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L to R: Peter Lumaj, Mike Handler, Steve Obsitnik, Toni Boucher, David Walker, Prasad Srinivasan, Mark Boughton, JR Romano, and Tim Herbst. Not pictured: Mark Lauretti (ctnewsjunkie photo)

HEBRON, CT — Nine Republican gubernatorial candidates tried to separate themselves from the pack Wednesday at RHAM High School during the party’s second debate.

The issue of electability and what it means to be a Republican in Connecticut took center stage.

Fairfield attorney Peter Lumaj, who ran unsuccessfully for Secretary of the State in 2014, painted himself as the only true “conservative” candidate on the stage and took aim at all the elected officials.

“If our towns are doing so great then how come so many people are leaving our state,” Lumaj asked. He said Connecticut is losing businesses and residents to New York City, “which has a Socialist mayor.”

Former Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst named the rest of the politicians on stage and told Lumaj, a perennial candidate for office, that they have one thing in common: “we have won an election.”

Drawing applause, Herbst continued: “You have to win an election to be governor of the state of Connecticut.”

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she is a member of a part-time legislature and has another job, like most of the lawmakers. She said she’s not a career politician.

“We need electable people so we can change this state,” said Boucher, who has spent most of her career in the minority at the General Assembly. The Senate, where she currently serves, is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton agreed with Herbst’s sentiment.

The nine-term mayor said they need someone electable who has demonstrated the ability to win in a large urban area.

Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, suggested that Lumaj should get his ears checked and that Lumaj’s statement was “an embarrassment to the Republican Party.”

Lumaj said the reason they’re not embracing the title of “career politician” is because “they’re afraid of you now. They failed our state.”

He went on to attack Herbst by telling him that the reason he didn’t seek another term as mayor of Trumbull is because he knew he was going to lose.

Lumaj also said the Republican Party in Hartford is “afraid to be Republican,” and that he was the only “true conservative” in the race for governor.

Herbst, who ran for state Treasurer in 2014 when Lumaj was on the ballot for Secretary of the State, said Lumaj came in 44,000 votes behind him that year. Based on that, Herbst said he wanted to know how Lumaj was going to get elected.

Lumaj, who has run for U.S. Senate and has been a guest on Fox News, took a conservative approach to fixing Connecticut’s stubborn budget deficit.

“We have created an entitlement mentality in our state,” Lumaj said. He said if elected that he would cut every state agency by 14 percent and randomly drug test every welfare recipient. He said he’s the only candidate with the “fortitude and the character” to make those things happen.

The two-year budget deficit the candidates will inherit for 2020-21, if the legislature does nothing this year, will be around $4.3 billion.

Herbst said he would dismantle the Department of Motor Vehicles “as we we know it” because it’s the most ineffective state agency. He said he would create an Inspector General position to eliminate “fraud and abuse” in state government.

The sniping back and forth regarding electability seemed to wear on Mike Handler, Stamford’s chief financial officer.

“Enough is enough,” Handler said when it looked like the bickering would continue.

The issue of how to handle collective bargaining and the agreement the state made with state employees was pinpointed as one of the areas that will be problematic for a Republican governor.

The new agreement doesn’t expire until 2027, and taking the unions to court would likely last the duration of the four-year term. However, regardless of the logistics, some of the candidates said they would take legal action to break the contract.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Steve Obsitnik, and David Walker also attended Wednesday’s debate.

The candidates were asked whether they had voted for President Donald Trump. Walker, Srinivasan, Lumaj, Boughton, and Herbst said they had voted for Trump, while Handler, Obsitnik, Boucher, and Lauretti didn’t answer the question.

Bob Stefanowski of Madison and David Stemerman, the two wealthiest candidates in the race who aren’t using the public financing program, did not attend Wednesday’s debate. The two also skipped the party’s first debate in Windsor.

In order to participate, candidates had to have raised more than $75,000. At least a handful of the candidates on stage have already surpassed the $250,000 threshold to qualify for public financing.

Republican gubernatorial debate at RHAM High School in Hebron

Republican gubernatorial debate at RHAM High School in Hebron. CTNewsJunkie.com

Posted by CTNewsJunkie.com on Wednesday, January 10, 2018