February 10, 2010
By Ken Krayeske • 2:55 PM EST
Connecticut Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley ambassadoring in Ireland. Here, Foley was visiting the Loreto Abbey Secondary School in Dalkey just east of Dublin, discussing American Infinity Project/digital speech technology. As Ambassador, Foley's perks included having Bono and the Edge from U2 attend his wedding. Correction: Don't believe it - Foley says Bono and the Edge didn't attend his nuptuals.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley spent 42 minutes on the phone this morning with me answering questions about voter turnout, the role of a U.S. Ambassador, UConn tuition increases and Abu Ghraib.
I have split the interview into two, possibly three segments, and will focus this first segment on state issues, and his time in Ireland as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
The second (and perhaps third) portions will discuss his seven-month stint (August 2003-March 2004) as the Director of Private Development for the Coalition Provision Authority in Iraq.
With Governor M. Jodi Rell retiring, at least a dozen candidates have either intimated or outright declared their candidacies for governor. Since the 40-Year Plan has been keeping track, here is the list (in ABC order).
Democrats: Former Speaker of the House Jim Amann, Hartford health care activist Juan Figueroa, Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman, 2006 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Ned Lamont, former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi. Drop-outs: Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and State Senator Gary LeBeau (East Hartford).
Republicans: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Congressman Larry DeNardis (New Haven), Lt. Governor Michael Fedele, former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and member of the Coalition Provisional Authority Thomas Foley, Hartford cheerleader Oz Griebel, Chester First Selectman Tom Marsh, and Newington Mayor Jeff Wright. Drop-outs: None (yet).
"It's an open seat," Foley said. "Open seats always attract more candidates on both sides."
Foley praised the good omen that was Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts over Democrat Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat.
"On the Republican side, people see more energy and the sentiment of voters swinging back to this side of the arena," Foley said. "This will work well for the Republicans, particularly because of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. This makes anything possible. Nobody thought it was possible for Brown to win Kennedy's seat in December 2009."
Voters are looking for answers, Foley said.
"We are really in a time of crisis in Connecticut and nationally, voters want to see the government do things and address their concerns," Foley said. "There is a lot of energy and focus from a policy point of view, and it makes it more interesting if you are interested in the process."
But, I noted, a lot of people are not interested in the process. The United States is plagued by voter apathy. How does his campaign plan to bring voters to the polls and increase voter participation?
"When you have good candidates, they attract people's interest," Foley said. "I think good, articulate candidates make a difference. I think the issues make a difference and draw people to the polls. I think there is going to be a distinct difference between the policy direction of the Republicans and the Democrats. There will be clear choices."
Foley said he plans to speak directly to the voters about the issues facing Connecticut.
"I don't think the legislature in Hartford is seriously addressing the budget," Foley said. "I hope to get their attention. I hope the election is closely followed and people get to know the candidates and get to know the policy differences and go to the polls."
But people don't go to the polls for gubernatorial races. In 2006, Gov. Rell won with only 700,000 votes, or one-fifth of the entire population of Connecticut. Only slightly more than one million people voted in 2006, about half of the registered voters, or, in more general terms about one third of the entire population.
Will Foley's campaign set a goal of 100 percent voter turnout?
That "would be ambitious," Foley said, but it wasn't likely he would do so.
I"t always feels better when there is a strong turnout, because people are engaged," he said. "After the election, people feel like they have a stake in the winner. They take an interest during the election, and after the election, and they support the candidate they vote for."
I was hoping that Foley might take some of his war chest and apply it towards bringing new voters out to the polls.
I shifted gears and moved the discussion to his time as Ambassador in Ireland. This may have sounded elementary, but I realized I had never spoken to a U.S. Ambassador to any country before, and did not quite know what the job entailed.
"Formally, the Ambassador is the representative of the people and the government of the United States and when I say the government, the ambassador is for the executive branch, and is historically the personal representative of the president of the United States," Foley said.
"So the Ambassador speaks for the U.S. government overseas and specifically to the host country," Foley added. His appointment as Ambassador to Ireland stretched from October 2006 through January 2009.
The ambassador runs the embassy, Foley said. "In Ireland, the embassy is about 160 people, so there is a management aspect to the job," he said.
The management aspect presents a bit of a challenge, Foley said. "Of that 160 people, seven or eight agencies of the government are represented. There's all kinds of dotted lines and different reporting relationships."
Most important is the Ambassador's role of public diplomacy, not only formally, but representing the United States to the people of the host country, Foley said.
You have to be on televison and radio and make personal "appearances and speeches to help people understand U.S. foreign policy, which when I was there was not very popular," he said.
"Some of the reasons were that people didn't like what we were doing, people didn't understand what we were doing," Foley said. "An Ambassador tries to straighten out those misrepresentations and gain a popular understanding of U.S. policies."
I happened to be in Ireland with Quinnipiac University School of Law’s Dublin program in June 2007, when Mr. Foley was there. He said that I should have visited. I kind of wish I did.
I was focused on my studies, though, I told him, which, ironically enough, were less expensive in Ireland than at Quinnipiac.
That was because the Irish government subsidizes Trinity College in Dublin, and some of those subsidies have stopped, Foley said, because the Irish "realized the subsidies they were providing were going to international students."
At which point, the discussion of the recent UConn tuition increase seemed apropos.
Foley: "I'm a big supporter of education. I think that good education should be available to as many people as are qualified for it. An increase of that magnitude is not out of line with what private university systems are having to do to cover their costs.
We are in a fiscal crisis in Connecticut and we need to figure out "how to most equitably distribute the birden of that crisis. The state is already providing a significant subsidy to the university system. It is unfortunate that there has to be this kind of an increase."
But doesn’t this kind of an increase chase young people out of the state? Doesn't Connecticut have a major problem, second to Alaska, in retaining 18 to 34 year olds?
"First of all, we do need to do something to make Connecticut more attractive so that so many of our young people don’t leave our state," Foley said. "But I think that is more related to economic opportunities after they leave school than how we finance higher education."
But is it fair to have students who attend a public university shoulder the burden of tens of thousands of dollars debt until they are 35? With this increase, UConn students pay more than the state does to run the school.
"I can't tell you the right answer to the question of balancing the students' burden and subsidizing the tuition by the state," Foley admitted.
Tune in next week when Foley and I discuss his time in Iraq.