Economy, character issues give Republican lieutenant governor candidates lots to talk about

The Aug. 12 Republican primary race for lieutenant governor has not been without controversy, as contenders define where they stand on guns, spending and the economy, and question each other's character.

The three candidates were each given high marks by the National Rifle Association, with the endorsed candidate, state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford Springs, scoring the highest with an "A." Bacchiochi voted against the state gun control bill after the Sandy Hook school massacre while Groton Town Councilor Heather Bond Somers is a pistol permit holder.

The candidates also are talking about state spending and taxes.

The third candidate, former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker of Bridgeport, has said he wants to cut spending "in absolute terms" and that the state employees' pension and health care contracts must be renegotiated.

"The truth is nobody has represented the taxpayers at the bargaining table for 30 years in this state, and the taxpayers have been had and it's time to tell them the truth," Walker said.

Somers said the state has a spending problem and that "everything is on the table." She would like each state department to complete a risk analysis to determine what risk is associated with eliminating a particular state service.

Bacchiochi said she also wants spending and pension liabilities to be reduced.

"I think we can find efficiencies," she said. "We have the public and private sectors delivering the same services, and the public sector delivery system costs twice as much."

Each candidate has proposed tax cuts in hopes of stimulating the state's economy. Bacchiochi said she would like tax breaks for pensions and Social Security payments so that retirees stop leaving the state. Somers said she has experience lowering taxes and highlighted the Town of Groton's tax rate decrease this year. Walker, with his running mate, gubernatorial candidate John McKinney, proposed an elimination of the state income tax for filers who earn less than $75,000 in fiscal year 2016-17.

The three candidates have each said they would focus on eliminating red tape and regulations to create jobs. Bacchiochi said someone interested in opening a dog grooming business decided against it because there were so many state agencies involved in the permitting process. Bacchiochi said there could be a one-stop permitting office for the state, as there is in Danbury under Mayor Mark Boughton, who dropped out of the gubernatorial race and endorsed Bacchiochi and gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley.

Somers split from Boughton shortly after the Republican State Convention because she said she wanted control over her public campaign funds.

Bacchiochi and Walker have also criticized Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's First Five program, which provides millions of dollars in loans and grants for a promise of job creation. Somers has not as strongly rebuked Malloy's program but has regularly criticized one of Malloy's Next Five programs that would have provided $115 million for the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates to relocate its headquarters to Stamford from Westport. In June, the company said it was exploring other options, and the deal fell through.

Somers' former company Hydrofera, a medical device manufacturer, was a recipient of a state equity investment from the Connecticut Development Authority, now called CT Innovations. When her company was sold in 2012, less than half of the investment was returned to the state, and the company paid an $80,000 penalty for not reaching the 143-job creation mark.

Somers said her company was offered a $1.5 million investment for 143 jobs but only took $1 million and was only required to create 100 jobs. The company created about 40 jobs.

"I think it is a great thing because there are 40 jobs where there weren't jobs, it has put tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy and it's still there and still growing," Somers said.

CT Innovations spokeswoman Lauren Carmody said that the agency hoped for more money back than it invested but that it operates with a "double bottom line," which means it aims to make return on investment and keep jobs and businesses in Connecticut.

Somers said if the state elects a Republican governor, she hopes investments similar to the one her company received could continue to help businesses. Whether a low-interest loan or an investment should be given depends on the type of business.

Bacchiochi said, "Her business never took any corporate welfare, but I am not sure that's the case for everybody. I have never participated in that program."

She said Malloy's First Five program provides millions of dollars for a "low level of jobs."

Walker said there is a place for economic incentives, but the target should be areas of high unemployment and developable land.

Before the Republican State Convention, Bacchiochi said one of her opponents was attacking her because her husband and stepsons are black.

Walker accused Bacchiochi of lying and demanded an apology. She apologized.

"This issue is very distracting for everyone and I am doing my best when asked about it to honestly say I should have let comments that I was hearing roll off my shoulder, and I did not," Bacchiochi said. "If people see this as a perceived weakness, then I have to bear that cross. But I learned a lesson and David Walker and I have completely discussed it."

A Bacchiochi campaign aide accused Somers of "white privilege" in a Facebook post. Somers called for Bacchiochi to disavow the comments. Bacchiochi fired the consultant, Regina V. Ross Roundtree, who still works for gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley's campaign.

"That's a private individual making personal comments on a website that I have no knowledge of," Bacchiochi said. "They did not speak for me. I did not authorize them. They were completely separate from my campaign."

The winner of the primary will be paired with the winner of the Republican primary gubernatorial election, also on Aug. 12. The pair will be up against Democrats Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman in the general election on Nov. 4.

j.somers@theday.com

 

Candidate fact box

Penny Bacchiochi
Age: 53
Hometown: Stafford Springs
Experience: State representative for 12 years, owner of a real estate and property management company in Stafford, real estate agent for 33 years

Heather Bond Somers
Age: 48
Hometown: Groton
Experience: Former mayor of the Town of Groton, serving her fifth term on the Groton Town Council, co-founded Hydrofera LLC, a medical device manufacturing company that was sold to Hollister Inc. in 2012

Dave Walker
Age: 62
Hometown: Bridgeport
Experience: Former U.S. comptroller general and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office for 10 years, CEO of the Comeback America Initiative for five years, more than 40 years of professional and leadership experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors

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