Christine Stuart photo

In her trademark red suit, Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton, chose to announce her exploratory bid for governor at a gazebo in Naugatuck Tuesday surrounded by family and friends.

Boucher and her family immigrated to Naugatuck from Italy when she was five years old.

Rumored to be a contender for lieutenant governor before Tuesday Boucher surprised some political insiders when she mentioned the position she’s really interested in is governor. Under campaign finance rules, Boucher isn’t allowed to say definitely she’s running for governor because it would mean she forfeits the ability to use an exploratory committee to raise $250,000 and qualify for public funding.

The move is a strategic one for the 63-year-old who started her political career on the Wilton Board of Education.

The exploratory committee allows candidates to find out how much support they have from their party and tests their fundraising ability, Boucher said.

“It saves the public a lot of money, don’t you think, before everybody is out there actually being a candidate,” Boucher said.

In making her pitch Tuesday, Boucher painted herself as someone who can straddle both the blue collar world of Naugatuck and the affluent world of Wilton and the six other communities she represents as a state senator. She said she was the highest vote getter out off all 36 state Senators in 2012 and has the ability to appeal to a general election audience.

A politician with 17 years of legislative experience she gracefully brushed off a question about whether she thought it was sexist that people would assume she would go for the number two spot instead of the top spot.

“It would be disappointing if people looked at a candidate in that way,” Boucher said.

She said people should ask themselves if the candidates are competent and have the skill set necessary to bring people together to improve the state’s fiscal condition. The gender of the a candidate shouldn’t matter.

After a meeting with reporters in Hartford later Tuesday afternoon, one of Boucher’s volunteers conceded it absolutely was sexist to assume she would be seeking the number two spot.

Boucher said the most important job the governor has is saving the state from “financial ruin.”
At the end of the day, that’s all that’s going to matter to the voters, she said.

Chris O'Brien photo

Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. who sought to avoid a Republican primary for the state’s top spot, was in Naugatuck Tuesday for Boucher’s announcement. He welcomed her to the increasingly crowded field of candidates.

Currently, the only two Republicans officially running for governor include Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, and Joe Visconti of West Hartford. Earlier this month Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton announced that like Boucher he was exploring a run for governor.

Tom Foley, the Republican candidate in 2010, is also expected to get into the race. Foley self-funded his 2010 race, but the rest of the candidates seem to be relying on some form of public financing.

But Boucher set her sights on Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in her prepared remarks Tuesday.

“This administration seems to think that taxpayers’ wallets are bottomless and that government has an unlimited license to spend,” she said.

She recounted Malloy’s 2011 tax increase and the state employees’ contract that included four years of job security for state workers. “Then, the following year, when people and businesses were still reeling from more than 70 new taxes totaling $3.7 billion, the state was again facing another huge deficit,” she added.

Asked what she thought about her Republican colleagues with their eye on the governor’s office, Boucher said “I think anyone of them would do a better job than the current administration.”

Boucher described herself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. However, the later she admits, depends on the particular issue. Boucher fought hard against efforts to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize small amounts of it, but she supports a woman’s right to choose and emergency contraception for rape victims.

When asked about her age Boucher paraphrased former President Ronald Reagan’s attempt to defuse the issue of his age in a debate with Walter Mondale. “I don’t mean to criticize the lack of experience of my opponents,” she quipped paraphrasing Reagan’s statement.

“There is a lot to be said for going through a lot of challenging times and bills and budgets,” Boucher said.

Boucher doesn’t plan on giving up her job in order to run for office. She said it’s a luxury she doesn’t have.

Boucher is the director of the Common Fund Institute, the educational and research arm of Common Fund, a $28 billion nonprofit fund manager for 1,500 educational, nonprofit, and healthcare institutions started by the Ford Foundation in 1971.

In the exploratory phase Boucher will be able to raise $375 per person, but only $100 of that contribution will be allowed to be carried over to a candidate committee, if she decides to run.

Boucher set no timetable for herself to declare if she would go beyond exploring at some point and make an announcement. Boughton has said he would make a decision in January 2014.