Race for Congress: Shelton’s Debicella says his moderate views best reflect the district

Editor’s note: A story on Democrat Jim Himes and his campaign will appear Friday on this website.

With mere days left before his Election Day rematch with Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, Republican Dan Debicella of Shelton told the Shelton Herald that there are major differences between the two of them that show he’s the right candidate.

Debicella, a former state senator, is facing off with Himes for the second time in four years. In 2010, Debicella fell short.

But now in 2014, as Himes seeks his fourth term in Congress, Debicella said the contrasts between them are why he is the better candidate to help make improvements on vital Connecticut issues such as transportation and the economy as well as on national issues like healthcare and the international fight against ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

“Jim and I have a very different take on what’s going on right now,” Debicella said last week in an interview with Hersam Acorn editors. “If you listen to Jim talk, he says things are going well. He talks about how the economy is doing well, and how we can do better but it is doing well.

'People out there are hurting'

“He talks about how we’re making progress in transportation and healthcare, and I just fundamentally disagree,” Debicella said.

“I’m surprised that he does think things are going so well because as I am talking to people and knocking on doors, people out there are hurting. People are talking about the economy and how their brother-in-law lost his job and has been out of work for nine months and how they feel insecure even though they’re living on two incomes, because if one of them loses their job they’re in big trouble,” he said.

“On healthcare, there’s just been another round of cancellations from Aetna because of Obamacare,” Debicella said.

Himes and Debicella are running in the 4th Congressional District, which covers much of Fairfield County. The district includes most of Shelton.

Top issues in the race

In his discussions with voters across the 4th District, Debicella said, he hasn’t been surprised to hear that the economy, transportation and healthcare are the issues that are on their minds.

For Debicella, transportation and the growing frustration both with traffic congestion on the highways and the problems on the Metro-North have been dominant issues throughout the campaign.

“It’s not surprising to me that those are the top three issues, but what is surprising to me is that Jim thinks things are going so well,” Debicella said. “I see it so differently. You’ve heard me say often that if you think things are going well, then vote for Jim Himes and you’ll get more of the same. But if you think there are better ideas, then I think I have them.”

If elected, Debicella said, he would look to be on both the Transportation and Financial Services committees in Congress.

He has spoken out about the need to add extra entrance and exit ramps on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway to ease the chokepoints that are consistently there, creating commuter headaches on a daily basis, as well as get more money for Metro-North to work on maintenance of the tracks and its infrastructure to improve performance, something he says will be a priority for him on the Transportation Committee.

Himes had been on the Financial Services Committee, and Debicella said that given the nature of the district and how important the financial services industry is to it, it made sense for him to serve there, too, if elected.

Both Himes and Debicella have worked in the financial services industry.

Political moderates?

As part of his campaign, Debicella has looked to portray Himes as a far more liberal Democrat than Himes claims. Debicella has said he is the true moderate in the race.

Debicella said, if elected, he would be far more like former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, who was seen by many as an independent voice in the Republican Party, and he accused Himes of following along with Democratic Party leadership in refusing to vote on bills to fix the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

“Jim Himes is very articulate and he talks a good moderate game,” Debicella said. “But I say the same thing for me and the same thing for him. Don’t listen to what we say — watch what we do. Jim Himes votes 95% of the time with his party. Chris Shays, who was a true moderate, voted 70% of the time with his party.

“If I go down there, you’re actually going to see me voting pretty close to 80%-90% of the time on economic issues with Republicans and about 20% of the time on the social issues,” Debicella said. “When you say you’re independent and you’re moderate, you have to look at what the actual voting record is.”

Party’s conservative wing

But if Debicella is elected to Congress as a moderate Republican, he will face challenges, not only from Democrats but also from his fellow Republicans.

Congress faces record-low approval ratings, and with the last two Republican-led U.S. House terms statistically shown to be the least productive in American history, much blame has gone toward Tea Party-backed Republican members of Congress for — according to critics — refusing compromise on issues.

Debicella acknowledges that will be an issue since he differs from them on many viewpoints, especially on social issues where he is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and for comprehensive immigration reform, but said the time is now to start reform and bring Republicans back more toward the party they were under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“Change happens one person at a time,” Debicella said. “You need someone who is going to be in the caucus rooms saying, ‘You know, let’s not vote to repeal Obamacare for the 40th time. Let’s actually propose our own solutions. … If we don’t start electing moderate Republicans to Congress again, we’re going to get more and more of the extremism we see in both parties.”

‘Changing the conversation’

Debicella added that he knew that this would be a lot of work, as he would only be a freshman congressman if elected. He is pledging to serve only a maximum of six terms — if the voters support him enough to send him to Washington that many times, of course — giving him 12 years to work on reforms that he says can happen from inside the party.

He said what the party needs is someone speaking out against ideas like shutting down the government, which congressional Republicans forced last year, and getting Republicans to work toward common-sense, conservative solutions to benefit the country.

“I’m not under any illusion that anybody is going to go to Washington and change the world overnight, but you have to start changing the conversation,” Debicella said.

He followed up on this later in the interview when he said, “If we don’t fix this now, I worry that the country is reaching a point where if we don’t renew ourselves and we don’t get back to the days where Republicans and Democrats can actually talk together that some of these fundamental problems are going to blow up in our face, whether it’s the deficit or it is the economy. We can’t accept what we have now as the new normal.”

Promoting compromise

Looking at the next two years, Debicella said if he is elected to join the Republican majority in the House, there is room to make a deal on tax reform similar to what he has been pushing, which takes what he says are the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats by eliminating special interest loopholes and lowering the marginal tax rate on small businesses and individuals.

Debicella said this would be the first legislation he would propose if he were sent to Congress.

He also expressed optimism that bipartisan immigration reform can pass the House, as it already has in the Senate with Republican ideas like securing the border and Democratic ideas like making legal immigration easier to make the country more welcoming.

On the other hand, he says Republicans need to move away from the ceremonial votes to repeal Obamacare, and instead move toward a plan, such as what he proposes, which he says keeps aspects that work like letting youths stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they’re age 26 and not denying people coverage for pre-existing conditions, while attempting to lower costs through interstate competition for insurance, preventative medicine and tort reform.

Fight against ISIS

Debicella has been vocal in recent debates and forums about foreign policy as well. He said he supports President Barack Obama’s efforts to fight ISIS terrorists and rejects both the idea of isolationism and the aggressiveness that led to the President George W. Bush invasion of Iraq.

He said he wants to go back to the Ronald Reagan-George H.W. Bush days of “Let’s have a strong military and use it rarely” while working with broad, international coalitions instead of going it alone to “stand up for American values.”

To fight ISIS, Debicella said, he supports air strikes and arming those considered to be “moderate Syrian rebels,” something Himes voted against as he cited concern that arming them would further destabilize the region and possibly lead to a repeat of what happened in Afghanistan, where the people America armed to fight the Soviets in the 1980s ended up being the root of al Qaeda.

Debicella said that is a mistake by Himes, and that he would increase air support and additionally arm the Kurds in Iraq, but he did not want to see ground forces from the United States used in the fight and that if the country “did it the right way” in this situation, ground forces would not be necessary.

‘Radical terrorism is a threat’

“Jim Himes recently said on the Mike Huckabee Show that ISIS was not a threat and I fundamentally disagree with that approach,” Debicella said. “He said it’s not like the Nazis or the Soviet Union, but I actually think radical terrorism is a threat to the United States, much like Communism and Nazism was in previous generations, and the United States has to stand up to these people now.”

Debicella said the United States also must engage with moderate Muslim leaders and countries through economic support and good diplomatic relations to help them transition into capitalistic democracies.

“If we start burying our head in the sand and saying, ‘Not our problem. We’re not going to help you fight ISIS. Good luck, guys,’ then that’s a recipe for disaster in the Middle East,” Debicella said.

Ken Borsuk is editor of the Greenwich Post, another Hersam Acorn publication.