J. Paul Vance of Waterbury, president of that city's board of aldermen, is seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 5th District. This is the slightly edited (two separate emails on the same question combined--that's it, the text is all there) transcript of my interview with him, which was conducted over email on Friday, July 8th, 2005.
There will be a question and answer session with Mr. Vance on Tuesday at 7pm.
Alderman Vance, thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with us. We all appreciate it!
First question: I don’t think that many of the readers of this blog know much about you. Tell us a little about yourself, and why you are running.
Without sounding too much like someone who is recounting a resume, let me first give you a bit of my background. I was born and raised in Waterbury, my father is a 30+ year vet of the State Police (he is the spokesman) and my mother is an emergency room nurse. I am a product of Waterbury schools and I am a graduate of Villanova University (BA), Seton Hall Law School and Columbia University (MPA). I am a lawyer here in Waterbury and I have served since 2002 as the President of the Board of Aldermen. I am very proud to have run for office during the worst time in Waterbury's history and we have accomplished great things. Waterbury is on the right track, I am worried about the direction of our district.
My mother and father have taught me important values; hard work, honesty and, most of all that a leader should seek out opportunities to serve the community whenever and wherever possible. As the son of a cop and a nurse, I have seen firsthand that you can change people’s lives through public service. My father's grandfather (in Torrington) and my grandfather (from Waterbury) were the product of immigrants who believed that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you had the opportunity for a good life for your family.
I am afraid that our government is starting to forget about the American dream for the middle class. I came back to my hometown after school and saw a place that had been let down by politicians and I chose to get involved. I love where I am from and my wife and I plan on building a home and making a life here. I can't wait for the opportunity to fight for my neighbors, the people of the towns and cities of this district, in Congress.
Outside of the political arena, I was married in September (the 24th) to a beautiful girl from Waterbury, the former Michele Mays. We can't wait to have children. Michele's support and encouragement is so important to me in this race and in life.
I have been a volunteer for St. Peter and Paul's School/Church in Waterbury. I serve as the women's assistant basketball coach at Crosby High School and last fall I coached 6-8 year old flag football.
What else? -- my first job was as a cashier at Crutch & McDonald Pharmacy in Litchfield (owned by my Uncle Bob) and as a paperboy in Waterbury for the Republican-American.
The last book I read (I read every night, at times to my wife's chagrin)--Misdemeanor Man by Dylan Schaffer
I am a proud member of the AOH in Waterbury.
You’re running against longtime incumbent Nancy Johnson, who is now seeking her thirteenth term in Congress. As you know, it’s tough to knock off incumbents in this state. How do you plan to succeed where so many others have failed?
Nancy Johnson has served in Congress for parts of three decades and in public life for part of four decades-- which is certainly laudable. With that being said, good people can have bad ideas. My opponent needs to be held accountable to the people of this district, not the the DC people that fund her campaign.
Over the course of opponent's twenty year career in Congress Connecticut has lost more jobs than anywhere in the country. She is a supporter of the privatization of Social Security but has been silent on the issue and does not go to these many community forums. She voted to support the war in Iraq and we deserve an explaination about our 'game plan' over there. As a member of Ways and Means, she should explain why our troops complain that they are not getting proper financial support. The public deserves an advocate and honest, simple answers-- not DC games.
Over the past several months, I have been building a campaign structure, talking to town committees, Rotary Clubs and community organizations and raising money. I started early because my opponent is an entrenched incumbant and I look forward to a hard fought campaign. One of my political role models is Harry Truman who was known as "Give em Hell" Harry. His response was basically, "I just tell the truth and [my opponents] think it is hell." That is the type of campaign that my opponent can expect!
The oddly-shaped 5th District was a place where President Bush found a lot of support and where Nancy Johnson won an overwhelming victory in 2004. Can a Democrat win it?
Yes, no doubt in my mind that a person with clear values can win this election. Nearly every town in this District has been represented in Congress by a Democrat by either Jim Maloney or Toby Moffett. That being said, what is most important is that voters tend to support the person that is most in touch with their views, values and concerns.
Nancy Johnson is a nice woman but she’s is out of touch and has consistently supported the President instead of her constituents. She voted for the War in Iraq when we should have hunted down Bin Laden. She voted to reward those who have already won life’s lottery – the wealthiest among us – by giving them additional tax breaks while ignoring the needs of middle-class families in Danbury or Farmington who are working hard to save for retirement and pay for their children’s college education. Finally, Rep. Johnson has voted to repeatedly ship good-paying, high wage jobs overseas. It’s important to remember that these aren’t just manufacturing jobs going to China and Mexico. Why am I always calling India or the Philippines when I have a computer problem – why can’t we provide incentives for companies to hire American workers to answer these questions, after all, we’ve given them plenty of help moving jobs out of Connecticut, it’s time to bring them back.
You’re a pretty young guy. Do you think your relative youth (compared to Johnson) is a strength or a handicap? How would you answer the inevitable charges that you lack the experience to go to Congress?
Thanks for the compliment – I don’t always feel so young and I have the gray hairs to prove it – but if successful next year, I’ll have just about the same amount of experience in government as Rep. Johnson did prior to her election. (Rep. Johnson was a CT State Senator for five years, 1977-1982). Also because I run citywide, I represent more people then Rep. Johnson did when she was in the State Senate.
I am proud to have solid experience, the kind that is a product of hard work and homegrown values and I am proud of my record of public service. With my experience, I bring energy, drive and the determination to make life better for our families.
Let’s talk about policy. Homeland security is on people’s minds following the terror attacks in London. What measures would you support or propose if elected to keep our country safe?
The attacks in London as well as the attacks on 9/11 are a clear message to our nation’s leaders that we need to shift resources, troops and attention and wage the right war – the war that hunts down and eliminates Bin Laden and Al Qaida. Instead, we are stuck in Iraq with no clear exit strategy, with Saddam Hussein behind bars and with Americans being attacked every day while Bin Laden runs free in the mountains in Afghanistan. It’s time for a change, we need to hunt down Bin Laden and Al Qaida. If elected to Congress, my first and foremost concern is to get more troops where it matters – in Afghanistan – to get rid of the world’s primary source of terror – Al Qaida.
I would also be a supporter of programs such as COPS, a program that put so many police and public safety resources into our communities and has been undersupported by this adminstration.
What issues do you feel are priorities for the 5th District that aren’t being addressed by this Congress and the Bush Administration? What legislation would you propose or support, if elected, to remedy this?
As I mentioned earlier, the needs of Fifth District families are being ignored by Congresswoman Johnson and President Bush. On the issues we care most about, our representative in Congress supports the President instead of the people of the fifth district communities, her constituents. The big issues that need immediate attention include waging the right War on Terror instead of being bogged down in Iraq, creating more jobs here in Connecticut instead of shipping them overseas, protecting Social Security for our generation and having a tax system that rewards the middle class – I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats alike, just like I have in Waterbury, to solve these problems.
How do you plan to reach out to those voters who live in more rural areas and have tended to vote Republican over the past two decades?
I have strong family roots in this district, not only in Waterbury, but in Torrington, Litchfield, Watertown and in other towns throughout this district. So while I am born and raised in Waterbury, I have spent a great deal of time in the rural areas of this district. I will reach out to voters living across this great District in the same way I have in Waterbury, by coming to them, by sitting down and listening to their concerns, and working together to help solve their problems. I know it is more important sometimes to be a good listener than a good talker.
Whether you live in Canaan or Cheshire, Bethlehem or Bethel, my belief about being your Member of Congress is simple, I understand the daily rush of life, between going to work and raising children, seeing friends and family, that’s why I’ll come to them, holding town hall meetings and going door-to-door to hear about their concerns and problems. The families of this district deserve attentive, responsive representation and that’s just what I’ll give them. I can't wait for the opportunity!
Thanks for all of the questions, I look forward to Tuesday's Q & A.