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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Now the race for governor really begins

    A plurality of Republican voters, about 30 percent based on partial results, opted on primary night to select as their gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, a novice politician who has radical and unrealistic proposals to address Connecticut's fiscal problems.

    Democrats, meanwhile, gave an overwhelming victory to their party-endorsed candidate, Ned Lamont.

    While Stefanowski's call to eliminate the income tax and other taxes is pure fantasy given the state's budgetary challenges, Lamont's problem is a lack of ideas on fiscal matters.

    In a year that had been shaping up as a strong one for Republicans, choosing Stefanowski could well strengthen the chances of Democrats retaining control in Hartford. Party endorsed candidate Mark Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, was seen as the safe choice who could attract moderate voters to the cause, but a pluarity of Republicans opted to go in a different direction.

    In Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Lamont had the luxury of facing a candidate with a big political liability — a criminal record for corruption that sent him to federal prison for seven years. In conceding, Ganim called for party unity.

    After a five-person race that featured nasty attack ads, it may be harder for Republicans to unite.

    Lamont won’t have such an easy go of it in the general election. Expect both multi-millionaire businessman candidates to invest heavily in advertising, likely attacking one another.

    As we noted when the election process was just beginning back in early June, The Day sees this election coming at a pivotal time for Connecticut. The economy is finally showing signs of lift, with an expansion of military industrial manufacturing, an emerging biotech industry, and offshore wind-power development serviced by Connecticut ports leading the way.

    But due to a legacy of underfunded pensions, persistent budget deficits, a local governing and educational structure that is redundant and inefficient, and a burdensome tax structure that was cobbled together to address successive fiscal crises, but which lacks a strategic vision, Connecticut is not well positioned to welcome opportunity and growth.

    The candidates need to tell voters how, if elected, they would work with the legislature to provide the fiscal stability, infrastructure improvements, and quality educational opportunities — for all students — that will be necessary to fuel prosperity.

    Born into money and having made much of his own in the cable TV industry, Lamont’s political high point came in 2006 when he defeated former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, attacking the incumbent for his strong support of the Iraq War. But Lieberman remained in the race and won the general election.

    Lamont lost at the primary stage in a 2010 run for governor.

    Give Lamont credit for taking on a challenge other leading Democrats were unwilling to tackle. With fellow Democrat Gov. Dannel P. Malloy having controlled the governorship for eight years, a period that has seen repeated budgetary crises and a lackluster economy, Lamont confronts an electorate that seemed primed for a political shift.

    But if Lamont has to deal with the ghost of tax-increases past in the specter of Malloy, Stefanowski will have to deal with the ghost of present-day politics in the form of President Trump. Yet rather than distance himself from Trump, Stefanowski has embraced him. Lamont could well benefit from a surge in Democratic voters ready to send a message in November that they are upset with Trump’s policies and Republican support for them.

    And therein lies the danger. Lamont’s easy path is to tie his opponent to Trump at every opportunity and focus on popular progressive issues such immigration reform, a higher minimum wage and paid family leave, all worthy of discussion, but none central to addressing Connecticut’s fiscal instability and economic struggles.

    Likewise, the Republican nominee will be tempted to run against the record of a man who is not running, Malloy.

    A strong challenge by Oz Griebel, who plans an independent run, could change this political calculus by appealing to independent-minded voters, forcing the major party candidates to abandon the easy right vs. left political play. With his political slogan — “No politics. No parties. Just solutions.” — Griebel can win over serious-minded voters by presenting himself as the gubernatorial candidate willing to be forthright about the tough choices the state faces.

    Voters have long grown tired of the political promises politicians can’t deliver. Folks are skeptical, bordering on cynical. With the primary now behind them, our gubernatorial candidates should keep that in mind.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.