on employers that are running up the costs of energy and electricity for both consumers and businesses. All of these things make employers less competitive in Connecticut and they’re leaving. Attitude matters, too. He’s very anti-business.”
Mr. Foley rejected the idea that calling Mr. Malloy anti-business was only campaign rhetoric because they had different philosophies and said he truly believes that about the governor.
“I’ve listened to him talk and I’ve heard anecdotally about the household he grew up in,” Mr. Foley said. “I believe he is anti-business. He doesn’t seem to like business people. He doesn’t seem to understand what they need and want and he’s very pro-union. All the rhetoric seems to be pointed at supporting his base which are unions and frequently unions and businesses are opposed on the policy front… Mandatory sick leave was obviously a freebie to the unions. It was a little piece of candy where you’re going, ‘Thanks for your support.’ He’s done other things to appeal to his base but hurt businesses and employers. That’s anti-business and you can’t be anti-business and pro-jobs. That’s what he’s trying to do.”
Mr. Malloy’s work on mandating paid sick leave in the state and increasing the minimum wage in Connecticut to one of the highest in the nation has been trumpeted by his supporters. However, Mr. Foley said they are hurting more than they are helping. He said paid sick leave is better left to the individual employer rather than mandated by the government and while he supports increasing the federal minimum wage, he feels there’s a better structure that can be brought to the Nutmeg State.
“In Connecticut, the cost of living relative to other parts of the country is very high,” Mr. Foley said. “You simply can’t support a family in Connecticut on the current minimum wage. Many of the people who pay the minimum wage are some of our biggest and wealthiest corporations in the country and I don’t think that’s fair… But the problem with the state minimum wage is that if it’s higher than the minimum wage in neighboring states its going to drive jobs out of the state. What I’ve talked about is a more nuanced minimum wage, a multi-tiered minimum wage like they have in Australia so it can be tailored so that the companies that can afford it pay the $10.10 minimum wage and you have exceptions put in place for other companies so people don’t lose jobs in what’s more of a job training or apprenticeship position. I think we can be a little more smarter than just having a hard $10.10 minimum wage.”
If elected, Mr. Foley advocates reducing the Connecticut sales tax from 6.35 to 5.85% to provide broad relief throughout the state, especially for those on tight budgets. He said this would also have a stimulative effect by giving people more money to spend. Mr. Foley also said he would look to cut any tax that costs more to collect than the actual revenue it brings in. These are taxes Mr. Foley called “nickel and dime” fees and while he didn’t name specific cuts during the interview, he said this would be fully evaluated.
Mr. Foley also said he would eliminate the business entity tax in Connecticut. He said this is a “minor tax” but that eliminating it would send a signal to small businesses that they can come to the state and grow here. But he wouldn’t stop there. Mr. Foley is also calling for comprehensive tax reform.
“We simply have to look at our overall tax structure and make sure we don’t have taxes and tax framework that drive both individuals and employers out of the state,” Mr. Foley said.
Fairfield County is known for its traffic congestion with Interstate 95 being a particular hassle but Mr. Foley said this is a problem throughout the state and one he feels Mr. Malloy has ignored. To fix it, Mr. Foley said he would focus on infrastructure, something he claimed has not been done due to too much concentration on mass transit.
“People don’t talk enough about the impact of traffic congestion,” Mr. Foley said. “If you have a mom who has to commute to work and it takes her an extra 45 minutes in each direction to get to work and get home that’s an hour and a half away from her family. It’s the same thing with dads. It’s a tremendous waste of human resources and in well-being. We simply have to address it and I don’t know why the governor hasn’t talked about this more. I think maybe there’s been pressure on him from his left to dedicate those resources to mass transit and not to fund improvement and increases in capacity in the road.”
While Mr. Malloy has increased spending on transportation far beyond his predecessors, Mr. Foley said money has to stop being diverted from the special transportation fund and instead used on improving roads and bridges and the money that is spent has to be spent more wisely.
Mr. Foley was careful to note the difference he saw between infrastructure investment and spending.
“What’s happened, both federally and in the state, is that we’ve gone from investing with a significant part of the budget to budgets being almost all spending,” Mr. Malloy said. “They’re almost all income transfers. In the 1950’s when we were building the national highway system, I think well over 50% of the federal budget was investing in projects that were creating economic value and not just taking a dollar from this person and giving it to another which creates no economic value… The fact that we haven’t been doing that here in Connecticut is part of the problem.”
Mr. Foley said he did support investment in mass transit because of how many people rely on it to get to work, but cited a statistic that only four percent of Connecticut residents regularly use mass transit and 60% of the Department of Transportation’s budget goes into it.
“I’m not sure that so much of the funds available for transportation infrastructure going to only four percent of the population makes sense,” Mr. Foley said. “We need to put more of our money into roads and bridges. I’m not saying less into mass transit but we’re under-investing in roads and bridges and everyone is feeling the pain.”
Focus on schools
Mr. Foley also wants to see investment in schools. If elected he pledged to move money toward those areas. Mr. Malloy has been subject to a lot of criticism from the left due to his policies toward schools and what some view too much state money going toward unproven charter schools. This has given rise to the third party candidacy of former State Rep. Jonathan Pelto, who could be divert critical votes Mr. Malloy needs to hold off Mr. Foley, and education could well become a big issue in the final months of the campaign.
“I actually support charter schools but I support good charter schools and not all charter schools are good,” Mr. Foley said. “Any school that we can get up and running that’s doing a good job educating young people I support. In some cases charter schools have done that and in some cases charter schools, because they’re outside of the regular public school system, have shown ways of educating kids that have improved outcomes over regular public schools. They’re kind of an incubator for ideas and innovation.”
Mr. Foley said that he doesn’t want charter schools to be seen as the one solution to the problem since the full data is not in yet on how effective they are. And even if it was, since charter schools vary, there are not enough effective ones to cover all the kids in Connecticut.
“We need to take some of what we learned in charter schools and some of what we learned in other states where they’ve had good outcomes and work on our regular public schools where they aren’t performing, and that’s mostly in the inner cities, and make them better,” Mr. Foley said. “I’ll do that. Maybe some of that will be solved with charter schools but I think most of it will be working with the current public schools.”
While he hasn’t been shy about criticizing union leadership policy in discussing state economic issues, Mr. Foley said he will be able to work with anyone to get things done.
“I’ve been a member of two unions myself,” Mr. Foley said. “I’ve got no problem with unions. I’ve got no problem with state workers and I certainly don’t have any problems with teachers. If we’re going to fix our schools by far the highest impact on outcomes in education are teachers. You have to have teachers as part of the solution. I don’t care whether they’re members of unions or not. They have to be part of the answer and they have to be on board before you do anything.”
The full interview, which delves into topics like ending corporate welfare, bringing new businesses here, gun law, health care spending and the state of the Connecticut Republican Party, can be heard at HANRadio.com.