October is here and Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to announce whether he will run for another term. With municipal elections only weeks away, he can stand to wait until year’s end. Timing matters and Lamont is facing scrutiny about his gubernatorial powers while he’s also being publicly blunt about our state’s politics and bureaucracy.
This week’s political attention has been on the governor since the General Assembly went into special session to extend Lamont’s emergency powers over vaccine requirements and other public health measures. Our state legislature last year granted more authority to the governor at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
This time around, our General Assembly granted Lamont a sixth extension of his emergency authority until February. It’s safe to say that a lot of people are fed up with masking and other steps we are being asked to take to fight the spread of COVID-19. The state’s legislative body had its own conflict with mask-wearing requirements during the special session. While the Democratic party holds a roughly two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives and Senate, Lamont faced criticism from his own party’s caucus as 10 Democratic House lawmakers joined Republicans voting against extending his powers. The measure still passed both legislative chambers with a tight 18 to 15 vote in the Senate.
Considering the Democrats’ legislative caucuses splintered on his gubernatorial emergency powers, Lamont announcing his re-election now would not be politically prudent. Gubernatorial races begin a year or so in advance of a general election because running for statewide office requires significant campaign funding. In Connecticut, the pricy New York media market overlaps into Fairfield County. But a public official like Lamont with deep personal financial resources can take all the time he wishes since fundraising is hardly required. In 2018, for example, Lamont spent some $16.5 million on his own gubernatorial campaign. Fundraising is no easy task, but it helps when an incumbent uses his own money to run for office again.
So, Lamont has the finances to run again as well as the incumbency factor. At 56% approval rating this spring, he also has much of Connecticut’s support. Incumbents, especially wealthy and popular ones, have significant advantages.
Should it be surprising then that Lamont showed some moxie and recently called out some of the foibles of our state’s politics? He shared how inefficient Connecticut operates to business leaders at last week’s Greenwich Economic Forum. Lamont suggested that our state government is bureaucratic and our General Assembly is “cantankerous.” The governor went on to say that our state lawmakers can be “a little cranky” and working with the General Assembly has been difficult especially with addressing car dealership legislation for Tesla purchases, Department of Motor Vehicle reforms, and public employee unions adopting new technology.
For an incumbent governor to offer such frankness during the General Assembly’s special session and doing so months (if not weeks) before he announces plans to run for re-election is intriguing. Timing matters, especially in politics. A governor, particularly an incumbent, tries to steer significant announcements – from candidacy to policies – toward moments where they can capture a lot of attention. They often have the attention of the media and voters since the governor is the chief executive of the state government. And some political scientists, like Professor Alan Rosenthal, have reminded observers that the governor has a much bigger bully pulpit than any state legislator.
With these gubernatorial advantages then, Lamont could easily wait until year’s end or early next year to make his re-election official. Meanwhile, I’m more interested in his comments about how he really feels about Connecticut politics. If there are more moments during which our governor is so candid, it could help his campaign and demonstrate to voters that those of us who are frustrated with Connecticut’s politics aren’t alone.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D., is the associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
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