Crowded field for governor does not bode well for state

At this point eight years ago — the last time Connecticut had no incumbent governor seeking re-election — the state’s race for governor had clarity and candidates with statewide recognition.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele was seeking to succeed retiring Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Businessman Tom Foley, a former ambassador to Ireland, was challenging him. Hartford business leader R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel would soon join the race, which ended with Foley’s primary victory.

As for the Democrats, popular Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy was making a second try for the governorship, having lost in the 2006 Democratic primary. Businessman Ned Lamont who, like Foley, had a fortune to bankroll his campaign, had gained national attention when he ran on an anti-Iraq War platform and defeated Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 party primary. Lamont then lost to Lieberman in the general election when the senator remained in the race as a petitioning candidate.

The third candidate in that Democratic 2010 governor’s race was House Speaker James Amann, who would drop out three weeks later, eclipsed by the Malloy versus Lamont faceoff.

How different things are this time.

Seven Democrats have either announced their candidacy or formed exploratory committees.

The field is even larger for Republicans. Eleven candidates were invited to a recent forum sponsored by the Connecticut Republican Party. Nine showed up.

No front-runners have emerged in either race, not even close.

Lamont is back, making his candidacy for the Democratic nomination official Wednesday. I don’t see that as any reason for Democrats to get excited. He lost his last two races. Malloy won their contested 2010 primary easily, even after Lamont used his own money to out spend the publicly financed Malloy $9.7 million to $1.5 million.

In his video announcement, Lamont backed imposing a $15 minimum wage, said it was time to talk about mandatory paid family and medical leave and pledged respect for the needs of government employees. That may play well with the party’s base, but it won’t fix things. In a state having trouble attracting and keeping businesses and balancing its budget, proposing to add more mandates on business and embracing state workers hardly seems like a winning formula.

The Democratic field also includes Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who spent seven years in federal prison for corruption the first time he was mayor of that city, and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who recently convinced the state legislature to pony up $40 million to keep his city out of bankruptcy.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz has, like Bronin, formed an exploratory committee. Back in 2010 Bysiewicz announced her gubernatorial candidacy, then dropped out to run for attorney general when that slot opened, only to be ruled ineligible by the state Supreme Court because she did not have the constitutionally mandated courtroom experience.

And so it goes.

On the Republican side candidates include a Trump protégé, businessman Peter Lumaj, and the hard right-leaning former first selectman of Trumbull, Tim Herbst. Neither seems a good electoral fit in blue Connecticut, where centrist Republicans play better.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton ran in 2014, but quickly flamed out. Former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker has credibility when it comes to fixing the state’s busted budget, but he also has the charismatic tendencies of your typical accountant.

The one women in the Republican race is state Sen. Toni Boucher. Unless you follow state politics closely, you haven’t heard of her.

Meanwhile, Griebel is also back, but this time running on an independent ticket. As noted in an earlier column, the lack of major party frontrunners could open the path to an independent like Griebel.

Apologies to the candidates I did not name. Space is limited.

Maybe this situation will encourage one or more candidates to propose some bold ideas as a way to stand out. Connecticut could use some new thinking.

More ominously and more likely, candidates in both parties could opt to play to their bases, knowing they only have to squeeze out a narrow victory in a crowded primary field.

Playing it safe and to the bases to gain a primary win will not serve Connecticut well. Needed is a candidate who can attract broad support, pursue a bipartisan agenda and force the legislature to make the difficult decisions that will be necessary to get our economy going and our budget balanced.

At this point, it’s hard to see that candidate emerging from the groups the major parties are offering up.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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