HARTFORD, CT — She was often was the only girl in a coding class or on a trading floor, so it’s no surprise that Dita Bhargava is again the only female on the Democratic side exploring a run for governor.
Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton, is also thus far the only female on the Republican side exploring her party’s gubernatorial nomination.
In a phone interview last week, Bhargava, a 45-year-old Greenwich resident, said she’s exploring a run for governor because “the status quo is not working.”
“We can’t afford to keep doing things the same way,” she said. “Our state is really in trouble, and we need new leaders with new ideas.”
A former senior trader and portfolio manager who was elected vice chairwoman of the Connecticut Democratic Party in January, Bhargava describes herself as a “pro-business progressive.” She said the two go hand-in-hand because growing the economy and diversifying Connecticut’s tax base is what needs to happen for Connecticut to succeed. She said diversification will bring in the sorely needed new revenue the state needs to expand and attract young workers.
Connecticut has only recovered about 78 percent of the payroll jobs it lost during the Great Recession. During the past few years, Connecticut saw a steep decline in tax revenues as many upper income residents parked their wealth in the market or saw it deteriorate. For decades, Connecticut’s economy has long been focused on the financial, insurance, and manufacturing industries. But the economy is changing while Connecticut’s tax structure remains largely unchanged.
The top 1 percent, whose income has largely been derived from the financial services industry, pay about 30 percent of the income tax revenue in Connecticut.
Bhargava said she doesn’t believe it’s necessary to raise taxes on that population for the state to recover and diversify its economic base.
What’s Bhargava’s one big idea for Connecticut?
A public-private student loan forgiveness program for students who commit to stay and work in Connecticut for five years, said Bhargava, who launched her campaign two weeks ago.
She said the biggest challenge corporations face in Connecticut is retaining talent.
“I will ensure that our residents, businesses, colleges, and government can work and thrive together in a way that makes our state stronger and fairer,” Bhargava says on her website. “I want to invite new businesses that will invest responsibly in our state, and ensure that our college graduates can find the right opportunities here at home.”
As a member of the Democratic Party, Bhargava automatically opens herself up to criticism regarding the policies and legacy of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
“Gov. Malloy was handed a complicated set of issues,” Bhargava said.
She said she understands the Republicans will campaign on that, but adds that the problems facing Connecticut are problems that have been in the making for decades under Republican administrations.
“We need leaders who go beyond partisan politics and find the best way forward for our state,” Bhargava said.
At the same time, Bhargava, who was raised by a single mother, embraces ideas like Paid Family Medical Leave and universal pre-K, a goal Malloy talked about on the campaign trail in 2006 and 2010 and which he has been unable to achieve so far during his two terms.
Born and raised in Canada, Bhargava graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario with an electrical engineering degree and became a U.S. citizen in 2004. She moved to Connecticut in 2007 after marrying her husband, Dan Pelletier. They have a son and a daughter. According to her LinkedIn profile, her last job in finance was with RBS, but she has reportedly also worked at Bear Stearns, Citadel Investment Group, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, and Dillon Read Capital Management.
She said she plans on using the Citizens Election Program this time around, which means she will have to raise $250,000 in small donations before the May 2018 convention. She ran a failed bid for state representative last year without the fundraising restrictions of the CEP.
Bhargava, who filed papers to explore a run a few weeks ago, joins an already crowded gubernatorial field, which on the Democratic side includes Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, and former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has yet to say whether she will also seek the nomination. Malloy announced in March that he wouldn’t seek a third term.
The Republican field is even more crowded.
Republicans running or exploring a run for governor include Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst; Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti; Dave Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general; Peter Lumaj, a Fairfield immigration lawyer and 2014 candidate for Secretary of the State; Prasad Srinivasan, a state representative from Glastonbury; Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik; Wilton state Sen. Toni Boucher; Michael Handler, the city of Stamford’s chief financial officer; hedge fund manager David Stemerman; and Bob Stefanowski, a Madison businessman and former UBS executive.