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OP-ED | Grading The Likely Gubernatorial Office Seekers

by | Aug 11, 2017 4:30am
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Posted to: Analysis, Election 2018, Opinion

Josalee Thrift file photo


TERRY COWGILL
If you had told me a year ago there would be more than a dozen capable people lining up to succeed the embattled Gov. Dannel Malloy, I would have told you you’re crazy. After all, this state is such a deep ditch that it will take someone of immense strength and talent to pull it out.

But here we are almost a year and a half from next year’s gubernatorial election and there are 13 Democrats and Republicans who have formed candidate or exploratory committees for statewide office. All have expressed interest in the governor’s mansion.

The Courant published a handy guide (entitled “Gubernatorial Candidates Float Big Ideas”) of the 12 men and one woman eying a run. Two of them, Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Jonathan Harris, an ex-Malloy cabinet official, former state lawmaker and one-time mayor of West Hartford, have said they will not run for the state’s highest office if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman decides to join the fray. It looks like the other Democrats couldn’t care less.

One of them, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, signaled his interest in the governor’s office even before Malloy had announced he wasn’t running for re-election. You can either admire Drew’s testicular fortitude or assume he thought it was a safe bet that with dreadful poll numbers, Malloy could be counted on to flee Hartford for friendlier environs.

Let’s look at Drew first (with limited space, I will focus on the half dozen or so office-seekers I think actually have a chance at winning). Drew has done a capable job of managing Middletown, a small but vibrant city that I lived in for a year while attending graduate school, while positioning himself as an economic pragmatist, or what he calls a “pro-growth progressive.”

As a candidate, Drew is considerably less practical. While he hasn’t said a lot about the state employee pensions and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) that have helped put us in the our current budget mess, Drew has called for tuition-free state colleges, the restoration of highway tolls, single-payer healthcare, legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, and raising taxes on the wealthy. In other words, Drew doesn’t think we have a spending problem. He thinks we need a lot more spending and a lot more revenue — a combination that has been tried in Connecticut and simply does not work. He fails my test.

Another top-tier candidate who flunks the test right out of the box is Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is making his third bid for governor. On the surface, Boughton seems like a strong GOP candidate. He has an engaging personality, is an articulate spokesperson for his ilk and has for the most part managed Danbury effectively. Indeed, Danbury is in good fiscal shape and has earned high marks as a place to start new businesses.

But Boughton has made an ill-considered and vague proposal to eliminate the state income tax, which currently accounts for $9 billion of the $15 billion the state collects in annual revenue. How would he make up that enormous loss in revenue? By the “downsizing of state government and regionalization of some municipal services.” That’s an empty talking point. It is not a serious proposal. Boughton fails for now, though I take a back seat to no one in wishing the affable mayor well after his recent brain surgery.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton, also wants to cut taxes (and “phase out the income tax” — wink, wink), but as a lawmaker, she is more realistic about what can be accomplished. She wants further concessions from labor unions and structural reforms to the pensions and OPEB state employees enjoy. Lower taxes would encourage wealthy taxpayers to return to the state and help offset the tax cuts she proposes. Boucher’s ideas deserve consideration. She gets a B.

Democrat Lembo has been positioning himself for a run, it seems, for all of Malloy’s second term. The man has been all over the state. He has challenged Malloy on some of his accounting methods and his deficit numbers, and he’s been a champion of transparency in government, especially in the area of those sweet tax deals the state cuts with certain businesses. He’s also got a very strong grasp of — and has offered some solutions to — the state employee pension crisis. I’d give Lembo a B-plus.

Of the remaining likely candidates, keep an eye on Chris Mattei, the popular former federal prosecutor who sent ex-Gov. John Rowland back to jail. Interestingly, when asked by the Courant to name his big idea, Mattei threw out “restoring trust in government.” So he’s refusing to take donations from lobbyists, wants more transparency in campaign funding, said he will push to overturn Citizens United. The latter was a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that has little relevance to the governor’s office.

After Aetna made its recent decision to relocate its top executives, Mattei issued a vaguely worded statement about making the state competitive again and “investing in infrastructure” and “supporting education.” Not sure exactly what that means. Mattei is smart, young (he’s 39) and is pretty good at raising money. Look for him to be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. I’d give him a B-minus so far. Since he’s a political novice and has lots of potential, I’m grading him on a curve.

The others who have thrown their hats into the ring — or are considering it — either have poor name recognition (e.g. state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, former U.S Comptroller David Walker), are temperamentally unsuited (Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst), or are literally crooks (Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim).

Look for a Lembo-Boughton match-up next fall, though I’d love to see former Comptroller Bill Curry make another run for it. He knows where the bones are buried and, as a liberal Democrat, he has the creds to accomplish what needs to be done on the expense side: namely reform pensions, OPEB, and the collective bargaining process for state employees.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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