A couple months ago Jane called me from Connecticut and said something like “I want you to meet someone you’re going flip over.” She introduced me to Jim Himes, the progressive Democrat who has decided it’s time to do something about retiring WINO/rubber stamp phony Christopher Shays. I’m guessing Jane and Himes knew each other because they were both very early supporters of Ned Lamont’s– back when he too was taking on a treacherous Bush Regime rubber stamp.
It’s not hard to figure out why Jane found Jim Himes such an appealing candidate. He’s not a career pol, but a dynamic and forward-thinking young businessman dedicated to issues of affordable housing. He’s lived all over the world and has a broad understanding of America’s place, historically, economically, ethically. He has two young daughters who he is very aware will inherit the nation and the world we leave them. I got the feeling from our 3 or 4 phone conversations since Jane introduced us that that’s the key reason behind his decision to run for Congress.
His parents were working in Peru in 1966 and he was born there and grew up speaking English and Spanish. He graduated from Harvard and won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford. Afterwards his interest in business-oriented solutions to urban poverty led Jim to the Enterprise Foundation, where he researched financial services available to low-income people and, later, to running their NY operation, which included the construction of thousands of units of affordable housing in the New York Metro area. He was also a Commissioner of the Greenwich Housing Authority and later its chairman.
Taking on Shays, the last Republican member of the House from any New England state, is no easy task. CT-04, the southwest corner of the state closest to NYC, leans Democratic (Bush did badly in 2000 and 2004) but the 10 term incumbent has successfully passed himself off as a moderate, despite an abysmal rubber stamp voting record. Diane Farrell came close in 2004 and closer in 2006 but fallout from the Lieberman-factor helped save Shays neck while Connecticut’s 2 other Republicans, Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons went down to defeat.
Jim feels that the key to victory in CT-04 is a thoroughly grassroots campaign, which he’s already in the midst of.
“I’ll meet every single voter in the district or die trying. Lately Shays has really shown himself for what he is. He’s not Tom DeLay and he’s not the outward fringe of the Republican right– but he’s there when they need him. He voted with them for the war, for tax cuts for America’s wealthiest and on the privatization of Social Security.”
Jim is a nuts and bolts can-do kind of guy and the things he wants to do aren’t glamorous or sexy for a congressman. He wants to devote his time to energy policy and he dreams on being on the Transportation Committee, a position most congressmen — like one Chris Shays — couldn’t care less about but is where he can help solve the real problems that are plaguing people in southwest Connecticut.
Shays may have flip flopped last week on the occupation he’s tirelessly supported and promoted over the last five years. Sure enough, he called for American troops to be out of Iraq by December of 2008. It’s not the first done he’s pulled that stunt right before an election. He did the same thing in 2006– and then went on to vote three times against actual proposals to withdraw troops from Iraq. It looks like Shays is finally realizing that the costs of this war, at least to his political prospects, may be too much to bear.
Jim wrote up his ideas on how the Iraq catastrophe, supported by Bush, the GOP, reactionary Democrats and fake moderates like Shays, has cost America a great deal in less obvious ways than we see in the papers everyday. The dead and maimed Americans and Iraqis, the half trillion dollars wasted, the strengthening of al-Qaeda… are bad enough, but there are less intuitive costs as well.
“As awful as these costs and mistakes have been, they don’t fully capture the price that we, as a country, have paid for this war. Conventional wisdom says that Americans, other than those in the military, have not been asked to sacrifice for this war. That is not true.
“If you work in affordable housing, as I do, you know that millions of hard working Americans are paying more of their limited incomes for housing because federal housing assistance programs have been cut in favor of the war.
“If you worry about the solvency of the Medicare and Medicaid programs that provide healthcare to the most vulnerable Americans, you know that neither resources nor attention have been devoted to the sustainability of those programs, largely because of the demands of Baghdad.
“If you think we should have a sustainable national energy policy that holds relevant our national security and the demands of a deteriorating environment, you know that the development of such a thing will demand an unprecedented concentration of political capital and innovative thinking. But there is no political capital left now, nor even much credibility.
“The list of sacrifices the American people have made in Iraq goes on and on: the chance to address the plight of 45 million Americans with no health insurance, the opportunity to meaningfully improve the educational system which will be the determinant of our future prosperity. These things, so critical to individual American day-to-day lives, have been sacrificed in favor of a war which has apparently made us no safer than we were in 2001.
“Advocates of the war like Chris Shays persist in talking about the outcome in terms of victory, as though we might hope for a battleship surrender ceremony in which we accept swords from cowed Al Qaeda leaders, Sunni terrorists and Iranians. The only possible explanation for this fantasy is that the advocates understand, if only subconsciously, the horrible direct and indirect costs we have paid for their folly. How else but through victory can they find redemption?
“The reality, of course, is that the American people will eventually succeed in demanding an orderly and responsible withdrawal. If that withdrawal is accomplished with uncharacteristic competence and the backing of the world, we might have a legitimate hope of avoiding further catastrophe. But it won’t look like victory. Victory will come when we rededicate ourselves, our attention and our resources to the grand challenges of improving the lives of the American people.”
Jane and I want to ask you to join us in doing all we can to make sure competent, ethical men and women like Jim Himes are the people working towards that victory. If you live in Jim’s district, he can really use volunteers. Jim is the newest candidate on our Blue America page and if you can afford a contribution, even just $5 or $10, it will be put to good use. In 2006 Shays spent $3,804,187 to hold onto his seat, almost $36 per vote. The Republican Party and Shays corporate allies are willing to spend even more this year. Jim is off to a competitive start, having raised more money than any other Democratic House challenger this year. He’ll never be able to match Shays dollar for dollar but no Democrat ever needs to. He just needs enough money to get his message out, enough money to show high-info voters in CT-04 the difference between false claims of political independence and moderation and a voting record that makes right-wingers more than happy to open their wallets for Chris Shays.