Tom Foley, former Ambassador to Ireland and a once and perhaps future Republican gubernatorial candidate, spoke without notes to Y’s Men of Westport-Weston on Thursday. He offered part of what could become his stump speech for a seemingly all but publicly announced run in 2014.
He ran for governor in 2010, and lost to Dannel Malloy by fewer than 6,500 votes.
Foley would, again, be an accomplished candidate. He is a Phillips Andover Academy, Harvard College and Harvard Business School graduate and a former McKinsey consultant who became a successful venture capitalist during the heyday of the Leveraged Buyout bubble, first with Citicorp Venture Capital, then with his own firm, the NTC Group.
He left the private sector in 2003 to serve a seven month stint as Director of Private Sector Development under the Bush administration for which he was awarded the Distinguished Public Service Award by the Department of Defense.
George Bush later appointed him Ambassador to Ireland. He spent almost two and one-half years in Dublin, in part defending an unpopular U.S. foreign policy.
Foley’s talk was billed as “You don’t have to be crazy to get into politics, but it helps” – particularly if you’re running for higher offices.
He said that part of the reason he’s drawn to public service is to “clean some of these things up, and said he is “anxious to get up there and shake things up.”
Campaigning, Foley said, is introducing yourself to the public, then “ripping your opponent to shreds,” ten percent the former, ninety the latter. Attacking your opponent is “not a new phenomenon,” but goes as far back as the 1800 Jefferson-Adams election.
He offered an example of an attack ad on a Hartford channel in 2010 that took him to task for an acquisition his firm made, then fired all its employees. He said he “never fired employees.”
With this as preface, he jumped into candidate mode, beginning with a criticism of Governor Dannel Malloy and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly in a manner rarely heard by Y’s Men.
He said the “state isn’t what it used to be,” and the “Connecticut taxpayer is not getting a good deal,” but insisted the “problems can be solved.”
Among the problems is the poor condition of our roads and bridges. A few minutes later he called for an absolute cut in funding for their repair – in contrast to the common use of “cut” to mean reducing the rate of increase.
This and other problems he attributed to “poor leadership” (if he were pointing fingers in the dark, it should be noted that the last Democratic governor before Malloy left office in 1991).
Among the problems is lobbyists who camp out in Hartford, highly paid union members who sit in the General Assembly and “do gooders who depend on public money.”
He charged them with hanging out and effecting spending, and said, as a consequence, “taxpayer dollars are not going to public works,” instead they’re “diverted to groups with tremendous influence.”
He lauded Senator Joe Markley (R-16) for introducing a bill (SB 727) that defines conflicts of interest in quite a narrow way, but one that would rectify Foley’s concerns. As of this writing the bill has no co-sponsors and appears not to have moved since a public hearing forced by petition six weeks ago.
During Q&A a questioner noted that perhaps General Assembly members have outside employment because their legislative salaries are $28,000 per year, and asked whether he would change that. His answer was an indirect comment about people having many sources of employment.
He was later asked whether he is a candidate. He responded that he has not announced.
He was asked if the state is doing enough about education and responded “No.” He called the governor’s education reforms “superficial,” and called for “public school choice” and offered that “Connecticut has the fewest charter schools per capita in the nation.”
“We need a school rating system,” we need to “promote change,” we “need alternate routes to teacher certification.”
He said all students should take a reading test at the end of third grade. Through the third grade students learn to read, thereafter they read to learn. “Students should be held back if they cannot read at grade level.”
Ambassador Foley, though critical of Hartford leadership, was rather longer on diagnosis than prescription. While he may have garnered some support among conservatives, one moderate Republican observed that Foley had not won him over – but expressed himself in a far more direct manner.
Photo by Bill Balch