New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
Dean Scontras, second generation Greek American former computer sales rep (at the beginning of the internet revolution) and businessman has begun his campaign to run for Maineʼs 1st congressional District. Scontras has now resigned from that industry in order to focus all of his efforts on running for office in a full-time capacity.
A native of Kittery Maine and graduate of the University of Maine at Orono, the thirty-eight year old Scontras who has a family network running throughout Southern Maine, feels connected to his Greek heritage and looks forward to planning his first trip to Greece to visit his grandparentsʼ village in Vatika, in the southern Peloponnesos, when he has a breather. Meanwhile, The Greek News caught him on the run to elaborate on some issues he is addressing in his campaign.
TGN: Did your work in the computer world prepare you for politics?
DS: I worked for several different companies, a lot of networking companies.
Iʼm finding that experience is very good for many reasons. One, having an understanding of the global economy, especially the situation weʼre facing currently.
TGN: You decided to settle in Maine.
DS: There I was, a kind of prodigal son come home. In coming home here to Maine, the moral of the story is that in Maine, a lot of the kids are moving away because thereʼs no opportunity here, and weʼre trying to build business here and trying to build an economy here. Itʼs almost similar to Greece, a last generation economy, a large entitlement system, and we donʼt want to send out =r kids away to work for other states or to work for other countries.ʼ
TGN: You talk about the issues of national security, economic security, and health care in your campaign. What about social security?
DS: Iʼll step back even further than that question: people are always asking “Whatʼs the issue?” and I think the issue everybody faces right now is uncertainty…uncertainty about our security both here and abroad, uncertainty about our borders, uncertainty about our economy. And social security fits into that equation of uncertainty when weʼre talking about the economy.
Right now, on paper, and the way the federal government forecasts, is not really consistent with generally accepted accounting principles, but weʼre actually supposed to have a surplus by 2012 with the tax cuts in place. However, the largest burden on our economic system or budget right now is the entitlement system, and part of that is social security and the other part is are Medicare and Medicaid, and theyʼre both projected to go insolvent in the next 15-25 years, which is a problem for our children and grandchildren because they are going to inherit this burden.
Social Security is a very sensitive issue. People have paid into it their entire lives and want their benefits. But thereʼs a very clear divide between people who grew up prior to 401 Kʼs, and the stock market, and mutual funds, and those who were just putting money away dollar for dollar into social security. That divide occurs at about 38 years of age, like myself, so thereʼs a very opportunistic moment of time when weʼre going to have a smaller amount of people going into social security and people paying into the system.
The day social security goes insolvent weʼre going to have to raise payroll taxes 50%, and 50% every year after that. Thatʼs seismic in economic input. So we have to get away from a lot of that. Having run for office, people say, “Dean, do you to throw grandma out the window!” Well, of course not…Iʼd be affecting my own parents if I were to suggest not giving anybody benefits. On the contrary, we want to protect especially the contributions of the greatest generation of folks going into social security right now.
Itʼs one of those things that on paper, that when Americans are allowed to look at it mathematically they say, “yeah, weʼve got to change it”, but when you introduce the politics of fear into it we never get any results from it. So, borrowing a page from Newt Gingrich, “there are solutions that work, and there are solutions that donʼt work”. Clearly, the solution that doesnʼt work is not doing anything. I have a 6 year old and a 3 year old and as I said before, uncertainty is at an all-time high. When people like you and I talk about going back to Greece, how ironic is that? Letʼs try to get away from the sensationalistic politics that goes along with this stuff and try to find a rational approach. I think that when people talk about a change election thatʼs truly what they want. Letʼs solve this problem now, when it has the least economic impact on all of us, because if we have to raise payroll taxes 50% every year weʼre going to be in trouble.
TGN: What “rational approach” toward change in the social security system do you suggest?
DS: We should allow people 38 years old and younger the option to opt out and go into private accounts. While this may seem an issue to older Americans, the next generation of Americans are much more receptive to the concept of controlling their own investment account.
We can address many of the concerns of those who are dependent on Social Security by insuring the benefits of those currently in the system. And itʼs imperative that we act quickly. The problem is not going to get any easier to solve as it continues to grow. As my mother says, we are robbing Peter to pay Paul, and there are increasingly more Pauls in the system than Peters.
TGN: In your campaign statement you also say that keeping Maine families safe is your top priority. How do you anticipate doing that?
DS: Well, Iʼll be a member of Congress, and I think whether itʼs Iraq in the Middle East, or Iran getting nuclear weapons…we do live in an age of terror. Iʽm six miles away from the Portland jetport where Mohammed Atta originally walked through security, so we have a stark reminder of the world we live in today. The 911 Commission report very clearly stated that it was our inability to imagine something like that happening. I think that as Americans weʼve always been safe, up to the point where you want to deny that there are bad guys out there in the world who want to wreak havoc but that was the sin of 911…failing to get outside that comfort zone and thinking that we could just shut the door on the rest of the world and Islamic Jihad wonʼt come here to roost.
So we have to start with the endgame, and unfortunately, with people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who, I still believe wants to get nuclear weapons — running around this world youʼve got to start by imagining a terror attack that would be even greater than 911 and work backwards from there. Once again, Iʼve become a lot more aware of the problems that face the security of this country, as I get more into this endeavor; you canʼt tuck your children into bed at night and say, “Iʼm not going to do anything about it”.
I think that when you talk about border security, the longer we wait on that the more vulnerable we become. And what we do abroad — our freedom in this country certainly relies upon the freedom of other countries now more than ever — we all have to be more in tune with that. We know that foreign nationals are coming in over our border…itʼs just a reality. There is a small number of terrorists that are exploiting our political system and our legal system, and certainly our border.
TGN: What are your thoughts on our national safety as related to what America does abroad?
DS: I think the situation in the Middle East continues to be something in which weʼd better take a vested interest. Only now is the administration getting back involved with the Palestinian – Israeli problem and trying to resolve it, and weʼre seeing, hopefully, some dividends for that. And I think the idea, very generically, is the hope that democracy will rule in Palestine and all the other places, and that extremists will become marginalized, with no place to go. As democracy spreads, extremism is forced to hide in caves. That sounds easy, but on a day-to-day basis itʼs a long protracted struggle.
Thatʼs where I part with the administration; I donʼt think theyʼve done a good job in buying American support for this, remembering the lesson of 911, so whether itʼs the border, or American policy abroad weʼve got to continue to aggressively engage ourselves in this new national security dilemma. We couldnʼt close out eyes and wish the Soviet Union away; it took an active president, thatʼs for sure, to resolve that problem. I think national security for us as a country has changes so radically in the sense that it has become asymmetrical, if I can use that word, where just a few people in bad places want to do bad things to this country. Of course, it was twenty-five years ago where it was, “hey, thereʼs the Soviet Union and we can see that itʼs engaged in various areas of the world to spread Communism,”…this is radically different. I think to some degree, and the president is at fault for this to some degree, is not communicating that new struggle to the American people but youʼve got to start with what the 911 Commission said: weʼve got to imagine what can happen…and you know, shame on us.
TGN: In your campaign you also say that you have fresh ideas that will deliver the next generation of economic prosperity.
DS: I donʼt know that theyʼre fresh ideas…when you look at most of the presidential candidates, these are people who have made a career in politics, and they continually generate poor ideas and poor legislation; weʼre now seeing the spread of free markets across the globe. And in Europe — who would have thought it — we see flat taxes and lower regulations. Theyʼre continually borrowing from the American ideas and the American ingenuity. Really, I think the establishment politician, the poster child Iʼm running against, is at fault for that. If youʼve never run a business, big or small, or youʼve never been involved in business thatʼs now global, how can you make reasonable policy that would encourage capitalism and free markets?
And I think shame on us as Republicans — and this is really where the clear divide is, is that people who are free market thinkers and free market people typically go into business; they donʼt go in to government, and I think the Republican Party is to blame for that by not nurturing and getting more free market thinkers involved in government, because we know overwhelmingly that American people agree with lower taxes and less regulation.
Perhaps itʼs not new ideas on what weʼve been proposing — Kennedy cut taxes and so did Reagan and we prospered as a result of that…I think new ideas are not mine, but the gentleman in India who just won the Nobel Peace Prize for using free market thinking to resolve poverty in India. The reality is that free markets, and according to Alan Greenspan in chapter 3 of his new book, Age of Turbulence, is that free markets and capitalism resolve social ills better than entitlement programs. And I know the general angst in places where people donʼt like free markets and capitalism. It goes against a lot of our better judgment as people to not provide safety nets, and to not be altruistic…we as Greeks, thatʼs the call…but I think that what weʼre seeing is that free markets resolve those problems better.
TGN: You have stated that medical malpractice insurance premiums and outdated record keeping are what is at fault with the healthcare system.
DS: Itʼs a little more comprehensive than that. Let me go back even further: first, I take issue with the idea of “universal”, because universal means itʼs always accessible to everybody at all times no matter what your condition is. Think of the Greek word economia; everything has an economy whether itʼs healthcare or the household. Itʼs the allocation of scarce resources that have variable uses. So to imply that something is universal because the government is now paying for it is not true. It does not mean that if you need a liver transplant youʼre going to be able to go get it, because itʼs scarce resources; the ratio of people to medical supplies is greater…we have more people than medical procedures…so itʼs not universal. The only thing thatʼs universal about it is that the federal government in providing it, so itʼs a little misleading when people suggest that.
Secondly, the way I approach it is that youʼve got to look at cost: what are the biggest generators of our cost, because weʼve got the best healthcare system in the world…we know that, and if you look at the cost, overwhelmingly, doctors have called me and said “thank you for saying something about medical malpractice insurance”. I know that in Georgia, it drives OB/GYNʼs out of the state; they canʼt pay for it. Weʼve got to address that. And it typically hits specialists more than it does GPʼs. I think the lawyerʼs lobby has been effective in squelching a lot of that legislation.
When you get to digitization of health records — this is my background, and itʼs a little generic — but if you look at the efficiency, specifically the overhead cost, of anything digital versus anything paper, and this is something business learned in the 90ʼs, you become much more efficient with getting your products to market because you lower the overhead…specifically, as the number attached to paper and people who pass paper within the healthcare system. I think the number is 60,000 dollars per piece of paper or administrator, or something like that, so thereʼs a huge cost component to it, as well.
And if you look at the operational efficiencies of going digital, where everybody has a unified system thatʼs inner-operable, a standard space where you can access anybodyʼs healthcare anywhere at any time. It allows you to administer care quicker before something can develop, whether itʼs a chronic disease or a cut, because people can get access to your medical records and know your allergies and your symptoms and all that stuff…so digitization is something Iʼm very much behind.
I also think that in the current system, where you have to buy your healthcare at your place of employment, something that was instituted right just after World War II, when we had the big companies of the last economy, and weʼve gone to a much different economy now; as the world continues to globalize we have a lot more self-employed people. For instance, now, over 750,000 people declare Ebay as their primary source of income! In other words, it only makes sense that we open up the markets for availability to healthcare; thatʼs something you donʼt hear much about. But weʼre still using a 1940ʼs model trying to operate in 2008. In other words, you should be able to go and buy healthcare like you go to the grocery store and buy Coca Cola.
Here in Maine weʼve got a hyper-regulated system, something called Community Rating and Guaranteed Issue, and as a result of those two penal regulations there are only two insurance companies that want to participate, or compete, in Maine. The insurance cost for a family my size in New Hampshire, is 600 dollars, and in Maine that same policy is 1200 dollars. Olympia Snowe has something pending that resolves that to some degree, which will allow people who work for themselves to buy insurance on the open market, no matter where that plan is.
There will be Dean Scontras for Congress fundraiser at the Central Park Boathouse in New York on Thursday, March 6th, from 5 – 8 p.m. Contact the Scontras campaign headquarters for more information. (207) 221-3447.