Political Newcomer Cozzens Takes Aim At Washington Spending, Regulation

Jeff Cozzens, center, CEO of Schilling Beer Co. and president of the New Hampshire Brewers Association, shown during a joint press conference with governors Chris Sununu of New Hampshire and Phil Scott of Vermont at Schilling in Littleton on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (Photo by Paul Hayes)

Jeff Cozzens stepped down as CEO of Schilling Beer Co. this month.

That’s because he has something else brewing.

The Lyman Republican has announced his bid to challenge five-term incumbent Rep. Annie Kuster in the Second Congressional District.

Cozzens, 46, cited concerns with the Biden administration and “out-of-touch” Washington politicians as reasons for running.

Seeking his first elected office at any level, he takes pride in his non-political background.

“I think a lot of what’s happening in Washington, D.C., right now shouldn’t be solved by people who are professional politicians. I think that’s a huge part of our problem,” he said.

THE ISSUES

Cozzens, who took Schilling from a start-up brewery to a multi-million dollar business in the course of seven years, favors small government and free-market solutions to socioeconomic issues.

He has spoken out against the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill being pushed by Kuster and other House Democrats, which he calls wasteful.

He and his family are vaccinated, and encourages others to get the shot, but opposes government mandates. He is a life-long sportsman, and supports second amendment gun rights.

Having worked as a national security professional in the decade after 9/11, Cozzens holds conservative positions on border security and immigration, and is critical of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy plan.

He is particularly concerned with how the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the way it was done, will impact the country’s reputation and standing in the world. He worries it will embolden other nations, such as China, to take more aggressive actions without fear of retribution.

“I think there are a lot of people in Washington, D.C., that think they know better than we do in the Granite State,” he said. “And they want to tell us how to run our businesses, raise our families, live our lives, and they want to perpetuate an American foreign policy based on American weakness and I think that’s very dangerous”

DRAWING BATTLE LINES

Cozzens seeks to draw a clear line between himself and Kuster.

“We have a fundamentally different view of the role government plays in our lives,” he said. “I’m a Republican for a reason. I believe in the private sector. I believe that people can create jobs. It’s not the role of the government to do so. I believe in maintaining a strong national defense. I believe in a vibrant and healthy infrastructure in our country. Those are all hallmarks of being a Republican.”

He described himself as a unifying candidate. He also applauded former President Donald Trump for some of his actions.

“I think President Trump did some good things for our country,” he said. “I think President Trump recognized the need to safeguard our southern border, we see that in the immigration problems that persist. We see that there is a need to stand up to China as another great power, there needs to be a whole government approach in doing so. And I think all Republicans will also agree that we need a very strong economy, and the economy under the Trump administration is empirically better than it is now.”

In contrast to Kuster, who was as a lobbyist in New Hampshire from 1989 to 2009, Cozzens said “I’ve worked for a living.”

“I know what it’s like to create and start a business. I know what it’s like to put in long, long hours and to build something together, and work, and make it successful,” he said. As CEO of Schilling “you have dozens of families that depend on you for a paycheck. She’s never had that type of responsibility.”

FORMATIVE YEARS

Cozzens took an early interest in politics and diplomacy.

Growing up in Traverse City, Mich., Cozzens was selected by his high school to attend the boys state and boys nation programs.

“I had the opportunity to meet President George H.W. Bush in the Rose Garden of the White House,” he recalled. “That was an electric moment for me.”

He was also a member of his high school’s Model United Nations team. During a competition in 1991, he represented the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

He chose the PLO because of the challenge. He wanted to understand their perspective. As part of the process, he was mailed literature from the PLO Observer Mission at the actual United Nations.

A couple of days later, he said, there was “a knock at the door and an FBI interview thinking that I was sympathetic to these guys.”

He can laugh at that moment now. But it began a long and deep interest in Middle Eastern politics, and terrorist movements in the region.

He holds undergraduate degrees from Wheaton (Ill.) College and Michigan State University in political science and religious studies and a Masters in international security studies from the University of St. Andrews.

He spent time in Jerusalem, where he studied the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and “was almost killed in a suicide bombing,” and from 2002 to 2014 he supported the U.S. government and commercial clients as a researcher, analyst and consultant with a focus on counter-terrorism.

NORTH COUNTRY CONCERNS

Cozzens left the national security field to open a craft brewery.

He relocated to the North Country in 2005. It’s where he and his wife Monica have raised two daughters, where he co-founded Schilling in 2013, and where he enjoys fly-fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation.

In running for office, he wants to support the region’s economic development but also protect its environment and natural resources. He points to climate change as a real threat to the area’s outdoor recreation and tourism industries.

‘[Outdoor recreation] is just a huge part of who I am and why I choose to live in the North Country. I think that we enjoy in the North Country a very unique sense of place, and this unique sense of place and this environment is incredibly important to our economy, to our development as an area, and to the quality of life for its residents,” he said. “I’m not shy at all about saying this needs to be protected for so many reasons.”

Many in the local Republican establishment were caught off guard by Cozzens’ decision to run

However, once the surprise wore off, GOP supporters were quick to praise Cozzens.

In addition to his success with Schilling (which he retains an ownership stake in) they noted his experience as past President of the New Hampshire Brewers Association and past member of the Community College System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, Commission on Demographics, and Commission on Beer, Wine, and Liquor Tourism.

Cozzens’ candidacy could alter the local political landscape.

He aims to become the first Congressman to come from ‘North of the Notch’ in over a century, since Raymond Stevens of Landaff served a single term from 1913-1915.

“It would be a tremendous honor,” Cozzens said. “I love this district.”

CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Cozzens declared his candidacy two weeks ago.

He has already received high-profile words of support from state Sen. Erin Hennessey (R-Littleton) and Gov. Chris Sununu.

In a social media comment dated Oct. 5, Sununu wrote, “No one in New Hampshire I’d rather have a beer with than my friend @JeffreyBCozzens. Jeff is the real deal — authentic, hard-working, a community leader. Democracy is better when good people step up to run for office.”

Days later, during a visit to Lancaster, Sununu added that Cozzens “is going to be a phenomenal candidate.”

Cozzens wouldn’t say if he consulted with Sununu before launching his campaign. However, Cozzens described the governor in similarly glowing terms.

“I have a huge amount of respect for Gov. Sununu and I think he’s been a tremendous leader for the state,” Cozzens said.

Cozzens has hired Jamestown Associates, a leading Republican strategic communications firm, to assist his campaign.

“They’re pretty serious people that have been very successful in bringing Republicans to office,” he said.

Asked why he chose Congress for his first political campaign, Cozzens said “I think my skill sets are better tuned to addressing national and international problems.”

He is in the process of hiring his campaign staff. He is also kick-starting fundraising efforts. He faces a contested primary with three declared opponents: Former Hillsborough County Treasurer Bob Burns of Bedford, Rep. Jeffrey Greeson of Wentworth, and disabled veteran activist Dean Poirier of Concord. The winner will face Kuster, who reported $1.7 million cash on hand in her September campaign finance report.

In addition to lining up staff and raising cash, Cozzens has already begun making appearances across the district. It currently consists of nearly 660,000 people in Coos County and the western half of the state.

“The single most important thing I am doing right now is listening. Just listening to people Granite Staters across the district. I put almost 1,000 miles on my Silverado last week alone doing that,” he said. He expects that will continue moving forward. “I’m going to continue to spend every opportunity that I can out in the district. This is very important for me. I have a huge district from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border, so I’ll be putting a lot of money on my Silverado.”

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