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Ken Dixon: Steve Obsitnik, businessman, author, problem-solver

March 12, 2018 GMT

It was somewhat spooky to have the restaurant to ourselves, but when I ordered the $20 cheeseburger ...

Such are the tribulations and fiduciary commitments, I travail for you, dear readers.

As it worked out, the burger was huge and it — along with some of its crispy little French-fried accessories — came home for further consultation. But that was hours after the high-noon encounter with the newly published author who is driving a 2007 Thor Motor Coach in a quest for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Steve Obsitnik was on the other side of the table, working on a sensible Caesar salad, like a frugal problem-solver. We were on his turf, across the river from his Westport home. Occasionally, a train would rattle by. The room began to fill.

We were talking about the crowded field, the positions of the ... uh ... more high-profile GOP candidates with the track records and bold pronouncements that could become liabilities in what could be the state’s most crucial election in decades.

It was the sunny day after the latest nor’easter and Obsitnik was about 90 minutes away from going back to his powerless home to take his two daughters to the movies.

He presented me with his fresh-off-the-presses book, which he’ll mail to thousands of lawmakers, Republicans and potential convention delegates. His Bancroft Hall Books impression is named after the huge dorm at the United States Naval Academy. The book’s called “Run to the Fire.” Its subtitle is “Leadership Lessons from the Arctic Circle to the Silicon Valley and Back Home to a State of Crisis.” On the cover, over Obsitnik’s left shoulder, is the young midshipman on his way to submarine duty. Next was the Wharton School for an MBA and the Silicon Valley tech job. Then, his first political experience: losing to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in the 4th District race back in 2012.

“I think anyone who wants to make a case to be governor of Connecticut, I think what it comes down to, is I think voters evaluate politicians and buy a product on a few simple things,” Obsitnik said. “One: Does this person have relevant experience? Two: Do they have ideas to get us out of the problems that we have? Do they believe the person has the ability to actually make those ideas happen in reality; and do they trust them to make them?”

He thinks the state is ready to stop electing governors from farm teams called municipal government (Gov. Dannel Malloy) or Congress (John Rowland, Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.).

“I feel good about how I stand out versus the competition, because for 30 years, since I graduated from Stamford High, we’ve basically been putting career politicians back in that role, and that’s taken us down the road to ruin, with both Republicans and Democrats in the governor’s seat,” he said. “What I am trying to do is show there is another path to go down. There’s the path of the business outsider. When you look at Rick Scott in Florida, Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan in Maryland, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, the states that have been in really problematic times, they often fall back on a business outsider who can get the job done. I think I’m the only one in the race who brings that perspective.”

About three years ago, he founded Imagine Connecticut, a nonpartisan organization of about 250 corporate executives, to discuss solutions to the state’s problems. It now has about 11,000 Facebook followers, he said. “It expanded beyond business leaders to many others who ask: How do we become a top job-creation state?” he said.

“The air, dirt and water of Massachusetts is the same as Connecticut, so why are they thriving and we’re losing people and jobs? We’ve got all the same stuff, but I think Massachusetts has done a better job of managing themselves in their Capitol with Republicans and Democrats, working together. I think they’ve done a better job doing what needs to happen to drive people. How do you get people to move in, not move out and when you do that, you have more people in your proverbial restaurant that you can do more things with. Right now that is not happening here.”

When you see the the big old motor home with the “Steve Obsitnik” shrink wrap and the dozens of autographs written on its sides, talk to the driver. Ask for a marker to sign the vehicle (it’s a thing). In November, he might your guy.

Ken Dixon can be reached at 860-549-4670 or at kdixon@ctpost.com. Visit him at twitter.com/KenDixonCT and on Facebook at kendixonct.hearst.