NEW BRITAIN, CT — New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart may have walked across the stage at New Britain High School in 2005 when she graduated, but she hadn’t raised enough money to earn a seat there Wednesday with nine male gubernatorial candidates.
It’s the fourth gubernatorial debate.
In order to make it onto the debate stage candidates have to have raised $175,000. Stewart has raised $105,000 since announcing her campaign in January.
“Not being able to participate is disappointing,” Stewart said outside. “But we’ll make our voices heard anyway.”
Stewart was joined by about 50 supporters outside the school waving signs and calling for the party to “let her in.”
Wednesday’s debate was significant because it was the first debate where Republicans were able to hear David Stemerman, the wealthy businessman who closed his hedge fund, Conatus Capital, to run for governor.
It was also the first debate since Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton suffered a seizure at an event in Avon a few weeks ago. He joked at how transparent he’s been showing reporters images of his brain.
Second chances, the death penalty, and judicial nominations dominated the first half-hour of the debate.
Rep. Prasad Srinivasan and Mike Handler of Stamford were the only two candidates who were okay governing a state without a death penalty. The rest of the candidates would reinstate capital punishment.
As far as renominating justices who were nominated by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Republican candidates said they would not nominate activist justices to the bench. Pressed about whether they would renominate a justice nominated by another governor the candidates largely said they would not renominate an “activist judge.”
Asked if they would honor the tradition of renominating judges when their terms are up every eight years even if they were nominated by another governor, “No, I would not honor that agreement,” David Walker said.
Walker said he would have to look at their record.
Judges stand for renomination every eight years until they reach the age of 70. The tradition has been for governors to renominate judges nominated by previous governors unless there’s a truly a problem with their record. The number of judges that haven’t been renominated is less than a handful.
Steve Obsitnik said none of that matters if the state doesn’t deal with its fiscal mess and build its economy. He urged the debate moderators to get to questions about Connecticut’s fiscal health.
“Our state government grows 3 percent every year, but our economy grows zero,” Obsitnik said. “Let’s turn the moving vans around and get to work.”
They got a chance with the next question.
Each of the candidates picked apart the report from the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth.
The commission of mostly business executives made 10 recommendations, including a reduction in income taxes, an increase in sales and corporation taxes, a $1 billion reduction in annual operating expenses, and an end to collective bargaining for benefits.
Peter Lumaj said legislators were just trying to justify their failure by creating a commission in the first place.
“We don’t need a commission to tell us how to resolve the problem,” Lumaj said.
He suggested reducing every state agency 14 percent to save $1.4 billion and getting rid of mandates.
Boughton said not one of the recommendations in the commission’s report will ever make it into law.
He said he appreciates the work the 14-member commission did but “they got snookered.”
He objected to the idea of tolls, which was supported in the report, and promised to repeal the personal income tax over 10 years.
Stemerman said he’s the only candidate to propose significant reform to the pension system.
On Tuesday, Stemerman said he would seek to reach a settlement with retirees for their pension benefits and then hand over those liabilities to a third party to handle.
Daniel Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said what Stemerman wants to do is not only illegal, but it’s also immoral.
“The fact that he’s saying the states word shouldn’t mean anything— that’s stunning,” Livingston said.
Electability became an issue toward the end of the debate.
Trying to winnow down the slate of candidates, the moderators asked the candidates if the other Republican candidates on stage were electiable.
That question lead to another question about whether they would go beyond the convention process and try to petition their way onto the ballot if they don’t receive the requisite number of delegations at the convention.
Boughton, Walker, Lumaj, and Herbst said they would not petition their way onto the ballot if they don’t receive the support of the delegates at the convention
Stemerman, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Srinivasan, and Handler said they would petition if they don’t receive enough support. Obsitnik had a family emergency and wasn’t there to answer.
Earlier in the day, Bob Stefanowski announced he would use the petitioning process to get on the ballot and skip the convention.