The only would-be candidate for governor in next year’s elections who has already run successfully for statewide office has pulled out of the race. When you think about it, it’s not terribly surprising that Comptroller Kevin Lembo bowed out and opted for a re-election bid instead.
Indeed, you’d have to wonder why the remaining candidates want the job at all. By all accounts, Connecticut is a mess. Signs of fiscal crisis and decline are visible at every turn. And it pains me to say that because, with the exception of one year in New Hampshire, I’ve lived here for 33 years.
For a comprehensive guide to the state’s myriad problems, I looked to get a bird’s-eye view from Governing, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Connecticut, has no political affiliation and bills itself as a nonpartisan “media platform covering politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders.” Its current owner evidently has “ties to Scientology,” though that religion (if you want to call it that) isn’t exactly a hotbed of partisan fiscal wonkery.
Last week, right around the time Lembo made the announcement of his un-candidacy, Governing came out with a cruel piece entitled “How Did America’s Richest State Become Such a Fiscal Mess?” The state’s woes are well known to just about anyone here who’s been paying attention, which includes practically anyone who reads CTNewsJunkie.
But Governing’s Alan Greenblatt has penned a probing analysis of Connecticut’s problems marked by the detachment of an outsider. He joins a long list of national media that have examined our problems, including The Atlantic, Slate and the Wall Street Journal, whose editorial page has been especially merciless in wondering how our elected officials could screw things up so badly.
The state, which still has the highest per capita income in the nation, has long been blessed by the presence of — and dependent on the revenue of — tens of thousands of high-net-worth individuals. And in many cases the corporations that employ them are here as well, though the ranks of those employers are diminishing. The departure of General Electric alone caused the exit of hundreds of high-paying jobs and $1.8 million in annual property tax revenue to the town of Fairfield. More will be leaving following Aetna’s decision to move its highest-paid suits to Manhattan. But the state never really responded to these and other obvious signs of distress.
Consequently, Greenblatt says, “Lawmakers have acted as if they were on a shopping spree at Christmas, confident that the money to pay off the credit cards would somehow be found in the new year.”
If you think that sounds like a Republican talking point, you’re right. Expect every GOP candidate for statewide office and for General Assembly to use some variation of it next year. If Lembo had run and received the Democratic nomination, the loyal opposition would have pounded him over the head with it every day.
Lembo has tried his best to distance himself from unpopular Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, disagreeing with him, for example, on the size of projected budget deficits and insisting, through a series of proposals, in transparency in state spending and in corporate welfare. But like many Democrats he will be vulnerable next year, when a GOP takeover of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the General Assembly is possible — perhaps even likely.
Some are sure that Lembo merely had second thoughts and decided he was happy focusing as comptroller on the fiscal issues he knows best. But wouldn’t you think he would have considered that before dipping his toe in the water? Or perhaps his heart wasn’t really in it. After all, how serious can you be if you announce you will not run for the state’s top office if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman throws her hat into the ring?
I’m not sure I agree with either of those assessments. Lembo had already cleared one high bar in that he has proved to be a prodigious fundraiser. Given that Wyman has remained mum, I can only assume Lembo is not convinced he could win. And even if he prevailed over Mark Boughton or whoever the GOP nominee will be, a Gov. Lembo would face a General Assembly with at least one — maybe two — houses in Republican hands, and, in the words of Greenblatt, many intractable problems borne of “two decades of bad decisions.”
In other words, if Lembo loses the governor’s race, he loses. If he wins, then he still loses. Lembo is highly intelligent, but you don’t have to be a genius to take a pass on those odds.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
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