OP-ED | Why Lt. Governor Picks Don’t Matter
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, announced his pick of a running mate this week. It was a lovely bit of theater, but soon forgotten in the rest of the week’s events. That’s how it should be.
The way candidates for lieutenant governor end up on the November ballot is surprisingly complicated, especially given how little it seems to matter in the end. This is because, unlike at the national level, the two people at the top of the ticket don’t run as a unit at either the party convention or in the primary. The candidates for the second spot on the ticket must compete against other gubernatorial candidates’ picks, and against candidates who are running without being chosen by anyone, such as Penny Bacchiochi and David Walker. If Mayor Boughton loses the convention and/or the primary, for example, his choice of running mate, former Groton Mayor Heather Somers, could still be on the ticket if she fends off her rivals.
In fact, this is sort of what happened to Boughton in 2010. He agreed to be then-Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele’s running mate, but because former Ambassador Tom Foley didn’t pick a running mate at all, Boughton ended up paired with Foley after he defeated Fedele in the primary. Confusing, right?
It could be even more confusing, depending on the mood of the electorate. Voters sometimes like to mix and match. In 2006, Dan Malloy lost to John DeStefano in the Democratic primary,. But his choice of running mate, Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman, easily defeated DeStefano’s choice, West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka.
The choice of running mate doesn’t always help in the primary or general election, either. DeStefano actually lost West Hartford in the 2006 primary, despite picking its mayor as his running mate. Malloy chose Nancy Wyman of Tolland as his 2010 running mate, but lost that town to Tom Foley.
Why make the choice at all, then? Why not just let the party decide? Well, it’s a way to try to get some press, certainly, and in Boughton’s case it was pretty clearly about adding some gender and geographic diversity to his campaign. Republicans desperately need more women to vote for them, and there hasn’t been a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor from New London County since Fred Zeller of Stonington, who ran for governor in 1958. It certainly won’t hurt Boughton to have allies from southeastern Connecticut, and he and Somers may be stronger fundraisers together than separately.
The bigger question might be why now? The conventions aren’t until spring, and the public is only barely aware that a race for governor is on. Boughton’s rather lackluster fundraising, which to qualify for public financing must be done one small-dollar donor at a time, might be part of the reason. He may also have wanted to try and steal some of the thunder from Foley’s announcement week.
I don’t think it worked. Foley announced he was officially running the very next day, and Boughton and Somers’s tour of Norm’s Diner in Groton was quickly forgotten. Foley made a few nearly impossible-to-keep promises about cutting taxes and holding spending flat, but when he promised to focus on cities and the people in them, people began to pay attention. A high-profile urban agenda with a focus on poverty is rare territory for the almost entirely suburban and rural Connecticut Republican Party.
Gov. Malloy, not to be outdone, unveiled his plans for the surplus on Thursday. Some would go to the Rainy Day Fund, some to the pension fund, and the rest to us in the form of a check for $55 each. That’s great! You can now run out and buy most of a tank of gas. So, if you’ve been keeping track, Malloy has now extended an olive branch to teachers and promised to send us all some cash — is there anyone left who questions whether the governor is running for re-election?
So Boughton’s announcement was entirely overshadowed by announcements of much more consequence. Who a candidate picks for Lt. Governor may seem important at the time, but outside of raising a little extra money and perhaps getting a few more delegates at the party convention, it doesn’t make a huge difference. As this week showed, it’s whose at the top of the ticket, and their plans for the state, that matters the most.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.