So where will you be the night of Nov. 6? Unless the governor’s race is as close as one recent poll suggests, most observers will be focused on the national scene.
There are some close races for General Assembly, but few seem to care much them, even though the partisan fates of both houses hang in the balance. Same with the under-ticket races for the state’s five constitutional officers. More on that later.
Most folks will focus on Congress and whether the Democrats can recapture the House and Senate. The House looks promising for the Dems but, despite having only a one-seat edge in the Senate, Republicans there are poised to hold onto their majority — and perhaps add to it—because of the way the races are scheduled in the Senate election cycles.
There will be few surprises in the elections to represent Connecticut in Washington. Sen. Chris Murphy, whom I saw Sunday at a Democratic rally in Cornwall, is in fightin’ form. For obvious reasons, Republicans can’t stand him. But I suspect that’s because he’s so effective at what he does — namely promote and advocate for the mainstream Democratic agenda. So Murphy will easily defeat his Republican opponent.
Murphy is even so bold as to campaign for Jahana Hayes, an exciting candidate for Murphy’s old congressional seat who has essentially become his political protege and who was also at the rally I attended. I say bold because, of all the state’s congressional districts, the fifth seems to be the reddest. As Murphy can attest from his successful run against Republican Nancy Johnson in 2006, any Democrat who wins that seat will need the support of independents and even some Republicans.
But Republican hopes for flipping the seat in what used to be Nancy Johnson Country will be slim. For one thing, the Republican candidate, Manny Santos, has the personality of a stop sign. That in itself is not a deal breaker. After all, plenty of boring candidates have won congressional races. But Hayes, whom I also saw speak at the rally, drips with charisma, has strong retail political skills, and simply lights up a room when she enters it.
But that’s not all. As their debates have shown, the two are about as far apart as you can get on wide range of issues, including gun control (always a hot button issue in the 5th, which includes Newtown), education, climate change, immigration, abortion, and LGBT rights. Hayes will win this race by at least 7 points. If you liked Esty (and she was quite popular before she became embroiled in that nasty harassment scandal in her office), then you’ll love Hayes. Like Esty, she’s no radical. She’s a mainstream Democrat and has my vote.
As for the constitutional offices, my criteria are quite simple. Despite being elected offices, they should be run professionally and politics should be left at the door. That’s why I couldn’t stand the camera-mugging Richard Blumenthal. I actually breathed a sigh of relief when he went to Washington because after 20 years as state attorney general, it was time to professionalize the office. And that’s precisely what George Jepsen did. Even as someone with a highly political past, Jepsen did something refreshing. He simply did his job.
I fear both AG candidates Democrat William Tong and Republican Susan Hatfield, will take us back to those days — at least judging by their rhetoric. If, in the next few days, one of them can convince me otherwise, then s/he will have my vote. Otherwise, I will leave that spot blank.
As for the other offices, one of them, lieutenant governor, should clearly be eliminated. As for secretary of the state, Denise Merrill has professionalized that office, unlike her predecessor Susan Bysiewicz, who is currently the Democratic nominee for the aforementioned office that should be abolished.
As I’ve written before, Democrat Kevin Lembo is doing an excellent job as comptroller. Even as a Democrat, he has maintained his distance from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, offering, for example, budget deficit forecasts that differ markedly from the governor’s and, and as a member of the bonding commission, recently voting against Malloy’s now-infamous $10-million toll study.
Perhaps the most interesting down-ballot race pits an establishment Democrat, Shawn Wooden, against investment manager and Republican Thad Gray. Of all the races to consider, this one is the biggest no-brainer. Gray was for 35 years a professional money manager in the private sector. One of his primary responsibilities was the same as the treasurer’s — managing pension funds and debt.
Wooden, on the other hand, is a finance lawyer and was president of the Hartford City Council as it veered toward bankruptcy, its credit rating tanked and it eventually accepted a bailout from the state of more than half a billion dollars. Just as with fixing potholes, there should not be a Democratic or a Republican way of managing assets and liabilities. You either know how to do it or you don’t. Gray gets my vote.
I’m enjoying the race for governor because for the first time since 1990, there is a third-party candidate who knows what he’s talking about, is offering realistic solutions to the state’s fiscal problems, and isn’t making wild promises. My colleague Susan Bigelow has made the case for Oz Griebel and his running mate, Monte Frank, better than I could.
While running as an independent, Griebel is essentially a moderate Republican and a pragmatist. He styles himself the way I have ever since I left the Democratic Party in 1988. Don’t wed yourself to a party — or even an ideology. Do what works.
Republican Bob Stefanowski has never served in government and, not even bothering to vote for 16 years, has shown no interest in it. Now he thinks his first public office should be the highest one in the state. He has avoided the media and their uncomfortable questions because he really doesn’t know anything about state government. I’ll give him one thing: Stefanowski is a remarkably disciplined candidate. All he talks about is taxes and the unpopular Malloy, who is not even on the ballot.
Democrat Ned Lamont really seems like a decent man but I have seen no indication that he has either the depth of knowledge or the will to succeed where Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly have failed us economically.
The saddest thing is that none of the candidates are being totally honest with us. They all say they won’t push to raise taxes but you know they will have to. Stefanowski can talk until he’s blue in the face about the stimulative effect his tax cuts (and his foolhardy promise to eliminate the income tax) will have and the resulting revenue gains, but even if that theory is true (and by the way, it didn’t work too well in Kansas), it could take years for it to work.
Meanwhile, he will be facing a projected $4.6 billion deficit in the first biennial budget. Employee wages and benefits are untouchable for at least two-and-a-half years, thanks to a no-layoffs provision in the labor agreement signed in 2017 by Malloy and SEBAC. So where is the money going to come from? Maybe Stefanowski doesn’t know it yet, but states can’t declare bankruptcy.
At least Griebel is talking realistically about tolls that would create perhaps hundreds of millions a year to pay to rebuild our crumbling transportation infrastructure. Lamont wants to tax people who can’t vote in Connecticut. He insists that we can simply toll big out-of-state tractor-trailers, as Rhode Island has done since June. But that move has prompted a well-financed lawsuit by the American Truckers Association. Who knows if it will ever fly?
Meanwhile, the state continues its seemingly inexorable decline. At least in the governor’s race, Griebel is the grown-up in the room. Go Oz! And while I’m at it, Go Sox!
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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