MANON L. MIRABELLI / THE REGISTER CITIZEN
Ralph Nader speaks during the convocation of his American Museum of Tort Law during a ceremony held in 2015 (MANON L. MIRABELLI / THE REGISTER CITIZEN)
BARTH KECK

Is Oz Griebel the Ralph Nader of gubernatorial elections? Or is Bob Stefanowski a replay of Trump in 2016?

Griebel’s quiet ascension into relevance was underscored when the Hartford Courant endorsed him earlier this week because he is “not beholden to political parties or to the narrow partisan loyalties that control them.” Might this third-party candidate become a spoiler, à la Nader in the 2000 presidential election?

Bob Stefanowski, meanwhile, finds himself in a race that’s “too close to call” according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. Could this once surprise GOP nominee win the governorship in a fashion similar to Trump’s stunning victory in 2016?

Griebel does show some similarities to Nader, the Winsted native, as a third-party candidate, but Griebel’s support has fallen recently from 11 percent to 7 percent, according to the Quinnipiac poll. That’s why the better national comparison to the race here is Trump in 2016.

Bob Stefanowski, simply, represents a protest vote for Republicans and, more importantly, for unaffiliateds who desire a “political outsider,” a renegade, someone who will use business expertise to “clean up the mess in government.” Sound familiar? That simplistic platform could get Stefanowski elected governor — much like you-know-who defied the odds in 2016.

But what does it mean, exactly, to “run government like a business”? More to the point, would it work?

“I ran a $500 billion business as CFO of UBS, and I ran billion-dollar divisions for GE,’’ Stefanowski told a debate audience in September. “There’s nobody in this race who has run anything near the size of Connecticut … Does anybody in this audience honestly think I can’t find 5 percent of waste, fraud, and abuse in this government?”

I guess cutting expenses in business is just like eliminating waste in government, right? Not exactly.

“Government is about this thing called the ‘public interest’,” explains Philip Joyce, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. “There is no such animal in the private sector. Private firms care about their stakeholders and customers; they do not generally care about people who do not invest in their businesses or buy things from them.”

Put another way, the primary concern of any business is to generate a profit, so companies bear no loyalty to factors not contributing to the bottom line, including people. A government, however, can’t operate that way.

“Government must constantly confront competing values,” says Joyce. “The most efficient solution may disadvantage certain groups or trample on individual or constitutional rights. In the private sector, efficiency is value number one; in government, it is just one of many values.”

But what about leadership? Surely experience running a big company with multiple employees translates directly to running a state with millions of citizens.

“When [Stefanowski] was chief financial officer for UBS, which once touted the largest trading floor in the country at its Stamford office, the bank took $20 million in state support, but by 2017 had laid off more than two thirds of a Connecticut workforce that once exceeded 4,400,” reported the Connecticut Post.

I don’t think that scorched-earth approach would fly at the state capital. Stefanowski’s experience in business, in fact, seems to have hindered — not helped — his understanding of state government.

Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie laments that the GOP candidate “should be able to explain where he’ll find some of those billions he insists can be cut from the state budget. When Stefanowski talks about public-private partnerships to fund transportation improvements, he refuses to say how the private partners will make money. The answer is that we would have to pay those investors with higher gas taxes or tolls.”

So much for cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in government.

Even so, Stefanowski continues to gain in the polls, much as Trump built momentum throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Voters, it seems, like simple-sounding solutions to complex problems, whether it’s “Make America Great Again” or “eliminate the income tax.” These must be good ideas, they surmise, since “successful businessmen” dreamed them up.

“The point is you can’t run government like a business,” said Oz Griebel at the September debate. “You can’t move an agency of the state to India. The governor and the legislature work for taxpayers. They don’t work for shareholders. That’s a big difference.”

But many voters don’t care. Bob Stefanowski, the businessman, tells them what they want to hear. And it might get him elected, just as it did for Donald Trump. We’ll know for sure after this Tuesday.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and 15th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition.