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OP-ED | Remembering Why CT Ousted Chris Shays

by Sarah Darer Littman | Aug 26, 2011 9:45am
(16) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

So it’s official. Former Congressman Chris Shays has thrown his hat into the ring as a Republican nominee for U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat. Of course, he’ll most likely have to administer a Flying Clothesline to Linda McMahon and her millions in the primary first, which isn’t going to be easy, given that he’s starting off with $258,000 in campaign debt from his 2008 loss to Jim Himes.

But assuming he manages to KO McMahon, what does Shays bring to GOP as a candidate? At a time when I constantly find myself wondering if the Republicans I heard about growing up (fiscal conservatives, social moderates) were an illusion of childhood I had to outgrow, kind of like The Tooth Fairy, when I first heard Shays was debating a run, I daydreamed about actually having a sane, moderate Republicans in Congress. Then then I woke up and remembered it was Chris Shays.

I wasn’t always this jaded about my former Congressman. He stayed in office for as long because he did because he provided extremely good constituency services for the people in the district – although it’s fair to say that if you can’t get that part down after 22 years in office than there’s something wrong. His socially moderate views (environmentally friendly, pro-choice, evolved position on gay-marriage) garnered him cross-party appeal down here in the 4th CD.

But as the Republican Party continued its inexorable march rightward throughout the Bush Administration, Shays was a man who seemed like he didn’t know his own mind. And by 2008, when he fought his losing race against Jim Himes, it appeared like he’d finally lost it.

Frankly, I think it was Iraq that did it. The cognitive dissonance required for a former conscientious objector to become such a fierce, unwavering supporter of a pre-emptive war against another sovereign country clearly proved too much.

Shays became obsessed with Iraq – visiting the country 21 times at taxpayers’ expense. He at all times professed his support for the war even as he started to moderate his position towards a timetable for withdrawal in August 2006, once he saw the writing on the wall with polls showing a constituency at odds with his stance.

By October 2006, Shays appeared to have totally lost it, when he claimed at a debate that Abu Ghraib was not torture, it was a “sex ring”.  He went on to assert that the US was following the Geneva Conventions (um, “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” anyone?) and even more bizarrely, blamed the media for covering the story. Darn that pesky old First Amendment! So inconvenient for one’s political narrative in a tough election battle.

Shays tried to backtrack from his gaffe, but still tried maintained that that it was about pornography rather than torture.  Seriously makes me wonder what kind of porn he’d been perusing, because having read depositions by the perpetrators, it was clearly torture.

Then in July 2007, Shays made waves for screaming at a security officer at the Capitol after the guard refused entrance to the group of tourists accompanying the Congressman because it was against the rules.  But it was raining out. Security, Schmecurity!

At a time when CT’s Republicans are, foolishly in my view, jumping off the cliff with the rest of the National GOP (read the Pew Poll this week?  Obama’s ratings dropped but the GOP and most particularly, the Tea Party? In the toilet, my friends.) a Rockefeller Republican could appeal to independents sharing the national dissatisfaction with Washington. But Shays has too much backstory. And a fiscal conservative? Don’t make me laugh. Let’s look at how well he did overseeing the government contractor Formerly Known As Blackwater:


And here’s brief summary of some of that Perfect Company’s less than perfect record.
Frankly, Shays couldn’t oversee his own campaign finances. Former campaign manager Michael Sohn embezzled over $250,000 from Shay’s 2008 campaign. Although Sohn has been ordered to pay back the money he stole in minimum $100 a month installments once he is released from prison, at that rate we’re talking 200 years before the debt is extinguished. At 65, Shays has to be thinking how seriously it would suck to go into retirement with a quarter million dollar millstone around his neck.

So call me cynical, but I can’t help but suspect that a large part of Shay’s impetus to run in the current CT GOP environment and in the face of the McMahon financial juggernaut, not to mention a possible David Walker candidacy, is to clear his debts.

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

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(16) Comments

posted by: wmwallace | August 26, 2011  6:22pm

I wish you would have mentioned another candidate that is declared. That is Brian K. Hill. While he doesn’t have the name recognition of the other two. He is what we need in our next US Senate. I for one are tired of the career politicians and those who have millions to spend on campaigning. We need someone who will represent the people of Connecticut and not special interest.
I believe Brian K. Hill is the man for the job.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | August 26, 2011  6:39pm

Shays lunged at me during a public forum when I referred to Iraq as an “Occupation”. He was seriously deranged at that point.

(And, yes, I know “lunged” looks like an organ of the body but I mean a forward motion of the body in a sudden and menacing manner.)

posted by: Disgruntled | August 26, 2011  9:18pm

Shays went to Iraq and elsewhere via Dubai. He was addicted to luxury hotels and there are very few places that offer anything finer.
Maybe he had other “high class” addictions?
In any event,Chris was FIRED by the Connecticut voters and that is rare. He managed a sinecure to tide him over but he is and always has been a deadbeat,bloodsucking,do-nothing low-life politician.
Like Al D’amato he took care of busines and bought his votes but Connecticut is better off without him.He is running on ego alone and probably using matching funds to pay off old debts.

posted by: Careful | August 26, 2011  9:54pm

Sarah Darer Littman - A true-blue, staunch Democrat, can be counted on to bad-mouth all Republicans, including Chris Shays.  She says “at a time that Republicans are foolishly “in my view” jumping off the cliff with the rest of the National GOP—merely reinforces the fact that she is stead-fast to continue to write a column where she is dedicated to “beat up on Republicans.” What else is new in you life—Sarah Darer Littman?

posted by: CitizenCT | August 27, 2011  8:27am

Sarah, We now know you don’t like Bysiwiecz, McMahon or Shays for senate.  It would be nice to see a piece on who you support and why.  My guess is it will be tax and spend Murphy.

posted by: Careful | August 27, 2011  10:26pm

CitizenCT:  Sarah, in my opinion—would support the big-spender, Chris Murphy, because he is a Democrat.  She doesn’t like Democrat Susan Bysiewicz, because “she is not a “political bedfellow of Pres. Barack Obama.”

posted by: saramerica | August 28, 2011  9:20am


Careful(aka Hawkeye) I do sometimes wonder if you actually READ my pieces before you launch into your rants. Did you notice that I complimented Shays on providing good constituency services and where I pointed out the reasons why he was successful in the 4th CD for as long as he was? No, probably not, because you saw the article was written by me and just went off on your usual “Sarah Darer Littman, the True Blue Democrat” rant. Frankly, this is why I don’t take your comments seriously. Try dialogue for a change. It’s really much more effective.

posted by: Careful | August 28, 2011  12:06pm

saramerica:  If your alleged intention was to compliment Chris Shays, you fooled me, and other readers, as well.  When would Sarah Darer Littman ever really compliment a Republican?  It’s against your grain, Sarah, and I don’t think it will ever happen!

posted by: ... | August 28, 2011  12:42pm


Well I guess this means Simmons is out for good with a fairly faux/hoping to be moderate entering the race. I just wonder if Peter Schiff will try to run again and slam down on McMahon like 2010?

As a side note: Glad I’m not the only one Sarah who realized hawkeye’s name change here. You can change your user ID, but you can spot a person’s writing style from “a mile away.” :p.

posted by: Careful | August 28, 2011  1:29pm

JonessAC12: It’s no problem for Sarah Darer Littman - who as an insider—probably relieved me of the “Hawkeye” ID.

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | August 28, 2011  2:18pm

The many things that will come back to bite Christopher Shays. From Wikipedia: Shays has listed former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as his political inspiration, saying “Newt Gingrich is my hero.”

And, Eric Prince isn’t really a Prince. Blackwater (now Xe Services) has moved their HQ to Dubai to avoid prosecution for income tax violations.

Shays stands for nothing.

posted by: wmwallace | August 28, 2011  10:54pm

Complain about Newt all you want but he was a great help in balancing the budget. Something that is needed nowadays, but won’t happen with this administration.
We need another Contract with America in my opinion.

posted by: gutbomb86 | August 28, 2011  11:47pm


Where was Newt when the Republicans cut off a giant chunk of tax revenue and then increased spending exponentially for 8 years? Don’t be deluded into thinking the Republicans control spending. They simply spend it elsewhere in places they believe are above reproach.  They’re not fooling anyone other than talk radio hosts, apparently.

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | August 29, 2011  11:12am

The Contract ON America was a gigantic bust.  Newt is a lying sack, and he’s Chris Shays’ hero.

posted by: Careful | August 29, 2011  2:02pm

Not that Michael Brown:  Everyone already knows that you hate Republicans, so why not act civil, instead of bad-mouthing Newt Gingrich, as your reasoning-power towards Chris Shays, whom you really dislike?  “You appear to be a typical Obama-supporter—who has been programmed to keep blaming Bush!”

posted by: saramerica | August 29, 2011  8:52pm


Sorry to disabuse you of your paranoid fantasies Hawk - oops, I mean “Careful”. But I’m not an “insider”. I’m a freelance columnist with no ability to relieve you of anything. The only people who can do that are the owners of the site, who obviously felt there was a legitimate reason for doing so.