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RMA Presents “We Have a Democracy If We Can Keep It”


At the October 4 meeting Steve Myers introduced former US Congressman Christopher Shays. Christopher represented the 4th District of Connecticut from 1987 to 2009. A moderate Republican, socially progressive and fiscally conservative, Shays had a strong and successful record of reaching across the aisle to address our nation’s problems. After Congress, Shays co-chaired the Commission on Wartime Contracting, then served as a distinguished fellow in public service at the University of New Haven, and later as a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. Shays is a graduate of Principia College, NYU’s Stern School of Business (MBA), and its Wagner School of Public Administration (MPA).

Shays always had wanted to serve in government. He recalled joining the Weekly Reader program, from which he learned about great people in American history. Shays also recalled that every day his dad read newspapers on the train, and would ask him what he thought about issues. By the time he got to college he knew he wanted to run for Congress.

Shays says that when he was running for office, his philosophy was: if you win, be an inspiring, hard-working leader; if you lose, congratulate the winner and encourage your supporters to respect the outcome of the election. In 1974 he went door-to-door talking to people in the 4th Congressional District. Once he came to a home that he knew was owned by a Democrat and in his mind he had a stereotypical image of her. But her primary complaint was about programs that waste money. Later he met an elder Republican man living in a stately home. Although the man deplored all the waste in government, it bothered him that there are so many poor people living in downtown Stamford. These are examples of experiences that influenced him to become a fiscally conservative but socially moderate politician.

For Shays, one of the best things about being an elected official was exposure to different viewpoints. His staff had set up a meeting with a prostitute to discuss her efforts to stop the spread of AIDS. A person of color weighing 250 pounds, she made him laugh, and they kept talking long after the allotted time. She agreed to attend a polo match with him in north Greenwich. At the match he saw a sign for a fundraiser for people afflicted with AIDS. For Shays, this demonstrated how people of wildly different backgrounds can work toward the same goals.

How do you represent people with widely diverging opinions? Shays says his job was to understand why people think as they do. When in Congress, he often did things that differed from what he had promised while campaigning. Why? Because he listened to people, learned from them, and considered their opinions.

The founding fathers crafted the Constitution through compromise, and the Constitution is designed to encourage compromise. Elected officials should fight for what they believe, but also be open compromise. Unfortunately, the Electoral College system can allow the presidential candidate with fewer votes to win. The filibuster allows one member to shut down the entire Senate. Gerrymandering has created districts that are not competitive. This has led to a Congress that is not representative of the people, and populated by extremists on both sides.

In response to a wide variety of questions from the audience, Shays touched on many topics. When asked what should be done about the Electoral College system, Shays said that it should be improved by allowing each district to select its own candidate, rather than giving all of a state’s votes to the winner.

Since Reagan, the national debt has grown from one trillion to 33 trillion dollars. Although Shays is a Republican, he feels that most Republican politicians’ advocacy of cutting taxes is the wrong approach when we have such a huge national debt.

In addition to the effects of gerrymandering, Shays also described the pressures on Congresspeople to abandon moderate stances. For example, he was told that if he championed campaign finance reform, he would not be chosen to lead the government oversight committee. When Shays voted to allow school choice in the District of Columbia, the NEA told him they would campaign against him.

Shays said that today he is proud to be called a RINO (Republican in Name Only), because the Republican party has changed so much. Shays bemoaned the things Trump said about General Milley and the soldiers buried in WWII cemeteries in Europe or in Arlington Cemetery.

Audience member (and state representative) Hector Arzeno, a Democrat, related a story about telling a reporter that the politician he most admires is Chris Shays. The reporter asked him if was aware that Shays was a Republican, and Arzeno said that didn’t matter.

In the current crisis of leadership in the House of Representatives, Shays said that if he were in office he would get a small group of Republicans to meet with Democrats to choose a speaker who will lead from the middle. That would leave out the extreme right-wing of the House. He doesn’t know where the Republican Party is going; he is hoping a third-party candidate emerges because that is the only thing that will get Republicans back in line.

To see the full presentation, go to https://greenwichrma.org, cursor to “Speakers”
and click on “Speaker Videos.”

Diane Kelly and Noël Appel, at 11 AM on Wednesday, October 18th

The RMA’s upcoming presentation, “Greenwich Hospital Update,” by Diane Kelly and Noël Appel, is scheduled for 11 AM on Wednesday, October 18th. This presentation will provide insight into the growth of clinical services at Greenwich Hospital with special emphasis on heart and vascular, behavioral health, oncology, children’s and neuroscience. Information will also be shared about the Campaign for Greenwich Hospital, which was publicly launched on Friday, September 22 at the Greenwich Country Club.

Diane P. Kelly was appointed president of Greenwich Hospital in June 2020, after serving as its chief operating officer. Most recently, in 2022, Kelly took on the additional role as chief nurse executive, working with nursing leaders across the YNHHS division of nursing. Prior to joining Greenwich Hospital, Kelly held various clinical and leadership roles at Berkshire Medical Center, culminating in 10 years as its chief operating officer. She holds a doctorate in nurse practice from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on executive leadership and population health. A graduate of Western New England College with a master’s degree in business administration, Kelly also earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Noël Appel is vice president and chief development officer of the Greenwich Hospital Foundation. Before joining Greenwich Hospital in 2018, Appel was vice president, development and alumni relations at The New School in New York City, associate dean of development at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston, and assistant vice president of development at Fairfield University in Fairfield, CT. With more than 20 years of experience in fundraising she works to secure the financial resources the hospital needs to provide advanced and safe medical care to Connecticut and New York residents.

To stream the presentation by Ms. Kelly and Ms. Appel at 11 AM on Wednesday, October 18th, click on https://bit.ly/30IBj21. This presentation will also be available on local public access TV channels, Verizon FIOS channel 24 and Optimum (Cablevision) channel 79.

Note: The views expressed in these presentations are those of the speakers. They are not intended to represent the views of the RMA or its members.

RMA speaker presentations are presented as a community service at no cost to in-person or Zoom attendees, regardless of gender. The RMA urges all eligible individuals to consider becoming a member of our great organization, and thereby enjoy all the available fellowship, volunteer, and community service opportunities which the RMA offers to its members. For further information, go to https://greenwichrma.org/, or contact our membership chairman (mailto:members@greenwichrma.org).

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