In Conn., A Longtime GOP Congressman Ousted

New England's last Republican Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut has lost his seat. He was ousted by Democrat and former Goldman Sachs executive Jim Himes. Himes talks about the upset and his plans for Connecticut's Fourth District.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

To the other side of the country now, where New England's last Republican congressman has lost his seat. Chris Shays of Connecticut has served 21 years in the House, but last night, he was defeated by Democrat Jim Himes. Himes is a former executive with Goldman Sachs. He left Wall Street to worked for a nonprofit affordable housing coalition. And he joins us from Bridgeport, Connecticut. Congressman-elect Himes, welcome to the program.

Representative-elect JIM HIMES (Democrat, Connecticut): Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: I bet you like the way that sounds.

Rep.-elect HIMES: Yeah, I'm getting used to it, I guess.

BLOCK: I'm curious about this race. Chris Shays has been considered a moderate Republican, and he, in fact, linked himself to Barack Obama in his ads. And he stood for the hopefulness of Obama, the straight talk of John McCain. What do you think the messages sent by Connecticut voters yesterday?

Rep.-elect HIMES: I think this election ended up being mainly about the economy. And, you know, the words moderate, extreme, bipartisan, these things are to some degree abstractions. You know, when somebody is worried about their job, or they're worried about hanging on to their homes, I think what they think about is not, you know, how moderate, how independent. I think what they think about is, you know, who in Washington is going to do their best to restore the economy, to bring some stability and hopefully some growth back so that, you know, people aren't worried.

So I really think that this wasn't so much about moderate or non-moderate as it was about, you know, how do we feel about where Congressman Shays has been on the war in Iraq and on the economy? And, you know, where should we go from there?

BLOCK: Your background, as we said, is on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs. Wall Street, not in terribly good favor with the country right now. Is there anything about your experience on Wall Street, do you think, that points you in a direction going forward and what Congress needs to do?

Rep.-elect HIMES: Well, I think people looked at my background, which, yes, does include 12 years in banking. But also include six years - I left Wall Street in 2002 and spent the last six years as a vice president of the Enterprise Community Partners, which is a nonprofit that built affordable housing in distressed communities.

But to get back to your question, yes. You know, it's very clear that in January, the new Congress will need to get very serious about adjusting the financial services regulatory and oversight structures so that we never ever find ourselves in the position that we found ourselves in last month of having to bail out a massive industry with taxpayer dollars.

BLOCK: You know, we heard a lot of talk about the middle class in this campaign. Not so much talk about the issues you've been working on most recently, urban poverty, affordable housing, things like that. Do you think that a new war on poverty is necessary, and would that be realistic right now?

Rep.-elect HIMES: Well, I think what is very clearly necessary is a major government-led effort to turn the corner economically. I mean, how do we create some stability in the economy in the near term by hopefully doing another stimulus package, which, personally, I'd like to see be infrastructure-oriented?

But I think it also means taking a very hard look at the long-term fundamentals of our economy, you know, the savings rate in this country, what appears to be a continued erosion over our education - of our educational system, and just, you know, taking a hard look at all of those things that really drive a long-term strength and foundation of economy.

BLOCK: Well, Jim Himes, thanks very much for talking with us.

Rep.-elect HIMES: All right. Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Jim Himes is the Democrat who yesterday defeated the incumbent Chris Shays of Connecticut, who was the last Republican Congressman from New England.

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