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Herbst Tries To Engage Nappier

by | Sep 23, 2014 4:30am
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Posted to: Election 2014, Pensions

Kristi Allen photo

Tim Herbst and Connecticut Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola two weeks ago at the state Capitol

If a Republican challenger attacks a Democratic incumbent and no one responds, does he still make a sound?

Tim Herbst, Republican candidate for state treasurer, is doing his best to find out. The Trumbull first selectman has been waging a rather one-sided campaign against five-term Democratic incumbent Denise Nappier.

“If any other candidate for public office showed this level of disengagement with the public and media they would be rightfully rebuked on the editorial pages of every major newspaper in the state,” Herbst said in a statement.

Nappier disagreed with Herbst’s characterization Monday. In a phone interview, she said that she’s always debated her opponent and is looking forward to her first community forum with Herbst. The two are scheduled to appear on Oct. 7 at the Hartford Public Library.

“My campaign has been and will continue to be active,” Nappier said. “It has never been driven by political gamesmanship as is the case with my opponent. I tell people I consider myself a fiduciary first.”

Herbst has called for five debates and even started an online petition to try and encourage Nappier to accept the invitation. Nappier said her campaign staff received the debate request on August 14 and will be responding.

But is it too little, too late?

Despite all the recent hype over the state’s unfunded pension liabilities, there are few voters who know what the state treasurer does. The state treasurer is the sole trustee and fiduciary of state employee and teacher pension funds. The treasurer also manages the state’s cash and is responsible for issuing the state’s debt.

“By and large, with some exceptions, people don’t know about the candidates below governor…there’s an awful lot of party line voting,” Ronald Schurin, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said Monday.

While some Democrats may cross party lines in the governor’s race, it would appear that most still vote party line on lower-ticket offices, Schurin said. Democrats have controlled most of Connecticut’s constitutional offices for the last decade, even when there was a Republican in the governor’s mansion.

Election statistics corroborate that theory. In 2010, 50,000 fewer votes were cast in the treasurer’s race than the governor’s race.

That’s bad news for Herbst, who is running statewide for the first time this year.

Nappier, who rarely gives media interviews and admits she’s more comfortable with email communication, told the Courant Editorial Board last week that the media hasn’t given her office enough coverage over the years, particularly her advocacy for lowering the unfunded liability in the state’s pension plans or pressuring the legislature to enact pension and debt reforms.

Hugh McQuaid file photo

Denise Nappier

“Unfortunately, there’s been no media coverage and there’s been no public outcry about the growing unfunded liability. I ran on that in 1998…that was my number one issue,” Nappier said.

On the other hand, Herbst said he feels he’s getting adequate media coverage.

Of all the constitutional offices below governor, “I think we’re actually getting the most attention,” Herbst said Monday.

Yet, he’s still been unsuccessful in getting Nappier’s campaign to engage.

Until Monday, Nappier’s campaign had declined requests to comment. Nappier said that’s partially due to the fact that they didn’t hire a spokeswoman until last Thursday.

Two weeks ago, Herbst held a press conference at the state Capitol and made the unfunded state pension liability a central focus in his campaign. He also took issue with Nappier’s characterization of her record when it comes to the state’s unfunded pension liabilities.

“Denise said this four years ago, and she said it 2006 and she said it in 2002. It is very politically convenient to say these things 45 days before an election,” Herbst said. “Since she’s been in office [the state’s unfunded liabilities] have gotten worse, not better.”

Nappier’s campaign manager declined to comment on Herbst’s criticism following the press conference. However, Nappier explained Monday that the state’s pension fund didn’t start out as an investment fund. She said for years it was “pay-as-you-go.”

“The fact of the matter is when I became state treasurer the state had one of the worst-funded pension plans in the country and that has not changed,” Nappier said.

However, through agreements between the governor and state employees the state is making progress and contributing the actuarially required amount, she said.

She took exception to a report by an associate professor of finance at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management who concluded the state’s pension fund could be insolvent by 2019.

She said the report, which Herbst is using to illustrate the state’s unfunded pension liability, “assumes the state would never contribute” to the fund and that’s not what’s happening. She said the state is contributing at least the actuarially required amount.

While they disagree on some issues, Nappier and Herbst actually agree on several issues, such as raising the retirement age, putting surplus money towards unfunded liabilities, and lowering actuarial rates of return on the state’s pension funds. Herbst has said that Nappier’s inability to accomplish these goals showed that she was disengaged and ineffective. But Nappier said she simply doesn’t have the jurisdiction to accomplish them so it’s an unfair criticism.

Actuarial rates of return are set by pension boards, employee benefit contracts are negotiated by the governor and the unions, and the legislature is in charge of appropriations. The treasurer is responsible for managing the investment of the state’s pension resources. Much of Herbst and Nappier’s strategies for fixing the unfunded pension liability rely on pressuring other politicians to enact the reforms they want.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.

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(7) Archived Comments

posted by: Fisherman | September 23, 2014  5:45am

“... there are few voters who know what the state treasurer does. The state treasurer is the sole trustee and fiduciary of state employee and teacher pension funds.”

Christine, there are five general functions that our Treasurer is suppose to perform. Pension Funds represent only around 20% of what Nappier should be working on. Yet, that’s about ALL she works on, to the dismay of CT Taxpayers everywhere; most of whom DO know what she’s doing. Pretty much nothing.

posted by: Noteworthy | September 23, 2014  5:54am

Going camo is the hallmark of Denise Nappier - from license plates on her car to how she runs the office and stands for election. Nappier tries her best to stay under cover. It is not the media’s fault. It is by design and that in and of itself should be a campaign issue. The truth is Nappier has been a champion of the status quo. If she wanted to drive the pension discussion, she could have as the Rhode Island treasurer did and has done. If she wanted a more realistic rate of return applied to pension money, she could have. If it was important enough, Nappier could have been at the forefront of properly funding pension promises to state employees. But she has stayed in the shadows for long periods of time, preferably responding via email probably so her answers can be scrubbed. She doesn’t like rattling the political boat with inconvenient treasurer truths. That’s why there has only been one significant pension payment and we still have one of the worst pension imbalances in the nation. The real question for Nappier is what’s changed in all her years in undercover?

posted by: dano860 | September 23, 2014  6:40am

In her TV commercials for the C.H.E.T. program they don’t eve identify her. If you didn’t readily know who she is, she appears to be just a concerned person of the street.
If she is so concerned about the unfunded liabilities she needs to get the legislature to understand that. As a Democrat she has party majority there and they should begin working with her.
How about the under funded teachers retirement fund? Something needs to be done there too.
http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-ctm-auditors-ct-teachers-retirement-system-20140912-story.html

posted by: LongJohn47 | September 23, 2014  7:06am

CT has an investment grade rating with Wall Street, so Nappier must be doing something right.  She is a professional in the money management world, while Herbst has absolutely no relevant experience for this job. 

Pension underfunding is done by the Governor and Legislature, and before Malloy there were accounting games on both sides that were used to serve short-term political objectives over long term financial health.

I agree with Noteworthy that Nappier could have led the fight in years gone by, but she wasn’t elected to play a political role.  Her job is to keep our investments safe and deftly manage cash flow by going to the market when needed, and she’s done superbly in that arena and deserves re-election.

posted by: Joebigjoe | September 23, 2014  8:07am

“While some Democrats may cross party lines in the governor’s race, it would appear that most still vote party line on lower-ticket offices”

I agree with that. There are obviously many thoughtful Democrat voters, a number of them on this board whether I agree with them or not on issues. However, the Dems are much more the party of mindless, follow the herd voters much more than republicans.

posted by: GBear423 | September 23, 2014  8:16am

GBear423

From Christine’s 2 Mar 2012 article “Nappier, GOP Squabble Over Cash”:

“Nappier’s spokesman said the LETTER she sent speaks for itself.

“There is no casual connection, per se, between interfund transfers and per capita debt burden or credit rating risk,” Nappier wrote. “I can assure you , however, that there is a clearer potential for headline risk associates with misinformation concerning the state’s fiscal condition.”

“Either the legislators who wrote the flawed opinion pieces do not understand the NUANCES of how we manage the state’s cash, or they chose to purposely mislead the general public for political ends,” she added.”

(Emphasis added)  Its very clear that she has deflected and dodged any accountability that was expected of her over the years. This letter mentioned (by her spokesman- a Treasurer has a Spokesman??) was a response to the Finance & Appropriations Committee requesting she explain bond transfers. She insults and accuses them when they are asking her to explain what she has done… and she is still in office.

posted by: CT Jim | September 23, 2014  11:11am

Don’t you guys have better things to do? Nobody is watching this or cares for that matter and the closer it gets to election day the more it will be about the Governors race. I totally understand why the republicans want a distraction. Their candidate for Governor only loses votes when he opens his mouth, brings in nut job Governors from other states or gets endorsed by crazy right wing groups. Besides that he’s on a roll. :-)