After finishing second in a three-way race for the Republican Party’s 5th District Congressional nomination last year, Justin Bernier of Plainville says he’s feeling stronger now as he competes with four rivals for the 2012 endorsement.
“The donor support and the political support we had in 2010 is still there and we picked up a lot of people along the way,” he said. “We’re bringing a bigger game to the stadium this time.”
Bernier got 32 percent of the primary vote in 2010, losing to Waterbury Republican Sam Caligiuri. Caligiuri subsequently lost to incumbent Democrat Chris Murphy. Caligiuri has said he’s not getting in the race next year, and Murphy is running for U.S. Senate, making the 5th District a rare open and competitive seat.
Bernier reported raising $81,366 with the Federal Election Commission during first quarter fundraising. He contends that he broke a Connecticut fundraising record by raising more money than any non-incumbent during the first quarter of a congressional campaign cycle measured by the FEC.
Bernier is one of four Republicans vying for the congressional seat with the most potential to swing Republican in 2012. Other Republican candidates include Farmington Town Council Chairman Michael Clark, entrepreneur Lisa Wilson-Foley and real estate developer Mark Greenberg.
Bernier said he wants to help beleaguered Connecticut Republicans who feel stifled by a Democratic governor and a Democrat-controlled legislature.
“It’s easy to make excuses as a Republican in Connecticut,” he said. “A lot of people want to see Republicans do well but they’re discouraged. I’m not going to sit back and complain. We’ve seen it happen in Wisconsin and in New Jersey and there’s no reason it can’t happen here.”
Bernier is a former Navy reserve intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, and he emphasizes his record of working with veterans and Connecticut’s military families. Gov. M. Jodi named him the executive director of her Office of Military Affairs when he returned from Afghanistan in 2007.
In 2005, Bernier worked with then-Congressman Rob Simmons as a military legislative assistant in Simmons’ campaign to keep the New London Submarine Base open when the Pentagon tried to shut it down. He managed research, community outreach and liaison connections with the Navy for Simmons.
Bernier said he also offers more than military experience. He joined the state’s Commission on Compensation of Elected Officers and Judges in late 2010 and he said he was the only member to support a pay cut for Connecticut’s office holders. As the executive director for the Office of Military Affairs, he said he returned 25 percent of their operating budget and only spent a portion of a $50 million bond authorization.
“The military service is something I’m proud of, but I also have a strong economic background and a background in the private sector,” he said. “When I worked in Gov. Rell’s cabinet, I returned money to the Treasurer’s office. I was also the only member to vote to cut elected official’s pay.”
Bernier’s campaign staff says he currently is employed as an independent contractor working as a tax revenue adviser.
Like the other 5th District candidates, Bernier stresses jobs and the economy. He says the federal government needs to return to 1998 spending levels as a percentage of GDP. With GDP at about $15 trillion, that would require a reduction of about $500 billion in spending to achieve anything close to the budget surplus seen in 1998.
“We can’t solve our problems growing at 1.5 percent now,” he said. “We have to grow the economy at 3, 3.5 percent and when we do that, a lot of the problems melt away.”
In addition to dealing with the federal budget, Bernier said he promises to keep his eyes on the 5th District, where he said Murphy failed Connecticut.
“I wouldn’t worry so much about my next election,” Bernier said. “I would work to restoring America’s greatness.”