He’s not running for attorney general this year, but Richard Blumenthal was both praised and panned by the candidates running for a position he’s held for the past 20 years.
At Quinnipiac University’s Law School Monday night Republican candidate Martha Dean vowed to defend the statutes and constitution despite her own personal views on an issue. She accused Blumenthal of throwing the defense of marriage lawsuit because if his own personal views on same-sex marriage and vowed to defend the death penalty even though she doesn’t believe in it.
That comment prompted Democratic candidate George Jepsen to defend Blumenthal.
“Martha’s just challenging the honesty and integrity of Richard Blumenthal and I hope she’ll reconsider and apologize,” Jepsen said. A crowd of Dean supporters laughed and chuckled.
As the candidates discussed how to create a friendly business climate while enforcing the state’s environmental and consumer protection laws, the two got into what was probably the feistiest portion of the debate.
For Dean creating a business friendly state “means ending frivolous lawsuits. It means ending the sue first ask questions later culture of the attorney general’s office.”
While Jepsen said he would seek to strike a balance between enforcement and litigation, he jumped at the chance to differentiate himself from Blumenthal.
“Martha ran against Dick Blumenthal in 2002 and it seems since the last debate she’s been running against him ever since. If you wanted to run against Dick Blumenthal again I guess you should have run for U.S. Senate, not attorney general,” Jepsen said.
“I admire a great deal of what Dick has done. He has an extraordinary record of accomplishment, but George Jepsen is going to be his own person,” Jepsen said.
To which Dean began to hum theme song of the cartoon “The Jetsons,” and Jepsen, who has heard the joke countless times joined in: “Meet George Jetson.”
The audience laughed.
“It’s hard to tell who George Jepsen is because several months before Mr. Blumenthal’s polls tanked you wanted to be Mr. Blumenthal,” Dean said. But since Jepsen is admittedly not a litigator, Dean said he must be “Blumenthal-lite.”
“You know if Dick Blumenthal were here, standing right next to me I don’t think anybody would be calling me Blumenthal-lite,” Jepsen joked. “Maybe Dick Blumenthal with love handles.”
He said he knows Dean disagrees with Blumenthal’s litigation against Big Tobacco and the coal burning plants in the Midwest, but “I’m a litigator of last resort.”
Would they be as camera hungry as the current attorney general?
“I don’t believe in trying cases in the media. I don’t believe in using the media to personal or political ends,“ Dean said. However, she said if important public policy issues and constitutional issues were at stake “to get some of these issues straightened out I would use the public microphone to do that.“
“I agree with Martha that there are times when it’s completely appropriate for the attorney general to take a strong public stance on an issue,“ Jepsen said. But he said his personality is much more reserved than Blumenthal’s.
While they agreed on how to court the media they differed on several issues, such as whether the state should join 20 other states in suing the federal government over national health care reform and whether the issue of nullification is still relevant.
Dean would join the health care lawsuit and Jepsen wouldn’t. Both refused to answer whether the state of Connecticut has the power under its constitution to mandate insurance coverage like its neighboring state of Massachusetts.
As for nullification, Jepsen said it’s a relic and was settled more than 200 years ago by Marbury v. Madison, while Dean believes nullification should be used to “reign in the federal government,” and is still relevant.
The two also disagreed on separation of church and state and how it was applied in the ACLU’s case against the Enfield Schools for its decision to hold a graduation at First Cathedral in Bloomfield.
Dean said they should have been allowed to hold the public graduation in the mega-church, while Jepsen said it would have been unconstitutional.
In her closing statement Monday, Dean decided to talk about her fundraising disadvantage against Jepsen, who received $750,000 in public campaign funds after receiving small dollar donations from 1,300 residents.
“I could have taken three-quarters of a million dollars of your money for my campaign. The legislature allows me to do that and I said ‘No,‘” Dean said. “I believe it‘s unconstitutional and immoral to use government force to force you to contribute to a campaign you may not agree with.”
But Dean who says she only spent $10,000 on her primary bid beat Hartford lawyer Ross Garber 60.8 percent to 39 percent.
“Don’t let anyone tell you money buys elections,” Dean said. “This election is not about me, it is truly about you. For the first time in 20 years you get to choose your attorney general.”
She said last time a Republican served as attorney general was back in 1959 and Connecticut has never had a female attorney general, but begged the audience not to use those issues to vote for her. She said if you want a business owner and someone who will make sure to create a business friendly culture then vote for her.
Following the debate Jepsen tried to paint Dean as candidate who is “well outside the cultural mainstream in the state of Connecticut.”
He also doubted Dean’s grassroots support, which made her one of the top vote getters in the Republican primary. Dean received 8,000 more votes in the August primary than U.S. Senate nominee Linda McMahon according to state records.
In order to qualify for public financing Jepsen said from January to June he had 1,300 individual donors, while Dean received around 102 through the end of August.
“So guess whose got the grassroots,“ Jepsen said.