In addition to defining themselves, Democrat George Jepsen and Republican Martha Dean spent a good deal of time Thursday evening trying to define each other in an hour-long televised debate between the two candidates for attorney general.
Dean accused her opponent of wanting to continue the legacy and activism of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
“I’m particularly concerned and troubled and I think we all need to ask ourselves do we want a continuation of Mr. Blumenthal,” Dean said.
“I’m a very different person than Dick Blumenthal,” Jepsen said. “I bring my own style to the office. I’m not a litigator… My background has been to get people around the table to work things out.”
Asked what he would do if the lawyers in the attorney general’s office wanted to organize a union, Jepsen quipped that he’d “lock out,” his employees. While Jepsen began his career as general counsel to Carpenters Local 2010 in Norwalk, he said during his legislative career he’s voted against the binding arbitration award for the prison guards. AFSCME, the union which represents the prison guards, has never forgotten Jepsen’s vote and refused to offer him any support when he ran for governor in 2002.
“I can handle both sides of the labor issue,” Jepsen said.
“I think it’s time in Connecticut for a little of the iron lis,” Dean said. “You remember Maggie Thatcher.”
Dean, who is supported by a lose knit group of Tea Party members across the state, painted herself as an independent thinker.
“I am not beholden to any special interests. I’m not beholden to any party, to any ideology, to any person, to any group, to any business, enterprise, or trade group. I am simply beholden to the powers of our constitution and doing what‘s right” she added.
“For Martha to say she’s not political is like me saying I have a full head of hair,” Jepsen said. “She’s run for public office before. She ran a very effective convention this past year, she’s made thousands of dollars in contributions to local candidates over the years, meanwhile I did not receive a dime from any union in this election.”
Jepsen is participating in the public financing system where he was required to raise $75,000 in small contributions and received $750,000 in campaign funds. Dean is not participating in the system and is raising money privately.
Both candidates fielded specific questions about statements they’ve made in the past.
Dean was asked about her comments regarding the Second Amendment and why it’s the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights.
“That quote has been taken out of context,” Dean said. “Many people have said that the Second Amendment is the greatest of all the amendments in the Constitution because without it all the others are at risk. And what I mean, and I said very clearly, is that I will uphold the constitution. I will uphold all of the constitution.”
On the Second Amendment, Jepsen said he was very proud of the F- he received as a legislator from the National Rifle Association. The statement drew cheers from his side of the aisle and jeers from the side where Dean’s supporters were sitting.
Jepsen was asked why his campaign web site lists as one of the issues as the educational achievement gap in the state.
“The Connecticut Supreme Court recently ruled that the Connecticut Constitution guarantees students the right to an adequate education,” Jepsen said. “This litigation is going to play out over the next four, five, six, seven years and the attorney general will inevitably play a very strong role in determining the course of that litigation.”
At some point the attorney general’s office may be put in a position where it has to balance the cost of an adequate education with the reality of the state’s budget deficit.
“I will vigorously defend the state taxpayers pocketbooks,” Dean said. “We’re talking about the constitutional standard which is a minimum.”
Perhaps the most telling difference between the two candidates came at the very end of the debate when Jeremy Paul, the Dean of the University of Connecticut Law School, asked them to name a few of the most influential books they’ve read.
“When the Cheering Stopped,” a book about President Woodrow Wilson and the events following WWI, Jepsen said.
The Bible, Dean said. She said the Bible taught us how to be brave and do what was right.
“The lessons that my parents taught me, and I didn’t realize it until I was an adult, are all there for everyone to read,” Dean said.