Wilson-Foley touts business in congressional run

Lisa Wilson-Foley aimed high in her first try for public office: Offering herself as an outsider with business acumen, she ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, narrowly losing in a Republican primary. Now she’s using the same niche to run for an open seat in the state’s 5th Congressional District.

Wilson-Foley, an entrepreneur who started her first business two decades ago, said she ran last year because she thought the state budget impeded small business. Her pitch for Congress is a variation on a theme: The federal government needs more elected officials with business backgrounds.

“I’m an opportunist,” she said. “I’m ready to work at any level. What is it they say? ‘Give the busiest person the most work to do.'”

Lisa Wilson-Foley

Lisa Wilson-Foley

Aside from her basic message, a similarity to her race two years ago is she is seeking an open seat, this time one vacated by U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy’s candidacy for U.S. Senate. As was the case in 2010, she can count on a GOP primary.

Wilson-Foley said she grew up poor, but with access to good education. She started her first business providing physical therapy for rehab centers and nursing homes at age 29.

Wilson-Foley employs over 1,500 people in 14 of the 41 towns in the 5th District. Her husband owns Apple Rehab, a healthcare company. Her holdings include Blue Fox Run golf course in Avon.

“I don’t just talk about job creation, I’ve been doing it since I was 29,” she said. “I’m 51 now.”

As a business owner, Wilson-Foley said she doesn’t support Connecticut’s new paid-sick days law, the nation’s first mandate requiring some private employers to offer paid sick days. But she said she offered her employees 25 paid personal days for them to use however they wanted.

She said the federal budget needs more business-minded politicians handling it with a careful eye, she said.

“I’m going to care about the money like it’s my own,” she said. “The government looks at billions of dollars and considers it nothing.”

Wilson-Foley said a Government Accountability Office report released this spring detailing $200 billion worth of cuts to the federal budget is a good place to start. Cutting funding for ethanol subsidies and improving inefficiencies in the way government agencies conduct job training and data processing are just a few ways to help with savings.

Her health care business grew out of a backgroun in public health background, she said. Wilson-Foley has a  master’s in public health from Yale University and worked for several years as a physical therapist before starting her first business.

Her political resume is thinner, consisting largely of serving as campaign treasurer for former state Sen. Thomas Herlihy from 2003 to 2007.

Thanks to a plan floated by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the House budget chairman, Medicare was a pivotal issue in a special election unexpectedly won in New York by a Democrat. Ryan’s plan halts Medicare as an open-ended entitlement program, providing seniors with federal subsidies to buy private insurance.

Democrats argue Ryan’s plan destroys health care for seniors. Wilson-Foley guardedly embraced Ryan, saying she supports his effort, but the plan needs work.

“I give Ryan credit for sticking the elephant in the room, but it’s too much, too soon,” she said. “The public needs more readable terminology. The Democrats are calling it ‘medi-scare.’ I give him credit for at least discussing it, but I can see where people are misunderstood.”

Wilson-Foley describes herself as a conservative, but she said her views will appeal to a range of voters. Her focus group: Her employees, and what they seem to think of the boss’s politics. “Most of my employees aren’t Republican,” she said, “and my message still resonates with them.”