Dr. Larry Lazor, a Republican, has announced his candidacy for Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District. If chosen in the 2022 Republican primary, he’ll run against Democratic incumbent Rep. John Larson, who has held the seat since 1999. Lazor, a resident of West Hartford, is an OB/GYN at Hartford Hospital. He graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in 1990.
CT Examiner caught up with Lazor for a zoom call on Wednesday to talk about his campaign, his work as a physician and what he sees for the future of Connecticut. The following is edited transcript of that conversation.
Why are you running for Congress and why now? Why not run for state office?
That’s usually how people start when this comes up in conversation — you’ll get a comment, are you crazy? What’s going on?
But I think there’s this great opportunity right now — people are unhappy with the divisiveness of the parties and I think the Republican party needs to shift, so for me the door is wide open in Connecticut and wide open nationally. Connecticut is ranked last out of 50 states for the last 12 years, debts high, taxes high, and companies are leaving so I think it’s an opportunity. I think we have momentum, then we’ll see where we go.
Why not run for state office? That comes up a lot. The state level has been run by the Democrats for a long time, so I think if you’re Republican in this state of Connecticut, it’s a tough job. I think it’s hard to get things done, it’s hard to get your voice heard, so I felt frustration with going that direction.
But federally, there’s a lot of changes that Biden’s been able to make — some of them I actually agree with but there’s a lot of debt, which eventually has to be paid back, so I think I would push back on some of these stimulus bills and not make them as heavy as they are.
I love the idea of helping out families. I love the idea of helping out with preschool and community colleges, but probably not where it’s a long-term investment. We may have a hard time financing the amount that Biden wants to do.
I think a lot of ways is that being part of a team means you can’t be so divisive. You have to be a better listener than what we see in Washington. Working as a team means you can disagree, but you try not to be disruptive and disrespectful as you disagree and you come to a consensus. The consensus isn’t going to be everything that Larry Lazor wants, but hopefully it’s in the right direction, hopefully it’s for the good of the people, and hopefully it’s not self serving.
What are principles that separate you from the Democrats on the left and the Republicans on the right who continue to contest the last presidential election?
I think both parties are big tents, but I think the Republican Party is in a fight right now — I think that’s obvious to everybody in terms of which direction they’re going.
Every relationship that we have that’s important — whether it’s mine with my kids, my wife, or my patients — is based on trust and if you break away from that piece, the relationship is going to be tough. The Republican party has to rebuild that trust with their voters. I’m doing it for my District 1 in Connecticut and I think if four or five people in each state in our country do that, you [will] see a massive turnaround in the party.
I disagree with the Democrats on some basic principles. I believe that the United States is a country of great opportunity. I think if people work hard, if they persevere, if they become educated, if they have great ideas, then I don’t know if you want to be anywhere else in the world besides the United States.
I did spend one interesting year in South America when I was at UConn Medical School. I took the year off and worked in clinics in the inner city in Bogota, Lima, and Recife, Brazil. You see extreme poverty there — stuff that we see can mirrored somewhat with what cities are experiencing in the U.S.
But the United States has an amazing opportunity — it’s not perfect. l will push back against some of the progressive Democrats where it’s a continual criticism of our country, but I do agree we need to change. I do agree that there’s wealth inequity and health care inequity— we need to go after those things, and we will.
Specifically, how would you work on healthcare inequity?
Health care comes down to three things — access, quality or trust, and affordability. A lot of the minority groups don’t trust health care due to historic issues that have gone on. You’ve also got middle class people who get sent to the emergency room and come back with bills of $5,000 or $7,000, which is devastating to the family.
It starts with access to primary care, you need to build good primary care models, particularly the inner city. My wife sees an excellent primary care physician in our town of West Hartford, but when she goes in, she most often sees a nurse practitioner — these primary care models can be run by nurse practitioners.
I moved a dying surgery center in Hartford to Farmington, and that opened up just a year ago. We save the system $1,000 per case and we’re doing about 4000 cases, so we’re saving the system $4 million a year by getting outpatient surgery away from hospitals, where it’s very, very expensive. You can’t do every case there but you cherry pick and that’s a way that you can save money. Obviously the way hospital systems are designed is to try to make as much money as they can, which isn’t good for the affordability piece.
On your website, you say that you oppose the single payer model of health insurance, why?
I think it’s a fallacy to say if we have a single payer system, everything will be perfect. You look at countries that have that — you need a hip done, well, you’re going to wait longer, you need a gallbladder out, you’re going to wait longer. The more affluent people will go to a private hospital. I believe in Republican principles of competition, creating models where if you can do it better than I can, that elevates my game, that elevates everyone’s game if you have good competition. So I think everyone needs health care, but a unitary payer system I would disagree with.
How would you address the issue of wealth inequality?
This is where we disagree with a lot of the Democratic Party — it’s about opportunities, it’s about giving people good paying jobs.
I think it starts a young age… with getting help with preschool, which I’m totally behind — you need to get these inner city kids into quality preschools or give families money, so that if the mother decides to spend more time at home, she can do that. Early education — if kids learn to read early on, it makes a huge difference. Schools have to be designed so that at the end of high school kids [look] at the five choices — find a good job or go to a trade school, community college, a four year college or the military — we have to help these kids find a good path. If you look at the inner city of Hartford or a lot of inner cities, about a third of the kids have given up.
If you make preschool basically free for everybody going forward, there’s a big price tag to that. I totally agree with subsidizing that but you also have a lot of families that like to keep their kids home, so maybe you do it in a way that you are giving people some money so that they get to decide whether they keep the kids home versus if they work and send the kids to preschool, kind of along the lines of what Mitt Romney has proposed. It’s a new way of looking at helping this wealth and equity divide that we have and helping out families.
We need to make Connecticut pro-business, that’s going to bring people jobs and that’s good for families.
What are the ‘not-business-friendly’ components of Connecticut?
It’s about taxes, regulation and housing for employees. When you’re competing as a state and companies now have the choice of moving or having people work from home, your state has to be competitive with other states. You look at the Republican led states, they tend to see more growth than the Democratic led states.
Taxes matter — you have to have that balancing act — you just can’t keep taxing people. Some of the most affluent individuals in Connecticut are now moving to Florida. When the top 5% pay more taxes than the bottom 95%, you want to be careful losing that 5%.
We’ve seen companies leave Connecticut, UTC, GE, Pitney Bowes, so you want to be aware of [business] taxes. We have a lot of great ideas for things, but if you keep hitting small businesses with regulations, they get frustrated.
I think Connecticut can support a $15 an hour minimum wage, I think other states may have a harder time with that. But, if you look at a small business and they have eight to 10 employees, and you say we’re going to move your minimum wage from $10 an hour to $15 an hour, do the math on that — you just gave that small business another $50,000 to $70,000 overhead. It’s good for individuals, but [that business] is probably going to have to let a few people go or he’s going to make a lot less money — again, that’s a balancing act.
Is there a way to address Connecticut’s economic issues at the federal level?
You want to support small businesses through proper taxation, proper grants. This is what’s going to keep the country going in the right direction — by having individuals with a good idea lead that to business development. Our country wants to be one in which we promote the development of small businesses and so I think any way that we can do that would be beneficial for wealth and equity.
And I am in favor of reaching out to black-owned businesses, particularly if in any way they’ve been disenfranchised, that we help them get all the backing that they need. Some of them just aren’t connected to the business world that some of the white businesses are so any way we can promote that would be good.
Are there specific pieces of legislation or approaches where you substantially differ from your opponent, John Larson?
He’s been there for 22 years and I’m not sure what he’s done that we can hold our hat on here in Connecticut or on a federal basis.
I think we need to fix Social Security. I’m all in favor of supporting and making Social Security solvent for the future, but when you look at some of the things he’s done, he makes it more expensive. That makes me nervous because it’s already an expensive plan, so we want to make sure it’s strong and if you’re increasing expenses, you may be actually making it more vulnerable.
The other thing he’s talked about for years is the big realignment of the highways in Hartford, That’s a very, very expensive proposal. I’ve heard price tags of $10 to $20 billion, up to $40 to $50 billion, for a city of 100,000 people. I like the fact that they’re beautifying Hartford, but you look at these huge, large sidewalks they put in for big money and no one’s walking on them at night. I think we need to address other things that may benefit the wealth and equity of people rather than this. It’s this exciting project, it will make Hartford more beautiful, but it’s a big, big price tag.
Are there pieces of legislation that you would like to bring forward as a representative?
Economic promotion would be the biggest one because if people have good paying jobs that solidifies families that makes families lives better and that makes kids’ lives better. I think as a country we do better when we supply good jobs. I think the last administration did a good job with the economy. You never saw lower rates of unemployment and minority groups than you did in the previous administration, so I think they were pro-business.
We’ll see with all this debt that the Biden crew is tacking on and eventually that has to be paid back. The world is riddled with countries who thought that was not going to ever be a problem. We’ll see how we look back on this time, whether this was prudent, and I think the Republican pushback on the spending is a good one. So economically, that would be a push and then healthcare. I think we need to continue to look at ways that it’s affordable for the middle class. Everyone needs health care.
You talked about building trust… How would you build trust as a member of Congress?
I talk to my kids about that all the time. How do you know you trust someone? I have two kids in college and an 11 year old. It takes time, right? You can’t just say, ‘Trust me.’ For me, you can go on the fact that I have been a physician for 31 years, you can go on the fact that I see 100 patients a week in the office, you can go on that I’ve got a marriage of 23 years. That doesn’t mean everything, but trust is something that takes time and it’s not a permanent thing. We can go through times in our life where you may have struggles in the marriage, we may have struggles with substance abuse. And so I think that it’s an ongoing thing.
What do you think we’ve learned from the past year, dealing with COVID-19?
It was a really tough year for a lot of people. I think the positive is that for the most part, people pulled together, that there was amazing teamwork. The physicians, the nurses, the people, the hospital, the teachers, the policeman, the people in our grocery stores, people rallied, and that was so inspirational to all of us.
I think the other part of this is it exposed vulnerabilities in our population — the healthcare discrepancy, we saw in the minority groups groups and lower socioeconomic groups that got hit harder. They are more isolated from healthcare and some of them don’t trust health care. And again, it comes back to trust all these relationships come back to trust.
We need to get back to that trust with a vaccine. There’s so much misinformation about the vaccine. The vaccine is incredibly safe. It’s incredibly important — it’s important for individuals, it’s important for the community. If people have questions about the vaccine, I’m fine with that, but if people are misleading people about the vaccine, that’s very dangerous.
How are you running your campaign so far?
You know, I’m having lots of coffee. I meet with people regularly. I try to listen more than talk and listen to what people’s thoughts are. We’re meeting people, fundraising and getting people excited.
Larson’s been in an office for 22 years, he’s going to be 74. There’s a lot of excitement with people talking about change, talking about having a Republican in Congress from Connecticut, let alone New England. That’s what we’re trying to do and we’re feeling momentum and trying to grow that momentum.