Westport-based tech industry executive Steve Obsitnik is facing Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst in an August 14 primary election to become the Republican nominee for governor. And while he has no experience holding elected office — his previous foray into politics as the 2012 Republican candidate for the Fourth Congressional District was unsuccessful — he believed that Connecticut voters are ready to move away from electing career politicians in favor of business leaders.
“I think this is a trend that we’ve seen in the country,” said Obsitnik. “You see what Charlie Baker is doing in Massachusetts, what Rick Scott is doing in Florida, what Larry Hogan is doing in Maryland. When you get a pragmatic business person who has a vision for a place and can work with people, and has shown they can transform industries and businesses, sometimes it is the right path to go down.”
Obsitnik added that today’s economy in Connecticut offers further evidence that something different is needed in state government.
“For 40 years, how have career politicians done in Hartford?” he continued. “When we moved here in 1979 and I asked my dad why we moved to Stamford, he said, ‘I got into the city in 38 minutes, taxes were zero and schools were pretty good.’ Here in 2018, it takes 20 percent longer to get into the city, taxes are the same as parts of Westchester and the schools are a little bit shaky.”
Obsitnik is a partner in Saugatuck Advisory, a consultancy for high-tech companies. He previously served as CEO and chairman of the technology vendors Quintel Technology and Calabrio Inc., and was a venture advisor at SRI International, where he focused on the commercialization of voice- recognition technology, including the now-ubiquitous SIRI. Obsitnik viewed the current Connecticut tech industry as a diamond in the rough, albeit with too much rough and not enough diamond.
“There are pockets of really brilliant entrepreneurs and businesses, but it is too small,” he said. “It needs to be a thousand times bigger than it is right now. As someone who was trained in Silicon Valley, I can see a lot of raw talent that was educated here and young companies that started here, but then have to move somewhere else because they can’t find trained talent, they can’t find investors and they find a government that is too aggressive in terms of rules and regulations to get going.”
Obsitnik acknowledged that he launched Quintel Technology in Rochester, New York, in 2007 rather than in Connecticut, stating that his decision was due to what he saw as the state’s limits in supporting a tech startup. “I needed trained workers and I needed some applied research universities to finish my project with,” he said. “I needed a manufacturing base that understood my need and a supply chain. The closest to here that I could find was Rochester, New York.”
Obsitnik noted that his focus as governor would be an immediate concentration on operational inefficiencies in state government. He advocated channeling transportation funds into a lockbox that cannot be raided to fill the voids in the General Fund and was not supportive of installing tolls on Connecticut’s highways. He also vowed to reconfigure the current health care setup.
“We are the only state in the nation that self-administers Medicaid — everyone else outsources it to an Aetna or a United Healthcare,” he said. “We spend $3 billion a year on that. States have saved 20 percent on that. We’re talking about $400 million to $500 million that you can save if you outsourced that as opposed to doing it in-house.”
Obsitnik praised the MGM Bridgeport project and encouraged seeking out private capital for airport upgrades, raising his support “for any project that investors want to bet on Connecticut and doesn’t cost the state any dollars.” He proposed tapping into private sector and Connecticut’s colleges and universities to create “knowledge corridors” designed to grow an efficiently trained workforce to assist new and existing businesses. “My goal is 300,000 jobs in eight years,” he said.
Obsitnik stated that a Republican governor would bring balance in a state with an all-Democrat congressional delegation. He complained there was nothing positive in the delegation’s frequent bashing of President Trump — Rep. Jim Himes, who defeated Obsitnik in the 2012 congressional race, went so far as to demand the Electoral College void the results of the 2016 election while declaring Trump “unhinged” — and he warned that the political name-calling has been a distraction from efforts to attract federal funding to grow the state’s economy.
“I don’t think we’ve had people who were able to turn the tide and be an advocate for the people of Connecticut,” he said. “We are seeing some business come back with Electric Boat and submarine building and with UTC announcing another 9,000 jobs are coming over in the next four to five years. Why? Because the federal government is building more — and they have contracted with those people, not because our senators have brought more money back here to solve our problems.”