bob stefanowski debate
Bob Stefanowski addresses reporters after the debate Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Bob Stefanowski has a strategy for turning around the momentum in the home stretch of the governor’s race: keep talking about parent’s rights and crime and inflation.

The Republican candidate has been hammering those themes as the race for governor enters its final six weeks. Meanwhile, gas prices have dropped to their lowest point in 18 months. Crime rates have fallen. The man Stefanowski is looking to unseat, Ned Lamont, recent claimed the highest approval ratings of any Democratic governor in the United States. And the latest polls show Stefanowski trailing by as many as 15 points.

In an interview Thursday on WNHH FM’s ​“Dateline New Haven” program, Stefanowski vowed to stay the course. He noted that polls showed him behind Lamont by double digits when they first faced off in 2018; Lamont ended up winning by 3.2 percent.

“We’ve got 40 days left. That’s an eternity in politics. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 40 days. Look at the stock market. People are going to get their 401(k) plans next week. It’s going to be down 25 percent,” Stefanowski predicted.

“A lot of the social issues that don’t necessarily work for Republicans in a Democratic state are coming our way. The most emotional issue I see out there is government getting between parents and their kids. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent, you want to be able to raise your kids.”

At the top of that social-issue agenda for Republican candidates nationwide has been ​“parents’ rights.” 

Virginia Republican Glenn Youngkin (who came to Connecticut Wednesday to endorse Stefanowski) rode the issue to the governor’s mansion in his state. Stefanowski has gone all in on the issue in the campaign’s closing months.

“Let’s get schools back to teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. We should be teaching our kids how to think, not what to think.” Stefanowski argued.

He advocates requiring transgender students to use the bathroom associated with their gender at birth, with the possibility of having a third bathroom option provided; and requiring the students to compete in athletic events based on their birth gender. (“We can have a third one if they want,” he said.) Lamont has accused him of being divisive on the issue; Stefanowski responded that Lamont is being divisive by focusing on his transgender position when it is one of eight planks of his ​“parental bill of rights” platform.

Other planks include increasing school security; requiring parental permission for students up to 16 years old (rather than 14) to access certain websites; and ​“working with teachers” on curricula that reflect parents’ primary role in sex education.

“I’m not saying it’s happening in Connecticut. But there are parts of the country where Democrats are teaching sex education to grammar school kids,” Stefanowski said.

If it’s not happening in Connecticut, Stefanowski was asked, why make it a campaign issue?

“Because you never know,” he responded. ​“There’s been limits on Gov. Lamont the first time around because he knew he was running again.” In a second term, he argued, Lamont would be ​“unrestrained,” and govern more from the left.

Listener John D. Allen pressed Stefanowski with a comment posted on the Facebook feed during the interview: ​“LGBTQ+ people are being demonized by the GOP across the country. How can the Connecticut queer community believe that we would be celebrated and supported by a Connecticut Republican administration?”

In response, Stefanowski acknowledged that ​“there’s some of that” bias against LGBTQ+ people in the party. 

He noted that he had posted a tweet in support of Pride Month this year. He said he kept the tweet up when some people attacked him for it. 

“If I wanted to pander to my base I would have pulled down the tweet. People have a right to live their lives as they see fit. When I win — because we are going to win despite these crazy polls — I’m going to support everybody,” the candidate said. ​“I’m going to respect everybody’s opinion.”

Affordable Housing Challenge

The interview included an extensive discussion about how best to meet the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Stefanowski repeated his call to repeal and replace the state law, 8 – 30g, that enables developers to build affordable housing over local zoners’ objections in towns with less than 10 percent of their stock affordable.

He called himself ​“absolutely an advocate for affordable housing.” But he argued that the law isn’t working, because after decades the affordable housing crisis remains. (“Would anyone tell you we’ve got enough affordable housing, we’ve made enough progress?”) Advocates argue that the law has succeeded in creating thousands of affordable homes that would not have otherwise been built. 

Stefanowski also called the law unfair. ​“Should we allow a developer to unilaterally come up and put up a skyscraper next to a Cape Cod house that is that family’s primary investment and asset in the world? No.”

Stefanowski called for more of a collaborative approach with towns, many of which he said have drawn up promising plans. 

And what about towns dead set against allowing developers to build more? In the short term government should focus on low-hanging fruit like refurbishing publicly-owned abandoned properties, he said. ​“You need to bring the stick out at some point. But right now we’re only” using the stick. He declined to spell out a plan for the stick.

Expanding Opportunity

Republican candidates Laura Devlin and Bob Stefanowski talking about life in Newhallville Tuesday with Dixwell Ave. residents Cedric Young and Nickesha Evans Hill. Credit: Thomas Breen photo / New Haven Independent

The interview included an extensive discussion about how best to meet the state’s affordable housing crisis.

Stefanowski repeated his call to repeal and replace the state law, 8 – 30g, that enables developers to build affordable housing over local zoners’ objections in towns with less than 10 percent of their stock affordable.

He called himself ​“absolutely an advocate for affordable housing.” But he argued that the law isn’t working, because after decades the affordable housing crisis remains. (“Would anyone tell you we’ve got enough affordable housing, we’ve made enough progress?”) Advocates argue that the law has succeeded in creating thousands of affordable homes that would not have otherwise been built. 

Stefanowski also called the law unfair. ​“Should we allow a developer to unilaterally come up and put up a skyscraper next to a Cape Cod house that is that family’s primary investment and asset in the world? No.”

Stefanowski called for more of a collaborative approach with towns, many of which he said have drawn up promising plans. 

And what about towns dead set against allowing developers to build more? In the short term government should focus on low-hanging fruit like refurbishing publicly-owned abandoned properties, he said. ​“You need to bring the stick out at some point. But right now we’re only” using the stick. He declined to spell out a plan for the stick.

Expanding Opportunity

Stefanowski pointing out the former third-floor apartment of rowdy SCSU students who used to live in his childhood home on Pond Street. Credit: Thomas Breen photo / New Haven Independent

Stefanowski’s campaign has aired TV ads in which individuals blame high utility prices on Gov. Lamont.

On ​“Dateline,” Stefanowski was asked if that is fair, given that utility rates have risen nationwide (and worldwide) due to a host of factors beyond governors’ control, including the war in Ukraine.

“You know who has the highest utility bills in the continental U.S.? The State of Connecticut,” Stefanowski responded. ​“You know who has the second-highest taxes? The state of Connecticut …”

Wasn’t that the case when Republican Gov. John Rowland ran the state, too? he was asked.

“Maybe he didn’t do a good job,” Stefanowski responded.

Then he promised to give ratepayers more of a voice in setting rates and holding utilities accountable.

“You know who regulates the utilities? The state of Connecticut. You know what Eversource gets every year regardless of their performance? A guaranteed 9.5 percent return. We’re going to disband PURA, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. We’re going to put consumers, consumer advocates on that board. We’re going to hold them accountable for their performance. And we’re going to get rates down.”