They don’t own homes and they don’t pay property taxes, but Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Malloy and his running mate Nancy Wyman are keenly aware of the power of their vote.
It was just four years ago that U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney beat then incumbent U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons by just 83 votes, a margin attributed largely to University of Connecticut students.
“I’ve been around long enough to tell you that if you all don’t get the votes out from here we could lose,” Wyman told a group of UConn students Sunday afternoon. “You know how important it is to turn this campus out.”
Using Courtney’s 2006 race as an example Wyman told the students “you really are so important to this race.”
The group of about 20 students, a handful of whom were political science majors, asked Malloy and Wyman questions about everything from decriminalizing marijuana to stem cell research and even one question about bonding for transportation infrastructure.
Jesse Rifkin, a freshman who had supported Ned Lamont in the primary, said he appreciated Malloy’s unequivocal answer to his question on state support of stem cell research, but was still uncertain if he would vote for him in November.
Malloy, who later posed for a photo with Rifkin, said he was shocked when Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed cutting the state’s commitment to stem cell research in half at the beginning of the year.
Stem cell research and the industry it was beginning to create in the state started to generate jobs, Malloy said. “This governor’s first response to how she could deal in this budget was to propose cutting it in half. No, I think we’ve gotta step it up,” he said.
He said this is part of a change in relationship the state needs to have with its private and public universities and at a later stage private companies willing to take the research and create jobs. By the time this university received any money for stem cell research Malloy said the doctor heading up the program had died and much of the work he had done moved to other places including Singapore.
“Connecticut is no longer the epicenter of that emerging science. We’ve got be more aggressive when it comes to stem cell,” Malloy said.
Zackery Lanier, who lives in Willimantic, asked Wyman if the campaign supports decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. He said the drug trade is of significant importance to him because he sees how it impacts his community, but isn’t a police officer and can’t do much to stop it.
“A lot of that is local,” Wyman said. However, she said the state police, like many other state agencies have been devastated by early retirement programs, like the last one in 2009.
“I understand some people like it, but I think it’s terrible,” Wyman said of the early retirement programs. She said it’s made the streets less safe because there are fewer troopers out there patrolling.
As for decriminalizing marijuana, Wyman said the campaign is concerned with the growing prison population.
“Drugs is a major problem,“ Wyman said. “Are they supposed to be in jail or should we be helping them out?” She said putting drug users in jail isn’t necessarily going to help them get away from the problem.
Malloy said he absolutely supports decriminalizing marijuana. However, he was quick to point that decriminalizing it, or taking it from a misdemeanor to an infraction, doesn’t mean legalizing it.
Michael Daniels, a freshman from Illinois, who has been trying to brush up on the political issues in Connecticut, asked Malloy how he would prioritize investments in things such as high-speed rail during these tough economic times.
Malloy answered by telling a story about running into a Department of Transportation worker at the Goshen fair. Malloy said the DOT employee said he was road guy and more money should be put into roads because you don’t have to subsidize roads like you do rail.
“What?” Malloy said. “Don’t we plow? Don’t we rebuild them? Don’t we replace the bridges?”
He said roads are subsidized just like rail and other public transportation infrastructure and the return on each investment is made over a period of years.
“There’s precious few other reasons to have government other than to build roads, and schools, and infrastructure,” Malloy said.
“I’m a big believer that investment in rail is appropriate,” he said. “Those are investments that last a long period of time and I think you have to examine infrastructure investments on an inter-generational basis.”
As for the state of the economy, Malloy said the investments in transportation infrastructure weren’t made during good economic times. He said the understanding that these investments are inter-generational is one of the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.
“I would be embarrassed if I were governor to turn over a state to another governor where the infrastructure wasn’t at least somewhat better than the one before,” Malloy said.