The two major party candidates for Connecticut governor are clashing over who is the better businessman to right the state's economy and reduce massive budget deficits. Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski met Wednesday night in their first debate of the campaign.
At several times Lamont linked Stefanowski to President Donald Trump. Stefanowski, in turn, took every opportunity to paint Lamont as a “clone” of the unpopular Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election for a third term.
Right at the top, the candidates were asked how their tax cut plans would actually work. Neither addressed the question directly. The candidates were then asked about honoring the SEBAC, state employee union, agreement. Both blamed previous administrations for causing an untenable situation. Trying to get back to the first question, they were asked about specific budget cuts to pay for tax cuts. Stefanowski said he could easily find 5% of the budget that's waste, fraud and abuse. He said he would adopt zero-base budgeting. Lamont said Stefanowski gave a political answer and noted that UBS, where his opponent worked, got a bail out because of financial issues.
They were next asked about tolls and cutting the gas tax. Stefanowski was firmly against tolling. Lamont said he would toll trucks and put the money in a lockbox. Stefanowski fired back that the lockbox idea won't work and that voters can't trust Lamont to do what he says he'll do. The pair also differed on Governor Malloy's signature legislation, the Second Chance Program. Lamont noted that crime rates in Connecticut are at all time lows. Stefanowski said there is too much recidivism. As for legalizing recreational marijuana, Lamont said he would be ok with it. Stefanowski said he was fine with medicinal marijuana but wanted to see more data about recreational pot.
About half way through the debate, things reached a boiling point. Lamont said the buildings formerly housing two companies where Stefanowski worked are sitting empty. Stefanowski fired back that Lamont laid off 70% of his workforce and gave himself a $500,000 bonus, which Lamont denied.
On immigration, Lamont said he is against separating kids from their parents and wants Dreamers to be able to become citizens. Stefanowski said he opposed sanctuary cities and was critical of Lamont for focusing on the border and "trying to distract...on issues out of the state's control."
A question about the opioid epidemic was posed. Lamont said he wants to centralize responsibility with a drug czar. He also called for navigators and more funding for mental health and support services. Stefanowski knocked Lamont for creating more government as a solution to the crisis. He called for a collaborative solution by working with the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry and doctors. Stefanowski called for funding, education and more jail time for dealers.
After talking about Governor Malloy in nearly every answer, Stefanowski appeared to make a slip in his closing remarks. Stefanowski asked the audience if anyone really believed that a Malloy administration wouldn't raise taxes, rather than saying a Lamont administration.
With just a minute of time left over, each candidate was asked what they would sing if they were to do karaoke. Lamont said something by Bob Marley while Stefanowski said he would sing Happy Birthday.