Ned Lamont campaigning in 2018 (CTNewsJunkie file photo)
TERRY COWGILL

Will Ned Lamont be a one-term governor? Will he simply fade from view and return to Greenwich, having led his state through a pandemic of historic proportions and lifted his approval ratings to a respectable level? 

If Lamont wants to run the state for another four years, I don’t see anything that will stop him. Indeed, it is looking more and more likely that he wants to keep the job until 2026. Former state lawmaker and political pundit Kevin Rennie has reported on his blog that Lamont has hired a political operative from Mississippi to run his 2022 re-election campaign. Rennie’s post does not cite any sources but his reports have proved reliable in the past.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, their bench is a thin one. Businessman Bob Stefanowski, who ran against Lamont in 2018 and came within three percentage points of defeating him, does not appear to be in a stronger position than he was four years ago. Still, Stefanowksi seems to have been in campaign mode since giving his concession speech the day after the election on the zany morning show of a classic rock radio station. Within days, he began issuing statements on Lamont and seemingly appearing on any interview show that would have him.

Former House Minority Leader Themis Klarides also appears to be positioning herself for a run for the state’s highest office. She is a tough, no-nonsense woman who has proven to be a capable debater and opposition leader. But as I’ve laid out before on these pages, her recent marriage to the vice president and general counsel of Eversource, the state’s much-detested and heavily regulated electric utility, would be a deal-breaker for many because of its obvious conflicts of interest.

Stefanowski’s closest rival for the 2018 GOP nomination, former Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who, like Stefanowski, wanted to phase out the state’s income tax, has been hired by the Lamont administration as – of all things – Connecticut’s tax commissioner.

The other GOP also-rans, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst and “hedgie” David Stemerman, aren’t out of the picture but haven’t exactly been positioning themselves for a run. Stemerman has been quiet. Herbst told The Courant in January he hasn’t ruled out a run but seems to be enjoying his new career as a real estate developer and an attorney representing a dozen families battling a proposed affordable housing development in leafy Woodbridge.

Another potential Republican rival, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, has taken herself out of the gubernatorial picture — a wise decision under the circumstances. Stewart ran unsuccessfully for governor and, later, lieutenant governor, in 2018. She also got married in 2018 and gave birth to her first child last summer.

There are, however, some ominous signs in terms of Lamont’s relationship with the progressives in his own party. Lamont’s resistance to broad-based tax increases targeted at the wealthy has harmed his image with liberals. They want to see additional taxes and spending to combat income inequality and help the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged.

Trouble is brewing – or, as the Republican American‘s Paul Hughes put it – “a huge fight looms” – between progressives and moderate Democrats over tax policy. But with a Rainy Day Fund of $3.7 billion and billions more coming into the state in federal coronavirus stimulus funding, Lamont has quite sensibly said, “You don’t raise taxes when you don’t have to raise taxes.” Progressives are in quite a bind here because, as you might expect, no Republicans support their plan and they do not have enough Democratic support to override a Lamont veto.

So if the majority Democrats in the General Assembly can’t find enough votes to override a veto of their own tax proposals, how could they possibly find the strength among their ranks to mount a credible primary challenge to a governor whose approval ratings have more than doubled since the end of 2019, according to a Sacred Heart University poll published last month?

When you think about it, Lamont’s rise in popularity is remarkable, given how poorly his elaborate highway tolling scheme fared right out of the gate after he took office in January 2019, and given his support for legislation repealing the religious exemption for vaccinating school children. The latter has made him the object of much loathing among the vaccine-averse.

Still, Lamont will be hard to beat. Aside from the repeal of the religious exemption that he signed last month, he has received much praise for his handling of the pandemic, with 70% of respondents approving of his performance in the aforementioned Sacred Heart poll. Heck, even some Republicans who have been critical of Lamont’s extended use of executive power during the pandemic have surely softened some of their disdain because of his opposition to relentless tax increases.

Unless things change dramatically, my money is on the 67-year-old Lamont running again and winning by more points than he did in 2018.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at CTDevilsAdvocate and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at tcowgill90@wesleyan.edu.

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.

EDITOR’s NOTE: Some of the dates were incorrect in the original version of this op-ed, but have been corrected.