Governor addresses wide range of campaign issues in meeting with Day editorial board
New London ― Gov. Ned Lamont traveled to The Day’s building on Monday, taking questions from reporters and editorial board members on the economy, state pier, the Mystic Education Center property, abortion and a wide range of other issues.
Lamont’s visit to New London coincided with an event he attended in Stonington on Monday afternoon marking the launch of a workforce development program. “Stonington High School is the first public high school in Connecticut to offer a pre-credentialing opportunity in the construction trades for any high school student,” Lamont’s office wrote in a news release.
The governor had Southeastern Connecticut on his mind on Monday while in the throes of campaign season.
He said the state would not be going through with the sale of the former Mystic Oral School property. And he defended the State Pier deal, specifically the state taking on the cost overruns on the $255 million project.
“I think in hindsight, look at the totality of this thing, it’s a good deal for the state and the region,” Lamont said. He noted that Eversource and Orsted are contributing $75 million to the cost of the pier.
“They’re going to pay us rent for access to the pier as long as they need it for wind power installations and such,” Lamont said. He mentioned the host agreement deal struck with the city that will net the city $5.25 million over seven years.
In August at a news conference in New London, Republican candidate for governor Bob Stefanowski slammed Lamont for lack of transparency and cost overruns on the offshore wind redevelopment project at State Pier. News broke in August that a federal grand jury has subpoenaed six years of port authority records as part of an investigation into the quasi-public agency.
“It’s not the deal I would have structured, but is it a good deal for the state? I think it is,” Lamont said.
He shot back at critics of the project saying that “tearing up the contract and walking away” sends the wrong message about the state’s business relationships. He argued that the deal is positive because it will create jobs, help the state move towards energy independence and clean energy, and, “New London’s got the opportunity to be what it once was — one of the great ports in the Northeast and on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Asked whether he was personally involved with the outstanding criminal vandalism charges filed against outspoken State Pier critic Kevin Blacker, who is running for 2nd Congressional District on the Green Party line, as Blacker has claimed, Lamont said, “He’s just making stuff up. I barely know who this person is, but there’s not a word of truth to any of it.”
Lamont criticized his opponents for governor, Stefanowski and Independent Rob Hotaling, multiple times for wanting to spend too much of Connecticut’s $4.1 billion surplus. He said the state is focused on paying down its pension debt.
“I’m a business guy, so I do pretty well with Republicans. I think Republicans looked at our debate the other day and saw two people who want to spend down the rainy day fund, and they said, ‘I’m not sure who the Republican is on this stage,’” Lamont said.
Lamont’s administration has used the state’s coffers for funding workforce development, daycare and mental health care, among other matters, he said. His response to Stefanowski’s claim that the average Connecticut citizen isn’t seeing the benefits of the state’s surplus money was to say that paying down pension debt at the current level would reduces taxes by $450 million annually for state residents. The state’s overall pension debt is around $41 billion.
Lamont recognized that the state’s housing is currently expensive whether for renters or homeowners. He said it needs to build out its housing and offer more options for people, specifically in transit or downtown areas. He referenced the state’s initiative to have towns develop housing plans, identifying good locations for affordable housing, because he believes local control is important.
“I want the towns to take the lead. I would say the overwhelming majority are. Some of them are saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ We said, ‘Come up with a plan where … you might like to do something,” Lamont said.
During last week’s debate, Stefanowski argued the state should repeal a state law that seeks to bolster the number of Connecticut’s affordable housing units. He said it threatens local zoning control.
On Monday, Lamont said the law could be reformed, but that the fact “nobody has wanted to build in Connecticut over the last 30 years” had more to do with a lackluster economy.
Neither Lamont nor Hotaling want to repeal the law, which makes it difficult for towns without 10 percent of their housing stocks designated as affordable, to deny permits for affordable housing projects.
While Stefanowski has said he wants to repeal parts of the police accountability law passed two years ago, Lamont has said there’s no need to revise the law. But, why does he think scaling back qualified immunity for police officers was important?
“All it says is if you purposefully knew you were breaking the law, like your knee on someone’s neck for nine-plus minutes, you will be held accountable,” Lamont said, referencing the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. “Ninety-nine point nine percent of police do the right thing.”
“I think it just, the legislature thought this important because it said to the community that nobody is above the law,” Lamont added. “It’s an incredibly high threshold … I’m trying to build the very best trust between the police and the community.”
As for whether the law has made it harder to recruit police, Lamont said, “I think there’s trial attorneys” and Republican legislators “stirring the pot.”
Lamont said he’s hoping to get legislation banning or better regulating ghost guns — untraceable guns made by combining pieces of disparate guns — through the state legislature in this upcoming session, a priority of his in the past session that was ultimately not passed.
Although a recent report showed that crime was down in Connecticut last year, murders increased slightly. Lamont said this reflects too many illegal guns on the street, too many guns with high-capacity magazines, mental health issues and extreme behavior coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as “something as isolated as two or three gang leaders.”
The governor elaborated on his claim last week that Stefanowski is “scaring the women of Connecticut” on the issue of abortion. At the time, he said Stefanowski’s $5,800 contribution to the anti-abortion Republican candidate for U.S. Senator, Leora Levy, was proof of his statement.
On Monday, he said that Stefanowski is supported by PACs that want to restrict abortion. He said Stefanowski’s running mate, Republican state Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, supports the state’s safe harbor law but that Stefanowski “won’t comment on it.”
Stefanowski has said he would protect a women’s right to choose and that laws on abortion would not change while he was in office.
Lamont signed a bill into law from the most recent legislative session strengthening abortion rights and access in anticipation of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The legislation, a combination of two earlier proposals, protects out-of-state women from prosecution for getting an abortion in Connecticut and Connecticut medical providers from legal actions taken against them from another state.
Lamont said he is self-financing his run again because being governor “gives you the opportunity to make a big difference in the state you love.” Asked whether he thinks it’s easier for wealthy people to be governor, he said, “It’s probably a little easier.”
He noted that public financing and the Citizen’s Election Program haven’t been used at the gubernatorial level in a couple of cycles, and he argued that big outside money in politics is contributing to the problem.
Asked about delays in Freedom of Information requests made of the state, Lamont said that he is “one of the most transparent governors ever,” and referenced his daily 4 p.m. pandemic news conferences, in which he took questions from the news media. On Monday, he said his office in particular has been inundated with requests, but that staffers are catching up. While he said those making requests should be as specific as possible when making them, he acknowledged, “If we have to do better on that, I will. I want to be able to get you the real-time information you need.”
Lamont was clear in his support for voting rights expansion including no-excuse absentee and early voting.
“Our democracy is under threat … You see how nonchalant a lot of the Republicans were about January 6th,” he said. “I and Stephanie Thomas, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of the State, want to do everything we can to expand people’s opportunity to vote.”
The Governor said he would support President Joe Biden, a Democrat, whom Lamont has said is a friend, for a second term if he ran against former President Donald Trump, a Republican. But if the opponent is different, “Let’s wait and see.” He said Biden’s tenure has rendered “the most effective two years” the federal government has had “in a long time.”
Lamont agreed with Stefanowski that the participation of transgender students in sports is a legitimate discussion to be had, “But discuss it with the local leagues and the local boards. I don’t need a lot of politicians jumping in six weeks before the election at the expense of three or four kids going through a complicated time in their lives.”
He spoke to the culture war currently taking place in secondary schools throughout the country regarding critical race theory — which is generally not taught below a college level — and civics and history classes. Lamont stuck up for teachers in this case, saying they were equipped to teach on difficult subjects such as the Holocaust or slavery.
“These are not little snowflakes, and our teachers know how to teach this in a way that generates critical thinking,” he said.