For a half-hour Wednesday, Bob Stefanowski stood outside the state Capitol and fielded questions on abortion rights and state employee raises in a sign the Republican candidate plans to run a more conventional campaign in this year’s rematch with Gov. Ned Lamont.
Stefanowski endured questions from reporters Tuesday afternoon for the first time since accepting the Republican nomination for governor at the party convention earlier this month. Participation in that convention was itself a departure for the candidate, who in 2018 shirked the event, petitioned his way into a crowded primary field and ultimately came within 3 points of besting Lamont.
This year, the 60-year-old former corporate executive from Madison, seems committed to a more traditional approach to closing that gap and where in the past he may have avoided competing questions from groups of reporters, he arrived Tuesday with a 13-minute speech then answered questions until a communications staffer ended the event 20 minutes later.
“Listen, I’m not a seasoned politician,” he said near the outset. “You know, I’m not going to give you a rousing stump speech, I’m not going to give you the best answer to your question. But I’ll tell you what I am — I’m a real person, I’m a business person, I’m a leader.”
Stefanowski responded to a barrage of recent events by state Democrats who have both touted Connecticut’s support for reproductive rights in light of the expected reversal of Roe v. Wade and sought to characterize him as a threat to those rights if elected. He said the reversal was a “big deal” and said his position on the issue was in some ways similar to Lamont’s.
“We’ve both come out and said we support a woman’s right to choose, we’ve both come out and said we are not going to change the existing Connecticut law,” Stefanowski said. “Now here’s the difference: Governor Lamont doesn’t think that the parents of a 14-year-old girl who’s going through a major, critical decision like this have any right to know what she’s doing before she gets an abortion.”
Stefanowski said he supported a parental notification requirement and suggested it was an “extreme” position not to. Meanwhile, he said he was “not pushing for” a law requiring parental consent before a minor receives an abortion.
Following the event, Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Reproductive Rights Caucus, argued there was functionally little distinction between the two policies if a pregnant child feels they cannot talk to their parents.
“By saying that he would support parental notification is saying that he that he supports restrictions on access to abortion care and that is not what we need at this time in the state of Connecticut or across this country,” Gilchrest said.
Wednesday’s event followed the release of an Emerson College poll of 1,000 Connecticut residents which suggested Stefanowski was trailing Lamont by around 13 points. But the poll suggested Stefanowski has a much larger gap to close among women, who favor Lamont by nearly 21%.
State Worker Raises
In response to a question on 2.5% raises for state employees, which was negotiated by the Lamont administration and a coalition of public sector labor unions, Stefanowski said he did not begrudge state employees the raises.
“I think 2.5 is reasonable,” he said. “Inflation’s on the rise right now. We’ll have to see what the cost of living is.”
Stefanowski said he did oppose the $3,500 in bonuses which the agreement provides for most state workers, especially because workers could accept at least part of the bonus and then retire from state service. He accused Lamont of ignoring state worker unions for most of his term then “all of the sudden he’s Santa Claus” now that he’s facing reelection.
“You all know it — he’s buying 44,000 votes,” Stefanowski said.
In his opening remarks, Stefanowski critiqued Lamont for his unsuccessful attempts to enact tolls on Connecticut highways and the recently-passed state budget, which cut taxes by around $600 million. He said the tax cuts are largely temporary and do not measure up to earlier tax increases.
Stefanowski also said state spending had increased dramatically under Lamont. When asked to provide the top three areas where he would reduce spending if he were governor, Stefanowski answered generally that he would reduce corruption and pointed to the recent scandal involving the city of West Haven’s improper spending of federal funds.
“Corruption, that’s the biggest tax we have and we have to start holding people accountable,” Stefanowski said. “People are looking at the mayor of West Haven and saying, ‘Jeez, we have 168 other towns.’”
In a statement, Lamont’s campaign spokesman Jake Lewis said Stefanowski refused to answer policy questions because his plans would be damaging to Connecticut.
“Meanwhile Governor Lamont who has successfully led the state over the last three years, created a record budget surplus and passed the biggest tax cut in state history, while making significant investments in education, crime prevention, and job training programs,” Lewis said.
Stefanowski reacted to a recent ranking by the website Wallethub, which rated Connecticut as the number one state in which to work as a police officer. He disputed the conclusion and said Connecticut police were struggling in part due to recent legislation on police accountability.
“On the one hand you want to laugh it off and say this is a lot of election year nonsense. On the other hand you want to cry because what the governor has done law enforcement in our state is unacceptable,” Stefanowski said.
Lamont has publicized the ranking on his campaign Twitter account, saying “Our historic investments in police officers and crime reduction programs are paying off. We are making our state a safer place to work and live.”