So it’s official. Former Congressman Chris Shays has thrown his hat into the ring as a Republican nominee for U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat. Of course, he’ll most likely have to administer a Flying Clothesline to Linda McMahon and her millions in the primary first, which isn’t going to be easy, given that he’s starting off with $258,000 in campaign debt from his 2008 loss to Jim Himes.
But assuming he manages to KO McMahon, what does Shays bring to GOP as a candidate? At a time when I constantly find myself wondering if the Republicans I heard about growing up (fiscal conservatives, social moderates) were an illusion of childhood I had to outgrow, kind of like The Tooth Fairy, when I first heard Shays was debating a run, I daydreamed about actually having a sane, moderate Republicans in Congress. Then then I woke up and remembered it was Chris Shays.
I wasn’t always this jaded about my former Congressman. He stayed in office for as long because he did because he provided extremely good constituency services for the people in the district – although it’s fair to say that if you can’t get that part down after 22 years in office than there’s something wrong. His socially moderate views (environmentally friendly, pro-choice, evolved position on gay-marriage) garnered him cross-party appeal down here in the 4th CD.
But as the Republican Party continued its inexorable march rightward throughout the Bush Administration, Shays was a man who seemed like he didn’t know his own mind. And by 2008, when he fought his losing race against Jim Himes, it appeared like he’d finally lost it.
Frankly, I think it was Iraq that did it. The cognitive dissonance required for a former conscientious objector to become such a fierce, unwavering supporter of a pre-emptive war against another sovereign country clearly proved too much.
Shays became obsessed with Iraq – visiting the country 21 times at taxpayers’ expense. He at all times professed his support for the war even as he started to moderate his position towards a timetable for withdrawal in August 2006, once he saw the writing on the wall with polls showing a constituency at odds with his stance.
By October 2006, Shays appeared to have totally lost it, when he claimed at a debate that Abu Ghraib was not torture, it was a “sex ring”. He went on to assert that the US was following the Geneva Conventions (um, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” anyone?) and even more bizarrely, blamed the media for covering the story. Darn that pesky old First Amendment! So inconvenient for one’s political narrative in a tough election battle.
Shays tried to backtrack from his gaffe, but still tried maintained that that it was about pornography rather than torture. Seriously makes me wonder what kind of porn he’d been perusing, because having read depositions by the perpetrators, it was clearly torture.
Then in July 2007, Shays made waves for screaming at a security officer at the Capitol after the guard refused entrance to the group of tourists accompanying the Congressman because it was against the rules. But it was raining out. Security, Schmecurity!
At a time when CT’s Republicans are, foolishly in my view, jumping off the cliff with the rest of the National GOP (read the Pew Poll this week? Obama’s ratings dropped but the GOP and most particularly, the Tea Party? In the toilet, my friends.) a Rockefeller Republican could appeal to independents sharing the national dissatisfaction with Washington. But Shays has too much backstory. And a fiscal conservative? Don’t make me laugh. Let’s look at how well he did overseeing the government contractor Formerly Known As Blackwater:
And here’s brief summary of some of that Perfect Company’s less than perfect record.
Frankly, Shays couldn’t oversee his own campaign finances. Former campaign manager Michael Sohn embezzled over $250,000 from Shay’s 2008 campaign. Although Sohn has been ordered to pay back the money he stole in minimum $100 a month installments once he is released from prison, at that rate we’re talking 200 years before the debt is extinguished. At 65, Shays has to be thinking how seriously it would suck to go into retirement with a quarter million dollar millstone around his neck.
So call me cynical, but I can’t help but suspect that a large part of Shay’s impetus to run in the current CT GOP environment and in the face of the McMahon financial juggernaut, not to mention a possible David Walker candidacy, is to clear his debts.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.