No one has to tell Carl Higbie what it’s like to serve his country. But now the former Navy SEAL, who served two tours in Iraq, is looking at a different kind of service, the one that he hopes will bring him to Washington, D.C. as a member of the U.S. Congress.
Higbie, a Greenwich resident, recently made his campaign for Congress official. A Republican, he is one of three declared candidates seeking to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes this coming November.
Former state Sen. Dan Debicella of Shelton, a Republican, also is running for the Fourth Congressional District seat, which includes most of Shelton. Debicella lost to Himes in the 2010 election. A small part of Shelton is in the Third Congressional District.
Himes has turned what was for decades a Republican locked seat into a blue one, and while he hasn’t officially declared his intentions yet, he is considered extremely likely to run for a fourth term.
Promotes ‘America exceptionalism’
Himes has improved his margins of victory in all three of his successful elections so far, even winning his GOP-leaning hometown of Greenwich in 2012, but Higbie said that it’s time for a change and he’s the candidate to change things.
“It’s time that soldiers like myself come home and start taking America back,” Higbie said. “We’ve got to take it back from the people that are trying to destroy it.
“We need to re-install American exceptionalism,” Higbie continued, “and that’s being taken out of everything, from our schools to modern civilization to economic superiority. We need to take America back to the principles it was founded on, which are to be the best.”
Wrote book, appears on national TV
Since ending his time in the military, Higbie has written a book, “Battle on the Home Front: A Navy SEAL’s Mission to Save the American Dream,” and has been a guest on several occasions on Fox News programming.
He has a young daughter at home and said, “We don’t have time to waste” when asked why he was choosing now to run. Higbie said he worries that his daughter will not grow up with the same opportunities he has.
“Not only is the time now to do this, the time was now six years ago,” he said. “I feel I am able to make a difference and I don’t want to wait. People have asked me why I’m doing this now when I’m so young, but when they do I tell them that they’re old and should move aside.
“My generation is inheriting a mess, and it’s time for some of our generation to step up and try to fix it or else we’re going to reap the whirlwind,” Higbie said.
Poised for primary?
But Higbie is not just running against an incumbent in Himes, he’s also facing a prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination.
Debicella got off to an early start in his second campaign and has been spending the last months raising funds and racking up an impressive list of Republican endorsements, including from Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei and Selectman David Theis.
Yet Higbie rejects the notion that this campaign is an uphill battle. He acknowledges that winning the Republican convention outright this spring against Debicella is a challenge, but believes the voters will respond to him as the best Republican able to take on Himes in the November general election.
‘They both worked in the finance industry’
“I’m not going to talk bad about my two opponents,” Higbie said. “Honestly, they’re good guys and I see them on a regular basis, but I will say what puts me ahead of them is that if you look at Jim Himes and you look at Dan Debicella and put them side by side, what’s different? They both worked in the finance industry.
“The only difference is the letter in front of their names and a couple basic principles,” he said. “I put my money where my mouth is. I’ve served this country overseas and now I’m ready to serve it at home. I’ve made sacrifices that most people don’t have to make, and that will be seen by the American people.”
Higbie said he’s not yet ready to commit to running a primary election this summer against Debicella, or whoever else might win the Republican Party convention endorsement. Running in a primary would depend on delegate support at the convention and response from supporters, which Higbie says has been strong, particularly in the form of small donations from “working-class people, not big-ticket donors.”
If Higbie is elected to Congress, he would be one of 435 people in the U.S. House of Representatives, but he would likely join as a member of the majority party. While the election is nine months away, political experts peg Republicans as likely to retain their majority in the House.
When asked what he could do as one of more than 400 when seniority in the Congress is seen as so important toward getting things done, Higbie indicated he does not see himself as a quiet member of the House.
“When they’re asked that question, most people across the board will say, ‘Oh, I’ll build relationships’ or say they’ll focus on specific issues, but for me it will all be about accountability,” Higbie said.
“I’m going to make Congress more transparent than a fish tank,” he said. “I’m going to have every camera I can, every news network I can, and every single bit of press to let the American people see how our legislators have led this country astray.”
‘I do not fail’
Higbie said he’s going to focus on both parties — not just the Democrats, but also his fellow Republicans. He promised he wouldn’t be there racking up years in Congress waiting for enough seniority for the leadership to notice him.
“I was a Navy SEAL for nine years. I do not fail,” Higbie said. “If John Boehner sits me down and says, ‘Hey, I don’t like your idea,’ then I’m going to take it directly to the American people and I’ll make them listen.
“I’m a normal guy. I’m not some rich, hedge fund guy,” he said. “I’m working a full-time job while trying to do this while also trying to raise an 11-month-old daughter.”
At his website, CarlHigbie.com, his policy positions are listed, and there are several areas where he advocates for a hands-off policy from government.
On abortion, while noting his personal opposition to it, he said it would not be his job as a legislator to tell people what they can and can’t do with their bodies. That could appear to put him in conflict with a Republican majority that has pushed forward several anti-choice measures on abortion.
But he is with the majority of Republicans in Congress who are calling for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as he calls for a “return to our traditional health care system” with increased competition across state lines.
One of Higbie’s proposals is to have a 0% corporate tax rate. He said that at 39% right now, it’s created a “mass exodus” of jobs overseas, and such a tax reduction will have “other countries flocking to us,” creating jobs and economic stability.
Balancing the budget?
However, with so many Republicans, including Higbie, dedicated to balanced budgets, the question becomes, where would the revenue come from to do that with such a large cut in corporate taxes?
Higbie said the answer to that comes from entitlement spending. He does not consider Social Security an entitlement because it’s something that’s been paid into, but he questions the need for other areas of government spending, particularly when it comes to welfare.
“Why are we giving to people, most of [whom] don’t want to work — not can’t work?” Higbie said.
When asked where the evidence of this supposed unwillingness to work is, Higbie says it’s there in the number of jobs that go unfilled. He added that entitlement programs “entice people not to go out and look for that minimum wage job because you get paid more on welfare.”
“There are jobs to be had,” Higbie said. “There are unfilled jobs every year. It’s not in the great demand that we’d all like and it might not be the jobs that we want, but they are there.
“If you walk up and down Greenwich Avenue at any given time, I guarantee you that I would find 10 stores that would hire me,” he said. “I don’t want to work for minimum wage, but if I have to put food on the table, I’ll do it.”
Goal: Weaning people off welfare
To address this, Higbie said, he is in favor of a major change in how welfare programs are delivered.
“I don’t want to cut it off tomorrow, but I want to wean people off it, eventually resulting in a complete elimination of it,” he said.
Instead, he said, he supports state and federally funded grants that would help people start businesses. Higbie said some of the money going to welfare spending could instead go into the grant program, which he thinks can also help boost Connecticut’s ability to create jobs.
By putting the money into more of what he calls a “capitalistic principle” instead of “just giving it to people,” Higbie said, there’s a greater chance of the policy having a positive effect.
“Yes, people need welfare, but if I can put other corporate policies into effect that will create new jobs, we’re not going to need that welfare,” Higbie said. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that anybody should be on a free ride.”
Meeting veterans’ needs
He also has strong feelings about the lack of speed in responding to the needs of veterans in the country. He said that will be one of the major themes driving his campaign.
“It makes me sick that you can go to a welfare office and get a check within two weeks for doing absolutely nothing from the taxpayers but if you’re a returning veteran with an injury, a disability or a battle wound, it can take up to two or three years to get compensation for that,” Higbie said.
On fighting wars overseas
He also shared his views on foreign policy, claiming that overseas “our leaders have lost their way.”
“They’re willing to put the enemy’s feelings in front of our feelings,” Higbie said. “We’re fighting wars on other nations’ terms. If I’m in Congress and we’re going to send people to fight, we’re going to fight on our terms, our way. … We have to accept an all-or-nothing standpoint.
“America is not in the business of nation building,” he continued. “For the most part our soldiers do not train to build schools and shake hands and kiss babies. They train for war. If you’re going to send the American military into a country, expect war and expect results on a soldier’s terms.”
Higbie added that the country has to become more selective of where it goes to fight. An Iraq War veteran, Higbie said the war was fought “incorrectly,” criticizing both President George W. Bush and, more particularly, President Barack Obama for having a pre-announced withdrawal date for soldiers.
Must be direct threat to America
He said if ever called upon to vote on authorizing military action, it will only be “on our terms” and “full out,” where the nation that Americans enter will be “held accountable.” He said military action can’t be where there might be a threat due to instability but only when a direct threat to America is confirmed.
With that standard, Higbie said, he would need to find out more direct information about potential American involvement in countries like Iran and Syria concerning the realities on the ground and what the country’s commitment would be before making any decisions. He said a major question that needs to be asked of anyone advocating war is, Would they send their son and daughter there? and he has doubts about those conflicts.
“I have to consider that I’m not just sending troops,” Higbie said. “I have to look at it like I’m sending my daughter there. That’s how personal this is to me.”
Supports the use of drones
While the practice has become controversial, Higbie counts himself as a proponent of using unmanned drones for military strikes instead of sending in troops.
“American lives have to come first,” he said. “If I can put a drone in, instead of someone’s son or daughter, you’re damn right I’m going to put a drone in. I’ve been on the ground. I’ve called in air strikes of drones before. It saves lives.
“War is hell. It’s a gamble, “Higbie said. “Are you going to hit an innocent target? Yes, but guess what, if we only go to war as an absolute last resort and it’s a 100% war, people are going to know it and they’re going to have to get out if they’re not part of the solution. In a war, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. There’s no middle men.”