Rep. Chris Murphy said a surprising thing is on the mind of Connecticut voters: process.
Murphy, a Democrat who represents the 5th District, said the public is thinking more about process than any particular issue because of the gridlock in Washington.
Murphy, a Cheshire resident, is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent Democrat. Lieberman isn’t running for reelection.
Murphy said despite Connecticut being a small state, the campaign “is such a Herculean effort.”
Stamford state Rep. William Tong and former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, of Middletown, are Murphy’s opponents in the Democratic primary.
On the Republican side, the candidates include 2010 candidate and wrestling impresario Linda McMahon, former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays and Hartford attorney Brian K. Hill.
Murphy said voters often ask why people in Washington can’t work together, “even on the things that used to be completely bipartisan.”
“I’ve started to spend more and more of my time on process,” he said, saying the culture and civility of Washington need to improve.
Murphy is an organizer of the Center-Aisle Caucus, a group of about 50 Congressmen who meet to discuss bipartisanship and restoring relationships in Washington.
“It doesn’t really matter how right I am,” he said, if no one is willing to work with him.
Murphy said the dominant mindset is that the only way to get things done is to have your party control the whole government.
“I think that’s a silly way to live your life and run your government,” he said.
Murphy said some people have taught him about the sociology behind not taking candy from a stranger. “Everybody wants candy,” he said, but they don’t take it because they believe it either isn’t candy or there is another agenda behind it.
He said in Washington today “you don’t take yes for an answer from a stranger.”
“In Hartford people know each other,” he said, explaining the different political culture.
Murphy gave three examples of topics where there should be agreement.
- Change the rules so the government always buys American. Murphy said a simple change would create 600,000 jobs “without spending a dime more.”
- Tax things we want less of and don’t tax things we want more of. Murphy suggested replacing part of the payroll tax with a carbon tax.
- Pay for quality instead of quantity for healthcare.
“These are all things we could do if the two parties were working together,” Murphy said. “These aren’t small things.”
He said they could be done “if the two parties were willing to take candy from strangers.”
When asked about the role of lobbyists, Murphy said “lobbyist shouldn’t be a pejorative term.”
Murphy said legislators “have to be hearing the argument, not the contribution that stands behind the person making the argument.” He said he supports full public financing of all Congressional elections.
“There’s always going to be a need in government to have people who know more about an issue than you do help you learn,” he said. “The term has taken on a nefarious, dark meaning,”
“Legislators are jacks-of-all-trades, really. They’re not experts,” Murphy said.
“My learning curve is unbelievably steep,” he said, so he invited members of the audience to contact him.
When asked about a pending transportation bill, Murphy said there is a bill that passed in Senate and could pass in the House, but Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, won’t bring it up for a vote.
“His responsibility is to be the Speaker of the House not the Speaker of the Republican caucus,” Murphy said.
“I see opportunity for bipartisan cooperation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that we should call out the other side when they’re wrong,” Murphy said. “I do think the Republicans in the House of Representatives are wrong” to argue for reduced transportation spending.
In response to a question criticizing the healthcare reform law, Murphy said it’s a political talking point to question the length of the bill.
“I read the bill. I read the bill twice. I understand it, every piece of it,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, government pays 50 percent of the healthcare bills in this country.”
Murphy said the bill was so long because the healthcare statutes are “10 times that many pages.”
“We shouldn’t punish complex legislation,” he said.