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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Connecticut needs a better four years from Lamont

    If Republican Bob Stefanowski had answered a forthright “Yes!” when asked if he would denounce the anti-democracy stance of his national party and former President Trump, especially in connection with the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, The Day would have been free to give serious consideration to endorsing his candidacy for governor of Connecticut.

    No issue – not inflation, not police accountability, not the Supreme Court’s nullifying of Roe v. Wade, not gun safety – supersedes the peril of the United States of America losing the soul of its democracy.

    Make no mistake: Elections have consequences, and the one on Nov. 8, 2022, will have greater consequences than any so far in American history. It will ultimately affect every other issue and every American.

    Yes, the governor is a state official, not a member of Congress. And yes, it is true, as both Stefanowski and incumbent Governor Ned Lamont told The Day Editorial Board, that the office of governor of Connecticut is less encumbered with dysfunctional partisanship than a U.S. Senate seat. But no one elected this fall will be able to look away from the urgency of addressing our divisiveness at every level.

    When the microphones went off at the end of Stefanowski’s meeting with the editorial board, he said he was just asking for a chance. Asked earlier about his political role models, he cited Ronald Reagan and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

    Bob Stefanowski could have campaigned as a traditional, moderate “Connecticut Republican” who would have no truck with the election-denying right wing. He chose not to.

    He has been right on some important issues. He is spot on in attacking the corruption and waves of cost increases under the Connecticut Port Authority, as have The Day and columnist David Collins. He is right that the deal with Eversource and Orsted, the wind power developers, should have been reopened. He is an enthusiastic fan of New London and sees the potential for this port city.

    In the four years since he first ran, Stefanowski has given up on ending the state income tax and instead has plans for a $2 billion tax relief plan that would partially tap the state’s surplus. That would be welcome during an inflationary time, but bipartisan-passed volatility and spending caps direct a percentage of the gains toward paying down the state’s burdensome pension debt. There is no comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars that payment will save for current taxpayers and their descendants.

    In recent weeks, Stefanowski has gotten behind policies that make it unlikely, in the end, that he would have gotten The Day’s endorsement: revising – essentially, weakening – the affordable housing statute; promoting the scariest interpretation of post-pandemic crime increases; and warning that police aren’t chasing suspects because they fear the qualified immunity provision of the police reform law.

    Ned Lamont has shown both strong leadership and serious flaws in his first term but, with a reorientation from private-sector businessman to the state’s highest public official, he should be able to give Connecticut a better four years.

    The Day’s most persistent criticism of Lamont has been his failures of transparency, repeatedly treating state governance as if it were a proprietary matter rather than the people’s business. You don’t have to take our word for it; his generally competent administration somehow could not muster the capacity to comply with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. That will change, at last, because the FOI Commission has slapped the governor’s staff with mandatory training on the open records law.

    By his own lights, Lamont thinks of himself as transparent. It is true that his daily press briefings during the Covid pandemic kept the public connected to daily developments, but that should be just a start.

    It took him a while, but the governor has been good for New London and for the largest single potential growth area in the state’s job market: the hiring of thousands of new workers at Electric Boat. Helped by federal funds and stock market returns, he has made a healthy dent in the pension debt, started programs to cope with children’s and adults’ mental health crises, overseen gun control measures and implemented child tax credits. He has been an education governor when one was sorely needed.

    Should he win re-election, as polling suggests he will, Lamont needs to continue to focus on job training for manufacturing and recruitment of nurses, teachers and police officers. He can expect to be dealing with inflation and a likely recession in this term. He should lead the way in reducing opioid and fentanyl overdose deaths through methods that have proven to work. He should continue to advocate for greater access to voting. Crucially, he must renew and carry out the state’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and preparing for climate change that is already underway.

    It is The Day’s responsibility first, last and always to advocate for democracy. All those critically important endeavors must happen within the framework of democracy, or they may never happen at all. Ned Lamont has his shortcomings, like any governor, any human. In our judgment, however, he is the most likely candidate to affirm Connecticut’s commitment to justice and opportunity for all.

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