UNCASVILLE, CT—Madison investment banker Bob Stefanowski finally made his first debate appearance Thursday and his voting record quickly became the hot button issue.
Stefanowski didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. He did vote in the Nov. 7, 2017 municipal election, but before that he hadn’t voted in his hometown since Nov. 5, 2001.
In addition to not voting, Stefanowski was also registered as a Democrat in his hometown until July 27, 2017 when he changed his registration and announced his candidacy for governor.
Before Thursday’s debate hosted by 94.9 radio personality Lee Elici, Stefanowski had skipped all the other Republican gubernatorial debates. Showing up at the debate at Mohegan Sun on Thursday gave his foes a chance to grill him on his voting record.
Tim Herbst, former Trumbull first selectman, said the Republicans need to nominate someone this November “who we can trust to govern like a Republican.”
“I have a problem trusting someone who hasn’t voted in 16 years and who switched his candidacy a month before running,” Herbst added.
“I didn’t vote – I should of,” Stefanowski said in front of the debate audience. “I wish it was different. I was overseas.”
To that, chants of “Absentee ballot” could be heard from the supporters of the four other Republican gubernatorial candidates in the audience.
Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik, one of the other candidates, picked up on that theme. Obsitnik, who served in the Navy, said he served with many who found time to vote by absentee ballot while in the middle of combat situations.
Stefanowski, who hasn’t participated in any of the previous debates sponsored by the Republican Party, is casting himself as “a political outsider” and as someone who is better suited at dealing with the state’s fiscal woes.
Stefanowski, 55, is the former president and CEO of General Electric Corporate Financial Services in Europe, chief financial officer at UBS from 2013 to 2015 and also worked at the financial services firm DFC Global.
Stefanowski paid economist Arthur Laffer $75,000 to write and promote his economic plan.
Stefanowski and fellow businessman David Stemerman skipped the convention and petitioned their way onto the Aug. 14th primary ballot for the Republican governor nomination.
Herbst, Obsitnik and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton received enough support at the May convention to automatically earn a spot on the Republican primary ballot.
Trying to deflect criticism of his voting record, Stefanowski said he was the only candidate “who has run a business the size” of the state of Connecticut. He claimed his business plan will be able to eliminate the state income tax.
Stemerman said the next governor is going to inherit a $4.5 billion deficit and called Stefanowski and Boughton’s proposals to eliminate the income tax a “pipe dream” to play on voters’ emotions.
Boughton said while Stemerman and Stefanowski like to brag about the fact they are businessmen not politicians that there is a problem with that line of dialogue.
“In business you can tell people to do something or you’ll be fired,” Boughton said. “You can’t do that in government. The skill set is completely different.”
Boughton said he, too, would decrease taxes but in an incremental way that made more sense than promising to immediately get rid of the income tax.
Obsitnik said part of any good economic strategy for the state has to include job creation, arguing that he would be a “job creator who would turn the moving vans around” from leaving the state.
Stefanowski’s petition campaign to make the primary ballot went to the homes of registered Republican voters, which helped guarantee those voters were actually registered as Republicans.
Stemerman went to more public locations and had paid and volunteer staffers collect signatures from people who said they were registered Republicans.
Boughton, Herbst, and Obsitnik are participating in the voluntary Citizens’ Election Program, which limits their spending on a primary to $1.6 million, including a $1.35 million public grant. Obsitnik is still awaiting approval.
All the candidates said they were strong supporters of the Second Amendment and thought that the state should take a backseat when it comes to federal enforcement of immigration laws.
The five Republican candidates also agreed on one other point at Thursday’s debate.
Asked what grade they would give President Donald Trump so far in his year-and-a-half as president, they all answered: “A.”