Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
L to R: Susan Bysiewicz and Eva Bermudez Zimmerman (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

WEST HARTFORD, CT — In the first and only debate before the Aug. 14 primary, Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, the young progressive who hasn’t held elected office, came out swinging in her comments about former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.

“It’s time we elect different kind of leaders,” Bermudez Zimmerman said. “Leaders that are champions. Leaders that are not cowards.”

The hour-long debate between the two Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor was hosted by NBC Connecticut in their studios. There was no audience.

Bermudez Zimmerman, the 31-year-old who won 40 percent of the vote at the Democratic convention in May, pulled no punches.

“When it comes to my opponent she was elected in 1992 and she’s had her time,” Bermudez Zimmerman said. “Right now we need leaders who can be our champions for that change.”

Bermudez Zimmerman hammered Bysiewicz for her votes to defer pension payments while she was a state representative in the late 1990s, and said she doesn’t know how voters can trust Bysiewicz based on those votes.

“How are we going to be able to do that when she deferred the payments with the pension plans and got us into this financial crisis we currently have?” Bermudez Zimmerman asked.

Bysiewicz said she hasn’t voted on a budget since 1998 having served as a state representative from 1993 to 1999. She said there have been General Assemblies and governors over the years who didn’t fully fund state pensions.

“The good news is for the Tier I employees, those who have the richest benefits, are aging out of the system and those with less rich benefits are coming up in the system and we are probably going to have to stretch out those payments over a period of years,” Bysiewicz said.

Bysiewicz went on to say she has a strong record of leadership and was able to create a “hack proof” voting system when she was Secretary of the State. Bysiewicz chose an optical scan machine with a paper record after considering an ATM-type of voting machine.

“I’m ready on Day 1,” she said. “I’ve not only worked in the legislature, but I’ve run a very large state agency.”

Bermudez Zimmerman has never been elected to office, but she said her experience as a labor organizer and a “coalition builder” and a healthcare navigator gives her the experience she needs.

“When Susan has been running over and over again, I’ve been on the ground making sure people are represented,” Bermudez Zimmerman said.

Bysiewicz pointed out that Bermudez Zimmerman explored running for Secretary of the State before deciding three days before the convention to run for lieutenant governor.

Bysiewicz was running for the state Senate before deciding to run for governor and then a week before the convention she teamed up with Ned Lamont to be his lieutenant governor candidate. The duo were swiftly criticized for creating an all-white Democratic team at the top of the ticket.

Lieutenant governor candidates run separately from gubernatorial candidates in the primary so voters have the option not to vote for Bysiewicz and Lamont as a team.

It’s unclear how much support Lamont has been giving Bysiewicz. The two are not frequently on the campaign trail together.

With Bysiewicz out of the running for governor, Lamont was easily able to clinch the Democratic Party’s nomination at the convention in May. However, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim still managed to collect enough signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot.

The two gubernatorial candidates are expected to debate next Tuesday, Aug. 7, at WFSB’s studios in Rocky Hill.

Meanwhile back at NBC’s studios, Bermudez Zimmerman stuck to her script that the times have changed and voters are looking for a “different” type of candidate.

“You can’t expect that doing the same thing and electing the same people and have different results,” Bermudez Zimmerman said.

Asked how she would feel if she was teamed up by voters with Ganim, Bysiewicz said both she and Lamont feel very comfortable that they are going to win.

“I’m there to work with whoever gets elected,” Bermudez Zimmerman said.

Bermudez Zimmerman has taken deliberate steps to avoid Ganim or the appearance that the two are running together.

The two lieutenant governor candidates do agree on things.

Both support the legalization of cannabis and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Bermudez Zimmerman also promoted a proposal to fine big box retailers who don’t pay their employees a living wage.

By not paying them a living wage, big box retailers leave many employees no choice but to use Medicaid and food stamps to survive. The proposal, which has failed for several years in the legislature, is expected to generate anywhere between $189 million to $300 million a year.