Interview with Tom O'Dea, Republican Candidate for State Rep in the 125th
Published 11:41 am, Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Q: Why are you a Republican?
A: I believe that the more government tries to do, the less it does well. I believe we need the government there for safety and to protect our rights, but I do not believe a larger, bigger government is better for the country.
I first followed politics when Reagan ran against Carter. Now it's out of vogue, but trickle-down economics, letting market forces grow the economy, is better than having the government trying to predict and expand and control things. That being said, I do think government regulation is needed, but not to the extent it ends up choking the economy.
Over last 20 years, we've had a 300 percent increase in spending and a 14 percent increase in population. We have less jobs now than in 1987 in Connecticut. That was astounding to me.
Q: Discuss your formative years
A: I'm Roman Catholic. I pray often. Not for anything in particular, but to say thanks for my family and friends and where I am. I'm blessed to be in New Canaan. And I pray to be a better person. I think religion is a very personal thing. Frankly, I think everyone needs a little spirituality in their life.
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I went to Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del. I graduated in 1984 in a class of 100 kids. I was very lucky. I had a very pleasant experience in high school. I was a quarterback and safety in football. I ran high hurdles in track. Although I loved baseball, I could not hit a curve.
Before law school, I worked on my favorite job, which was construction. Friends of the family had a home construction business and were developing a housing development, a very large one. The owner of the business put me in charge of six laborers. He thought I was going to law school and was smart.
Boy, I was never in better shape, and at the end of the day of working my tail off ... it was a great feeling.
Q: What part of your career will make you successful as a legislator?
A: Part of my job is to read and understand the laws and understand the unintentional consequences of those laws. I was on the ordinance committee on Town Council. Over the last seven years, I've had some impact on virtually every ordinance that's been drafted, and I think in a positive way. When I go to Hartford, I'm going to bring that experience.
Q: What do you consider your strongest personality traits?
A: Hard-working. I think my biggest strength and my biggest weakness is that I genuinely care about what people think about me. I always try as a litigator and a person to put myself in the other person's shoes that I'm litigating against or representing. People can have some bad days. I'm a trial lawyer because I like being around people.
I think I'm a successful trial lawyer because people see that I'm straight-forward, honest and hardworking, and I think those traits have served me very well on a career level and personal level.
My biggest weakness is that I do care too much what people think at times. Time has tempered my Irish temper. I will be the first to admit sometimes I get a little upset. But I'm working on that.
Q: Some residents might look at your vote on the Jeb Walker pension, and have criticisms. What would you say to them?
A: First, on the pension issue. I've heard criticism basically from two sides. One is that I was unprepared for the meeting, that I didn't know about the revisions to the pension plan.
The other is that it was cronyism, that Jeb Walker's friends put through these revisions to the pension plan and wanted to reward him for his service. I can't be both.
I was either unprepared and incompetent, or it was all part of a grand scheme that I was part of. So which one is it? I wasn't part of a grand scheme to reward Mr. Walker. I didn't know about [the issue] until a few hours before the vote, so I wasn't part of this inside scheme to give Mr. Walker a pension. So the issue then is to address the issue that I was unprepared for the meeting.
Well, I would have you look at the tape, watch the meeting, (to see) who asked the most questions. I would submit that no one would say I was unprepared for the meeting. Could I have done more outside research before the meeting? Yes. Everybody could. My dad always said to me when I came home with a B or a C, he always said, "Did you do your best?" I would say, "No, Dad, I could have done better." He said, "Then do better next time." If I knew then what I know now, I would either have voted against it or to postpone it. It had unanimous Board of Finance support, which our current first selectman is chair of. I had our pension lawyer, our HR person and our pension administrator unanimously saying it should be done. I have nothing to hide. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed.
Q: When you look back on your public service in New Canaan, and if elected, especially time served in the Legislature, what do you want people to say Tom O'Dea did?
A: I don't have any aspirations beyond the state legislature. If I'm blessed to win and people continue to elect me I'll do it as long as my family is not adversely affected. I'm not retiring [as an attorney]. I can't afford to do this full time.
If you want someone who will do this full-time, who does nothing else, I'm not your guy. But if you want someone with real life experiences, who knows how to write legislation, who knows how to argue your beliefs, then I'm your guy. Currently, about 25 percent of the legislators are full-time. The Connecticut legislature was designed as a part-time body, not a full-time body. I want to be one of those part-time legislators.
I am a partner at one of top law firms in the state. We employ hundreds of people, we have to make payroll, hire and fire. I have experience doing that. I don't know how my opponents can afford to live in this district and be full-time legislators.
I want people to look back and say, "O'Dea made a positive difference." In state office, how am I going to try and make the state a better place? By addressing the fiscal catastrophe this state is facing. We're at a tipping point.
We're broke. I want to put the fiscal house in order so that the fiscal state I leave to my children is a state that is in better condition.
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