For Congressional candidate Steve Obsitnik, the election he is trying to win is defined by one issue above all… restoring American competitiveness.
Mr. Obsitnik is one of three Republicans (the other two or Chris Meek of Stamford and Richard Wieland of Redding), running to try and unseat U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) from Congress. Mr. Himes, a Cos Cob resident, was first elected in the Democratic wave of 2008, knocking off longtime Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, and then increased his margin of victory in the otherwise heavily Republican Congressional elections in 2010. With President Barack Obama and a highly-watched Senate race leading the ballot, Mr. Himes could have a turnout advantage this coming November, but Mr. Obsitnik isn’t buying it.
He said that voters are hungry for change and the kind of business experience he would bring to Congress.
“Fundamentally, Washington is not going in the right direction and I think what it’s missing is a lot of what I bring to the race,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “I have a good sense of commitment to country through military service and I’ve worked in the Pentagon. I’ve seen both sides of the government in how it operates in the field and in Washington.
“Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to create jobs in the high-tech sector, and the biggest challenges we face right now are job growth and how that relates to quality of life and national security in the long term. I think I have a unique voice that really fits the time.”
Mr. Obsitnik is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served five years after his graduation as an officer on a nuclear attack submarine. A graduate of Stamford High School, he returned to Connecticut to raise a family and in 2007 he formed the company Quintel, where he served as CEO until he resigned two months ago to focus on the Congressional race.
Mr. Obsitnik is quick to trumpet his record of creating jobs in the private sector, but he says he is aware that if elected to Congress, job creation efforts on a government level are very different than as CEO of a company. For him, he says, that’s exactly where his experience can be applied.
“There has to be leadership on what the private sector needs to create jobs,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “The federal government’s role is to create an environment where entrepreneurs like me and many others can go out and compete, and succeed or fail to create jobs, a company, and profits,” he said.
Government’s role is to make sure the country is safe, has a political system that’s stable, makes sure the country’s economic system is fair, “and makes sure we have a regular economic environment where people can compete,” said Mr. Obsitnik
Mr. Obsitnik said government should be creating economic incentives for entrepreneurs to create jobs, which he added are desperately needed in Connecticut. Instead of the big government approach that he claims Mr. Himes favors, Mr. Obsitnik said his business experience allows him to know what a business needs to be launched and to succeed.
In the long term, it will be education that really gets people working and allows the economy to thrive, he said.
Through his business work in high-tech, Mr. Obsitnik has seen first hand how other countries operate. While he doesn’t believe that America has slipped behind countries like India and China, he says there remains that danger if steps aren’t taken to improve education at the elementary and vocational levels.
He said the direction of high-tech jobs in this country is definitely moving in the wrong direction, “but we have the most stable government,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “We have the most respect for laws in any country in the world when it comes to intellectual property rights. We have the most advanced education system, especially at the collegiate level. What we have to do is maintain incentives so when they do graduate college, they go out and create a job.”
Mr. Obsitnik said he has competed in India over the last year and has brought more manufacturing jobs into the United States.
“People think people go to those companies for cheap labor, but it’s not the case. It’s about the tax code. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world and with all the loopholes, it doesn’t hurt the big companies, it hurts the small and medium businesses. Those businesses need a voice in Washington to bring in a fairer tax code,” Mr. Obsitnik said.
Lowering the corporate tax rate would broaden the tax base and bring in more revenue while at the same time allowing those businesses to put more people to work, he said.
He is also in favor of reducing the loopholes. This is also something he says can help reduce the deficit, because the more job growth there is, the more deficit reduction can take place.
“Every plan in Washington to reduce the deficit is based around some level of job growth,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “Even if there’s consensus around a plan, if you don’t have the right environment to create jobs, they won’t work. That is the key assumption required and that’s why we need congressmen in Connecticut and throughout the United States that understand how job growth is front and center to any agenda.”
Spending cuts are something that is also very much on Mr. Obsitnik’s agenda. Having served in the military and worked in the Pentagon, he said he knows there is wasteful spending. He said there are “efficiency cuts” that every department, including in defense and Medicare and Medicaid, can make to eliminate government waste. Mr. Obsitnik said private sector best practices can improve government efficiency and eliminate waste and fraud.
Economic concerns and jobs are front and center in Mr. Obsitnik’s campaign, saying that they are threatening the quality of life that has made the 4th District so special.
“When you look at our growth over the last 50 years, a lot of our rise in stature in foreign policy has been our economic strength and our ability to create a job and grow it over time,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “That allows us to invest in military defense and, in effect, use it as a way to monitor our interests abroad. Without that growth we are at risk from a foreign policy standpoint… The biggest threat to our national security is our ability to maintain our own competitiveness at home.”
Being a CEO would seem to require quite an adjustment to being just one voice in Congress if Mr. Obsitnik is elected, but he says the biggest misconception about leadership, based on his time in business and in the military, is that the person at the top is supposed to be some kind of omnipotent leader. He said it’s the people you work with that create success and when a leader doesn’t take them into consideration, they won’t be a leader for long.
“Leaders are people who understand that there’s a greater cause than just themselves and their personal interests,” Mr. Obsitnik said. “That has served me well. My personal interests are only better if the common interest is served.”
Mr. Obsitnik could well be the favorite among the three seeking their party’s nomination at next month’s Connecticut Republican Convention. Mr. Obsitnik has received endorsements from all over the state for his campaign, including from the Redding Republican Town Committee, but he said he would reflect the will of the convention as it makes its endorsement for the nominee.
“I’m not running for Congress to see how far I can get in a primary. I have the background, the skill set, the ability to pull together all my resources, but I am a team player. I will live by whoever the nominee is in the Republican Party. Hopefully it’s me but I will support whoever gets the support at the convention,” Mr. Obsitnik said.