On my watch – Seeing U.S. Rep. Himes debate with Republican opponent Jonathan Riddle

Anne W. Semmes

By: Anne W. Semmes 

It was comforting last Sunday afternoon to see via zoom a political debate carried out civilly when our hometown Congressman Jim Himes, who has served Connecticut’s Fourth District for 12 years, and seeks a seventh term, met up for the first time with his Republican opponent, Jonathan Riddle of S. Norwalk at the Westport Library.

They were questioned cordially by moderator Kay Maxwell, former president of League of Women Voters CT. The first question on the Affordable Care Act did bring a frown when financial consultant Riddle, new to politics and a newcomer to CT, targeted Himes as a millionaire.

“Mr. Himes you bring up education, automobiles, wealth, you’re a man who’s worth approximately $5 million or a little bit more. You drive a Tesla, and you live in Cos Cob.”

This reporter learned 12 years ago when Himes first ran that he was raised by “a working single mom” in a small town in New Jersey, attended “a decent public school,” who would bring home an A minus to be greeted by his mom with, “What went wrong?”

That due diligence would open the door to Harvard and then a Rhodes scholarship studying Latin America at Oxford. He then worked 12 years at Goldman Sachs “generating wealth,” to leave that lucrative life for the non-profit world in 2003, to work to provide affordable housing in such neighborhoods as Harlem and the Bronx, and eventually in Greenwich as chair of the Greenwich Housing Authority.

“I’ll tell you this Mr. Riddle,” Himes responded, “I’ve been a lot luckier and less lucky than others…When I finished school, I had a bank balance of zero dollars. I’ve worked really, really hard for some success…I owe the people who funded that public school an incalculable debt and that’s why I’m up here telling everybody that every American regardless of whether they’re born in Westport or Bridgeport deserves a good public school and guaranteed access to health care, and a reasonable shot at the education that will allow them to live the life we live.”

So, following on are some excerpts taken from their responses to a few questions.

Do you support retaining, changing or repealing the Affordable Care Act?

“We’re at a point in time when the Supreme Court,” said Himes, “is going to decide the future of the Affordable Care Act…I would never support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Most Americans get their insurance from their employer. In the last eight months, 20 million Americans have stopped having an employer. Where do they go? They go to the exchanges that were set up by the Affordable Care Act for peace of mind. So one of the most toxic things that we’ve seen in this last decade, is people on the other side of the aisle saying it was a failure and I’m going to repeal it and I’m going to propose another plan. You haven’t heard another plan from Donald Trump, from anybody because there is no other plan…The right answer is to build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make sure that people have access, high quality at a reasonable price.”
Riddle countered with, “My opponent, Jim Himes made some pretty good points about the health care system and the ACA, but by and large, it is a massive failure that has not provided the proper insurance to millions of Americans.”

“We need to build, like Mr. Himes said, on the ACA successes…but completely replace it,” he said, with a plan that will bring about competition, “especially cross state competition that will drive prices and premiums down.” Riddle has a bill he says that will “bring transparency and it’s going to be protecting pre-existing conditions…and that is essential to the healthcare system.”

How might you wish to fight for more stimulus aid in this continuing pandemic?

“We need,” offered Riddle, “to have Congress bring a bill immediately to help these individuals who aren’t working, especially the disabled who have lost their jobs, and have not been able to get any job during this pandemic…These people are hurting, and I see it with my own two eyes, and it’s unconscionable that Congress is dragging its feet.”

Himes countered with having voted in March for a bipartisan Cares Act that had brought “$1200 checks to most Americans,” and in May for the Heroes Act that had brought “even more funding.” The reason for the lack of a second stimulus check he said was, “the failure of the President and of Mitch McConnell, two Republicans, to actually appreciate the pain and the tragedy that the American people are feeling right now.”
What is your take on needed efforts to prevent foreign adversaries from interfering in our elections and spreading misinformation online?

Himes jumped on this, serving as he does on the Intelligence Committee, “watching the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, the FBI…learn from what happened in 2016.” Thus, he is “a lot more confident in 2020, that our election will be secure from the kind of cyber tampering that we saw in 2016.”
Riddle agreed that “we have very secure elections,” but added, “We certainly need to secure our online and hold accountable Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and other big tech companies who want to sensor information and the free flow of information.”

What reforms might you have for an immigration system viewed as needing repair?

“In today’s world,” offered Riddle, our immigration system is extremely broken…Our southern border is porous, and we need to secure that through building a wall.”

“I’ll tell you why a wall doesn’t work,” countered Himes.” There’s no wall that’s holding you back – somebody once said if you build a 50-foot wall the next day there’s a 55-foot ladder against it.” He told of a “smart” 2015 Senate bill that passed that “actually cracked down on the source of people’s desire to be here, contractors and restaurants and cleaning services and farmers who knowingly hire undocumented people. That is the solution.”

“What would you support to regulate firearms to reduce gun violence?”

“We have approximately 500 million guns in this country,” said Riddle, adding, “I myself am a gun owner and I store my guns responsibly. It’s gun control laws that leave the law-abiding citizen without something to defend themselves…We need to be allocating more funding towards police and more training for them and hiring more officers.”

Himes objected, “I was agreeing with what Mr. Riddle said until he said that guns are not the problem and the problem is enforcement – that’s just not true. It’s not about enforcement, it’s about consistent and uniform laws created at the federal level. I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment…So, what I would support is universal background check…limits on some kind of weapons – no civilian who’s punting or protecting themselves needs a fully automatic or even a semi-automatic assault rifle…These things will not eliminate but will dramatically reduce the carnage in our streets.”

In their closing remarks, Mr. Riddle spoke of wanting to “work diligently for …the people of Fairfield County,” but he also said he was “running for term limits. Limiting congressmen to eight years – four terms.” This reporter would differ, as she finds in the candidacy of Jim Himes ongoing value as seen in his closing remarks.

“We need to go back to the world of truth and science and a commitment to the people who get left behind by the market economy that we both agree is important. And most importantly, we need to go back to the decency. That is at the core of what made this country great. That is why I’m running for re-election.”