MIDDLETOWN, CT — Although Gov. Ned Lamont’s holiday address to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Wednesday reflected a bleak year, he did manage to sneak in a joke at the expense of his recently nominated Republican tax commissioner Mark Boughton.
Humor has long been a gubernatorial tradition during the annual holiday gathering of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. But it was impossible to ignore the impact of a difficult year on the 2020 event. The gathering, usually conducted in a hotel ballroom in Cromwell, was relegated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to an online webinar. Meanwhile, the state was bracing Wednesday for what was expected to be a severe snowstorm.
Lamont’s address was mostly a reflection on what’s been a roller coaster of a year.
“Look, I’ll just tell you that it comes at you every day as governor,” he said. “COVID was a whole new thing.”
Lamont did make time for one joke at the expense of Boughton, the Republican mayor of Danbury. Lamont, a Democrat, crossed party lines last week to nominate Boughton as the next commissioner of the Department of Revenue Services.
The governor was looking to riff on Boughton’s high profile correspondence with comedian John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” In October, Boughton and Danbury officials named a sewage treatment plant for Oliver after the host donated to local charities. He later travelled to the city for the ribbon cutting ceremony of the John Oliver Memorial Sewage Plant.
Lamont said his administration needed an “expert on wastewater and sewage.”
“Somebody who was full of it and knew how to get the job done. That’s why I’m really proud to be able to announce that we have a new member of the team in charge of DRS. His name is Mark Boughton,” he said.
Boughton, who then joined the Zoom conference, was a good sport.
“You know, I always say, it may be crap to everyone else but it’s money to us. If we can turn stuff into money we will,” the incoming tax commissioner said.
Boughton saw an opportunity to take a dig at the Democratic governor later in the event when Lamont asked him to discuss encouraging residents to get vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus. He said it was on community leaders to stress the importance of the vaccine.
“We can’t have people in leadership positions downplaying it or saying it’s not important because it’s vitally important,” Boughton said. “By the way, then we can all get back to work and governor—I think I can start raising more taxes for you.”
“What’d you say?” said Lamont, who has said he does not plan to raise taxes to close projected state budget deficits.
“Not raising taxes, raising taxes,” Boughton joked.
The event was sponsored by Eversource Energy and the utility company’s CEO Jim Judge participated in the discussion. Judge said Eversource had prepared for the storm that was bearing down on the entire Northeast region Wednesday. He said the company had assembled “significant resources” including utility crews from out-of-state.
But Judge noted that Connecticut residents had lingering frustration over his company’s response to Tropical Storm Isaias. In early August, that storm knocked out power to more than 800,000 Connecticut customers and prompted legislation changing how utility companies are regulated.
“I hope you will not allow the memory of Isaias to overshadow the hard work done every day by Eversource’s men and women,” Judge said.
Lamont urged residents to stay home during the storm if possible. He said transportation officials would be doing what they could to keep the roads clear. But the governor seemed to be looking past the looming snow storm, through to the end of a difficult year.
“I think we’re battle tested at this point. It’s been a tough year… We’re going to turn the corner on this snow storm and more importantly turn the corner on COVID,” he said.