U.S. Senate candidate Alan Schlesinger (R) has burst onto the political scene in a way that no one expected or thought possible just a few short weeks ago. His lively, funny and interesting performance at the recent senatorial debates has sparked a lot of interest in his once-moribund campaign, and the hope among Lamont supporters that a resurgent Schlesinger will be able to take enough votes away from Sen. Joe Lieberman to cost him a victory on November 7th.
CGG and I sat down with Schlesinger last Saturday over coffee in Middletown.
The Gambling Scandal
Here's what Schlesinger had to say about the gambling scandal that essentially knocked him out of the race for most of the election season:
Number one, I never broke a rule, regulation or law. When I was asked to get a wampum card it was for their marketing program only, there was no ID required whatsoever. If I wrote down 'please give me Daffy Duck', they would have brought back a card that said 'Daffy Duck'. It was a meaningless thing for a marketing program.
You do not have identification when you play in the casino, only if you want to be part of their marketing program. You can go up there today. Go and play, and if you just want to say no I don't want to be what they call rated you can play all day long under any name you want or no name. There is no law, there is no reg that says you have to.
The second issue that they brought up for me, which was a low ball hit by the Courant was two disputes I had with the casinos almost twenty years ago, about the fact that I'm a skilled player. That's why I, they were harassing me at those casinos. [...] They would reshuffle constantly, so I would lead. So when they did that to me it was embarassing me because everyone where I was playing said: 'why are you doing this?' So I said: "Oh yeah? See if I pay you back your marker!" I was in a dispute to show them that I was fighting back because I was very antagonistic to them violating the law. There was a lawsuit in Atlantic City that said you cannot discriminate against skilled players. So I wanted to show them that you cannot skirt the law by playing games like this.
So I made my stance. I was young, I was brash, and I was wanting to show them who I was. There never was any legal pleedings or anything. I never spoke to an attorney. I just had the dispute, I settled it, and by the way the numbers they put in the paper? Total fabrication. Those where what they were going to sue me for I guess in their company complaint when they threw in the kitchen sink with all this other stuff.
And there was never... they made it sound like I had gambling debts that I couldn't pay. It was a dispute between the casino and me about them saying they would treat me a certain way, and I said 'no you won't'. I was making a point, and I paid it.
Schlesinger, first and foremost, wants to get Congress's fiscal house in order. “I’ve always prided myself on being responsible," he said. "I always felt that I was the fiscal conscience of the [state] legislature when I was there.” His major problem with the current system revolves around Social Security:
AS: As bad as the state legislature is, it’s a microcosm of congress, and they’re so out of touch with what is right and what we need to do, that it’s actually scary, especially For your generation, because you’re going to be left holding such a big bag that it’s going to be unsustainable. So something’s gotta give. Will it be: out generation--my generation working until they’re 90? That’s possible—but they haven’t been told that. Will it be that your generation is going to have to pay taxes that they never dreamt of, and it’s going to be so hard to make ends meet because of what they’re going to be oppressed with? And what’s so bad is that you won’t be benefiting from it. It’s truly a pyramid scheme, what has happened. … I really don’t care why, it is what it is. Lamont is stuck on the ‘why’. I’m stuck on ‘where do we go from here?’ which is where people are.
GC: Now when you say that Congress is out of touch, Congress is dominated by your party, by the Republican Party. Do you think the Republican leadership is out of touch?
AS: Yes. Yes! I am not going to be a real popular member of the caucus. I don’t care if I get re-elected. I want to send a message down to these guys in Washington that enough is enough. Cut the baloney. Start telling people the truth. And this is not something new to me. I was the most unpopular member of the caucus in Hartford—why do you think I have so much trouble with my party?
To hear Lieberman get up there and say again in this last debate [the debate that aired on Thursday, Oct 18th] ‘Social Security is all set, it’s all funded until 2040’... Now, either his staff is also drinking the kool-aid, or he’s being disingenuous, he’s being deceptive. He says we have a disagreement. You can disagree about policy. You can’t disagree with the facts.
First thing I want to do is what everyone thinks is being done already: immediately segregate FICA taxes, payroll taxes from the general fund.
Social Security can be taken care of. That’s the one I can take care of. If I go down to Wash and accomplish just that, put Social Security on a sound funding basis, I will have accomplished everything I wanted to do in my life. More, it’s a bonus. But if I can do just that one thing, I will be so happy for the people of America.
I want everyone is this state to know that what [Sen. Lieberman] said in the debates was an out-and-out lie. Period. […] when he said we’re all set till 2040, that was not true.
What they do is they take every dime that comes in on Social Security, FICA taxes, they pay the current recipients, a pay as you go system, then there’s a nice surplus. This year it’s running at $170 billion. They put it and offset part of the deficit of the general fund. […] Then, they take out a pad of paper and they write it down as if it’s still there.
The problem is—this pad of paper is what Joe Lieberman is telling you we can rely on to pay checks through 2040. Can anyone explain how we get money out of a pad of paper with numbers on it and no cash? How do you spend money and say it’s still there?”
Schlesinger wants to separate FICA from the general fund, then put the surplus from FICA into a “mortgage pool” and have it earn interest, while keeping mortgage rates low. This money would go back into the Social Security trust fund, meaning, he said, “...you have the Social Security trust fund invested in the people of the U.S.”
National Security and Immigration
We asked Schlesinger about the balance between liberty and security. He believes that we have, in the past, gone too far in the direction of security, to liberty's detriment (he cited the Japanese internment camps as an example).
AS: I have to believe that if we have to err we have to err on the side of safety. Now, some people’s rights are going to be trampled on. They always are, this is not a perfect world. […] And I have grave concerns about what the Congress just passed about giving the insurgent camps unlimited control over their prisoners.
GC: Would you have voted for it?
AS: I probably would have voted for it only if it contained a sunset provision so that it would be revisited every two years. I’d also make sure there was habeas corpus available for military tribunals.
Schlesinger also favors a much stricter policy towards illegal immigration, and advocates the construction of a wall on the border. He also proposes a seasonal work visa program, which will have no road to citizenship and no road to permanent residency. "They get in line with everyone else," Schlesinger said. However, he hopes his plan will encourage workers to use this program to come to the United States legally--and then go home again. “What I’m trying to accomplish here is telling these workers, there’s no need to slip over the fence.” He also wants workers to be proficient in English in five years, and to concentrate enforcement efforts on employers.
Switching to Schlesinger: Courting the "What the Hell?" Vote
Alan Schlesinger believes the race is still winnable, and is skeptical of the poll numbers. "We're not at 8%. I don't know who they're polling but they must be polling illegal immigrints waiting in line for Joe Lieberman's amnesty." He also cites ballot placement as a factor in his favor. "Remember where I am on that ballot, next to Jodi Rell. Lieberman's on row six or seven."
Schlesinger is counting on a last minute rush of support from voters who are skeptical of Lamont and Lieberman, estimating that he could gain as much as 10 points from last minute voters. "I think I'm gonna get the 'what the hell vote'.... They prefer me to Lieberman, they're worried about Lamont. But I think they're going to say 'what the hell.'"
He was also skeptical of the notion that a vote for Schlesinger was a vote for Lamont saying, "Just look at the last poll. If you believe any of it. Interestingly they say I've taken more from Lamont than Lieberman."
The debates have breathed new life into Schlesinger's campaign, and he couldn't be happier about that. Now when he campaigns people know him from TV. It's also forced the press to pay attention to his candidacy. "It's because the press is giving me, not an extra shot, a fair shot. They chose to make this a two way race. If they had made this a three way race on October 1st I'd probably be in the lead right now."
Schlesinger plans to air television commercials starting later this week.