WEST HAVEN, CT — Eight Republican gubernatorial candidates debated many issues, including guns in schools, before a friendly, supportive crowd in a jam-packed Notre Dame High School auditorium on Wednesday.
While all the candidates tried hard to distinguish themselves from each other, the largest cheers came anytime they said it was time for Connecticut to say goodbye to its Democratic governor and Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
The eight candidates participating in Wednesday’s debate included Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, former Comptroller General of the United States Dave Walker, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Trumbull Mayor Tim Herbst, state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury, Westport technical consultant Steve Obsitnik, Stamford city official Mike Handler, and Fairfield attorney Peter Lumaj.
There are 10 candidates, all male, who were invited to the debate based on criteria decided more than a year ago by the candidates or their representatives, according to Republican Party Chairman JR Romano.
Based on the established criteria, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and state Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, who was on stage for the first two debates, didn’t debate in West Haven Wednesday.
Both candidates are still “exploring” whether the position of governor is really the one they want.
Boucher was in the audience watching the debate. Stewart was tweeting about it.
Lauretti, as the debate started, actually “offered his spot” to Boucher and Boucher stepped up to possibly take Lauretti up on his offer — but debate moderator Ann Nyberg ruled that “out of order” and Boucher returned to her seat in the audience.
There were two candidates who were invited to Wednesday’s debate who did not participate.
Bob Stefanowski’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment about his decision to sit out a third debate, but his campaign has hinted that they had no desire to attend.
Patrick Sweeney, the campaign manager for David Stemerman, said his candidate wouldn’t participate.
Joe Visconti is also running for the Republican nomination for governor but hasn’t met any of the fundraising thresholds to get into any of the debates.
As far as the debate itself, the recent high school mass shooting in Florida, in which 17 were killed by a teenage shooter, was a focal point.
All the talk about Florida brought back memories of the Sandy Hook massacre where 26 students and educators lost their lives.
The candidates gave their thoughts on how to make schools safer for students, teachers, administrators and staff.
But none of them talked the assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban that was included in the 2013 legislation passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
“We have not invested enough funding in mental health,” Herbst said.
Lumaj suggested the state consider issuing “an executive order for armed security in each school for our children.”
Obsitnik, who hails from the tech sector, said “We need to close the data gaps” between mental health and law enforcement professionals— who rely on data to identify potential dangerous people — “and get ahead of problems before they happen.”
Srinivasan, who voted for legislation that bans assault weapons and large-capacity magazines following the Sandy Hook massacre, said officials have to “fund,” rather than just pass legislation.
The Courant reported on Monday that Srinivasan said he would sign a bill repealing the 2013 post-Sandy Hook changes to Connecticut’s gun laws.
According to the Courant article, Srinivasan said that “if a bill [repealing the law] goes through the House and the Senate, will I support that bill and not veto that bill? Yes, I will support it and no, I will not veto that bill.”
In a separate interview Wednesday before the debate, the Glastonbury lawmaker tried to explain what he thought that was a “miscommunication” of his views.
Srinivasan said the state hasn’t improved school security as promised and it never fully funded the mental health initiatives included in the legislation. Asked about the ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, Srinivasan said, “I wouldn’t roll back any of that.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Srinivasan was simply trying to score points with a certain segment of his party and get the support he needs to make it to the next stage of the competition.
In an earlier interview, Malloy said that Srinivasan’s flip flop on the 2013 law “quite frankly it disqualifies the gentleman.”
“How could you ever believe a thing he says?,” Malloy asked reporters.
Boughton suggested that additional training for school officials should be mandated, in addition to a greater emphasis on mental health initiatives.
Walker said “more has to be done with background checks.”
Handler suggested looking at spending money to put “law enforcement officers in our schools.” He said the state needs to “peel off money in our tight budget and spend it where we need it most.”
And Lauretti said that while government “plays a role,” that the message of “when you see something, say something” has to be emphasized to the public. He did advocate for a more “uniform system” to combat the problem — “especially in our bigger schools.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.