WEST HARTFORD, CT — More than 14,000 people had viewed the debate between the three Republican lieutenant governor candidates hosted by NBC 30 just an hour after it was posted on Facebook..
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, Darien First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson and Sen. Joe Markley of Southington spent an hour answering questions about a statewide position that’s hard to define.
Constitutionally the role of lieutenant governor is to preside over the Senate and assist the governor, but exactly how that role is defined is largely up to whoever is governor.
In Connecticut, lieutenant governor candidates run separately from gubernatorial candidates in the party primaries and after that the two are teamed up for the General Election.
There are five candidates running for governor on the Republican side and none of the three lieutenant governor candidates have expressed a preference for which one they would like to see in the position.
Instead, the lieutenant governor candidates are loosely defining their roles.
Stevenson, a former bond analyst, took a parting shot at her opponents and claimed she had the most “demonstrated experience and electability.”
“I have great respect for my colleagues here on the stage anyone who steps into the public service arena really deserves a lot of credit,” Stevenson said. “Sen. Markley, however, has a voting record with some very difficult votes that are going to be very difficult and likely risk the Republicans being able to win in November.”
She then turned to Stewart. “While we heard a lot tonight about her fiscal experience the data says something different.” She said Stewart “likely won’t challenge collective bargaining rules.”
Markley said he has very demonstrated electorability despite his votes on tough issues.
“My ability to make those votes clear and make a convincing case for them has inoculated me against the charges that I’ve had from Democrats,” Markley said.
Stewart didn’t address Stevenson’s criticism directly, but said she doesn’t “believe in tearing others down in order to build myself up.”
As far as the role of lieutenant governor goes, Stevenson said she’s the two time chairwoman of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments and has knowledge over how to handle federal transportation funding.
“I can really help the next governor work on our transportation policy,” Stevenson said. “It’s the lifeblood of our business community here.”
She also suggested the role would include a focus on the opioid crisis and public education.
“We are failing our children in our urban centers with our public education,” Stevenson said. “I’m passionate about that.”
Stewart, who deals with one of the 30 struggling school districts in the state, said she would use the lieutenant governor’s office to help municipalities and school districts that are struggling.
“I know what it’s like when year-after-year you’re being cut from the state but you’re also getting these unfunded mandates,” Stewart said.
She said she would also be involved with the Municipal Accountability Review Board, which was created to oversee municipalities like Hartford and West Haven that are working to avoid bankruptcy.
Markley said he would like to use the office to do what former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons did under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration where he acted as a business advocate.
Markley also pointed out that three of the five candidates for governor have never held elected office so he would be able to help them navigate.
As far as economic incentives to get private companies to move or expand in the state, the three candidates offered differing perspectives.
“It wasn’t government programs that put the hardware in New Britain or the brass mills in Waterbury,” Markley said. “It was entrepreneurs who saw opportunity.”
He said he would like to end the state’s role in offering economic incentives to private companies.
“I don’t want the burden of helping one business put on everybody else,” Markley said.
“Corporate welfare is a bad policy,” she said. “The best incentive we can give to businesses is to create a much better economic climate.”
Stevenson advocated getting rid of the Business Entity Tax and getting rid of the estate and gift tax.
Stewart said she understands the desire to eliminate tax incentives for business, but “I also understand that Connecticut has to compete.”
She said with bordering towns of Newington and Berlin which have much lower mill rates, she has to compete by offering economic incentives.
Stewart has been in an awkward position at times have to appear at events with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Recently, she attended a ribbon cutting at the old dilapidated Stanley, Black & Decker factory in downtown New Britain, which is being transformed into a data center.
The renovation will add over $200 million in revenues to the state and $45 million in revenues to the city of New Britain, which is discussing a tax abatement for the property.
“We’ve gotta compete,” Stewart said.
Markley countered: “We don’t need to be bribing companies to come here.”
In July 2017, the legislature passed a 10-year contract changing the health and pension benefits for state employees. The contract saved the state $1.57 billion in the short run and helped the General Assembly balance the budget.
No Republicans voted for the package.
The deal increased employee pension contributions by 2 percent of pay and increased the employee share of health care premiums by 3 percent.
It also created a new hybrid pension plan for new employees who don’t have the same kind of job security enjoyed by current employees. There will be 10,000 employees under the new hybrid pension system by 2022.
The candidates said they all would like to renegotiate the deal Malloy made with the unions and they said the state should go to court if they can’t get the unions to negotiate.
“The 800 hundred pound gorilla in the room is the cost of our unfunded pension liabilities,” Stevenson said.
Markley said the current agreement the state has with the unions “can never be honored.”
“There’s no way the state will ever be able to afford to pay those pensions,” he added.
Stewart said as mayor she’s had to negotiate union contracts. She said she was successful in changing some of the health plans offered by the city into “high deductible” plans that “yielded incredible savings for us.”
She said she thinks she can get the unions to agree to reopen the agreement and renegotiate.
“Building consensus is an extremely important talent in leadership,” Stewart said.
She said the labor unions have not had an opportunity to be a partner in the last eight years under Malloy.
Asked about whether social issues like abortion or gay marriage should play a role in the election, Stewart, who is pro-choice, said she doesn’t think they belong as part of the conversation.
“If we’re not talking about jobs and fixing our economy and if we’re not talking about streamlining government operations and fixing our debt then we are wasting our time,” Stewart said.
Stevenson said in theory social issues should be “no where” in the conversation, but the Democratic Party is bound to make them an issue “because they don’t have much to run on.”
“We must be the party of fiscal discipline, ” Stevenson said.
Markley said he’s unapologetically pro-life and if social issues come up he thinks they should talk about parental notification before a teen is able to have an abortion.
“We have to be frank about what we believe,’’ Markley said. “I’m pro-life, I don’t run away from that fact. That’s a personal belief. I think it’s not currently a state issue.”
Stewart agreed about parental notification.