Dan Innis is former Dean of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire and co-owner of Portsmouth’s Ale House Inn.
He is one of four Republicans competing in September's primary in the District 1 race for the U.S. House of Representatives. That seat is currently held by Democrat Carol Shea-Porter.
Dan Innis joined me in NHPR's studio to talk about the race and his stance on some of the issues. (Scroll down to find the full audio of our interview with Innis, as well as the version edited for broadcast.)
What are you hearing on the trail? What are voters most concerned about?
Obviously immigration is a hot topic at the moment. The budget – the debt and the deficit – are always big issues, major issues for folks. Foreign policy is coming up an awful lot right now with all the crises around the world, many of which we’re involved with either directly or indirectly. There’s a lot of angst about the economy and jobs and whether we’re ever really going pull ourselves out of this recession and move forward in a positive way.
What about what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan? What’s your take on things?
Obviously, that part of the world has been a difficult place for a long, long time. And we’re seeing, I think, an increase in difficulty right now. Afghanistan seems to be moving along OK, but Iraq is another entity in and of itself. We’ve got an awful lot of problems with Iraq and Syria. I think it is becoming a hotbed for terror once again, and it’s due in part to our action or inaction in that part of the world. It is one thing to say you’re going to pull out, but you’ve got to do it thoughtfully and carefully. I think we left a vacuum and we’re leaving a vacuum and it’s our responsibility now to get back in there some fashion and turn this around. Or we’re really going to have a major problem in the Middle East, worse than I think we can even comprehend at this point.
So the Obama administration’s decision to renew air strikes, you support that?
I do support that. It’s a first step. I don’t think it’s going to be enough. ISIS is too powerful, they’re too scattered. We’re going to have to get serious about this or we’re not going to do anything of consequence. You’ve got to be aggressive with aggressive folks like this.
You mentioned you’re hearing from people major concern about whether we’re ever going to pull out of this recession. Is a big part of that the Affordable Care Act?
It’s a part of it. I wouldn’t say it’s a big part of pulling out of the recession. It is one of several things that contribute to uncertainty for businesses, though. And that causes them to hold back on hiring and expanding and it causes them to hold their cash. You think about your personal life. When you’re uncertain about your future, you don’t spend money. Businesses are the same way. They’re uncertain about the cost of Obamacare. We’ve had a delay in implementation, so they don’t know what’s coming at them. And they’re uncertain about other factors as well, like the deficit and the debt and other actions that the government might take. So they’re holding their cash. They’re not investing. They’re not hiring. They’re not really growing as much as they could be.
What should be done?
Well, clearly we need a Congress and we need leadership that understands how business works. Unlike other candidates in this race, I believe I’m that person. I have a background in business, I have background in higher education, and I’m a free market conservative. I’ve taught that for years and I practice it in my business and I’m a firm believer in that. I think we need those principles in government if we’re going to free the economy again and really get companies investing and growing.
You’ve said that you would consider supporting raising federal gas taxes to bail out the highway fund. Isn’t that a hard sell?
It’s a very difficult sell. It’s not something anybody wants to do. I think it’s one of many options that we need to consider to bail out the trust fund. Congress bailed this thing out with pension smoothing and it just doesn’t make sense. It is literally kicking the can down the road – a pothole-filled road, I might add – but it doesn’t solve the problem. We’re going to be right back here in 10 or 11 months and have the same issue. Meanwhile, we’re allowing companies to underfund their pensions to bring in more tax revenues from those companies. It’s not a solution to the trust fund problem. It’s a temporary fix, which is part of the problem in Congress. Everything that they’re doing is a temporary fix, as opposed to a strategic plan for the future.
Speaking of temporary fixes, what’s your take on the way Congress has been handling the immigration debate?
We made a decision to throw some money at it recently. To me, it doesn’t feel like a strategic thought process. We’re just throwing money at an immediate problem and we’re not thinking forward how we’re really going to get after this. We’ve got to do that. What is the source of the problem? Now, let’s work on the source of the problem. That might involve working with the Central American governments to help to address the humanitarian crisis. Certainly on our side, we’ve got to come up with a better strategy for dealing with the children in particular showing up at our doorstep. We’ve got to have a plan here and we don’t have one.
You endorsed Democrat Jackie Cilley in 2012 for governor. What do you say to those who might question your loyalty to the GOP?
I think anyone who looks at my background and my experience won’t question that loyalty. I’m a free-market conservative, registered Republican when I was 18, and I’ve stayed true to the principles of the party throughout my life.
Why the endorsement in 2012?
Jackie was a co-worker of mine. We worked together, and she came to me and asked for support. So I made a contribution, it was not an endorsement.
What are you most interested in talking about when you’re on the campaign trail?
Certainly jobs and the economy are important, but I think there’s a fundamental issue that we’re seeing playing out in this election cycle. People are tired of the same old outcomes in Washington. And we’re going to keep getting the same outcomes if we keep sending the same people to D.C. If we keep electing career politicians, if we keep sending down folks who have been there before, we’re going to get the same results. If we want different results and we want real progress, we’ve got to send people to Washington who are not career politicians. I am not a career politician. I’m an educator. I’m a business person. And I understand how things work, and I want to take that perspective, my energy and my ideas down to Washington and begin to turn this thing around.
What do you say to those who say you may understand how things work, but do you understand how things work in Washington?
I think you could say that I have some pretty good political experience. Universities have pretty thick politics, and I figured out how to navigate that. So I think I can learn how to navigate Washington, as well.
Listen the radio version of my conversation with Dan Innis here:
Here's the full version of our conversation: