CHRIS POWELL: Well-prepared Stefanowski quickly scares Democrats

Published on Wednesday, 26 January 2022 21:09
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Maybe the best measure of Bob Stefanowski's vast improvement as a candidate for governor is how quickly he scared Democratic leaders and left-leaning observers into attacking him upon his formal announcement last week that he wants a rematch with Governor Lamont.

Though Stefanowski still has to win the Republican nomination, for which he has three challengers, Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo called him "too extreme," condemned him for accepting President Trump's endorsement four years ago and campaigning against the state income tax then, and warned that he would "devastate" schools and medical care. Stefanowski, DiNardo added, doesn't think climate change is a big issue for the state – as if many others don't either.

Hugh Bailey, opinion editor of the Connecticut Post and New Haven Register, condemned Stefanowski and other Republicans for making an issue of worsening crime, especially in the cities, though New Haven police have failed to make an arrest in 78% of the city's soaring number of murders in the last two years and though that issue and the crime issue generally had been raised weeks earlier by New Haven's own city council.

With his declaration Stefanowski did mean to do a little scaring, but of his Republican rivals, not Democrats. He said he had committed $10 million of his own money to his campaign and he led the state news cycle for 24 hours, doing many interviews signifying familiarity with a range of issues. The income tax came up only when his interviewers raised it. To accusations that he is a loser, Stefanowski noted that he came fairly close to winning four years ago and that the governor himself had been defeated in his first two campaigns for state office.

Stefanowski's critique of government in Connecticut was fair enough – that the state has become less affordable for the middle class and less safe. But he did not offer a detailed platform. While he noted that Connecticut can't cut taxes without cutting spending, he didn't specify where this should be done.

He pledged "forensic audits" of every state agency and of the spending of emergency federal financial aid. But while such audits are bound to find waste and fraud, big savings can result only from challenging mistaken policies that no one in authority dares to address, as with labor union contracting, education, and welfare.

Citing his business background, Stefanowski said, "I know how to restructure." But the government employee unions and the special interests drawing their sustenance from state government know just as well how to prevent restructuring. The unions and special interests may have more influence over state legislators, even Republican legislators, than a Republican governor would have.

Stefanowski looks and speaks more like a political leader than Lamont does, but the incumbent enters the campaign with huge advantages.

Connecticut remains a Democratic state. While state government's unfunded pension obligations make it technically insolvent, it is loaded with cash at the moment and the governor can use it to buy votes. The more relevant Stefanowski becomes on policy, the harder the unions and the other special interests will work against him. The governor is far richer and easily will be able to outspend Stefanowski despite his $10 million. And Stefanowski will have the Trump problem.

But then someone should ask the governor if he wants President Biden to campaign for him.

Maybe the Trump and Biden problems will wash each other out in time for state issues to be discussed.

Whoever becomes the Republican nominee will need to itemize the many management failures in state government – starting with recent ones like the Ollie and Katsouleas scandals at the University of Connecticut; state government's concealment of thousands of the unclaimed properties it has seized from financial institutions; the constant release of chronic criminal offenders, adults and juveniles alike, who laugh at the law and the damage they cause; and the payment of more than $340,000 in salary to a Superior Court judge who hasn't shown up for work in two years.

State government is full of such failures. Lamont and the General Assembly ignore them but voters might resent them if properly reminded.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 26 January 2022 21:09. Updated: Wednesday, 26 January 2022 21:11.