It’s especially important that registered Republicans vote in the party’s crowded Aug. 14 primary for governor. The one to halt Connecticut’s long decline will most likely emerge from among three of the five GOP hopefuls.
Madison Republican Bob Stefanowski is not a credible choice. His plan to eliminate the income tax and reduce other taxes is preposterous. When I met with the payday loan business executive last year, I was astonished at how little he knew about the basics of state government. This is an embarrassment in waiting. State voters will not want one of those as governor.
Former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst is veering far to the right, trying to find a lane that will deliver a plurality in a fractured field. Herbst is a Malloy without the charm. He is a vengeful force who has spent his adulthood around politics, a grasping insider masquerading as an outsider. The last eight years have provided Connecticut with frequent potent reminders that a governor’s personality matters.
Herbst is the Republican Democrats would most like to face in November. Herbst’s history as a defendant in lawsuits prompted by his nasty habit of defaming people must have Democratic frontrunner Ned Lamont’s team posed to strike should Republicans nominate their weakest prospect.
Businessman and Navy veteran Steve Obsitnik enjoyed a strong showing at May’s Republican nominating convention. Obsitnik is an enthusiastic advocate for his optimistic plan to create the conditions for economic growth. His intellectual and political credentials are enhanced by his announcement that he declined to vote for Donald Trump in 2016.
As Obsitnik’s campaign started to emerge as the one to watch, it ran aground on the shoals of the taxpayer-financed campaign finance program. Obsitnik thought he’d collected $250,000 in small contributions and would soon receive $1.3 million in public funds. Week after week, the state’s election regulators rejected his application. It was the long-running mess of the primary campaign. A candidate who is paralyzed by the state elections bureaucracy will struggle to tame the bigger one across state government. You have to be a good candidate before you can become a successful governor.
Mark Boughton is the party-endorsed candidate, and they almost always win Republican primaries. The mayor of Danbury is making his third bid for governor. Boughton’s forthright disclosure and explanation of the benign brain tumor that was removed a year ago has brought him new admirers. He’s shown grace in the face of a stark crucible. He’s also slippery, backing off a 2016 claim that he voted for his dog Ellie Mae for president and giving Malloy a boost in Danbury days before the 2014 election.
Boughton would provide a sharp contrast to Greenwich millionaire Lamont. Boughton, however, erred in putting a promise to eliminate the state income tax in 10 years at the center of his campaign. The next governor will require the virtue of candor to persuade the state’s residents that he can solve Connecticut’s immediate crisis of a $4.6 billion deficit. Malloy won re-election by insisting he had solved the state’s money troubles when he knew he had not. He never recovered when his second term began with another debilitating deficit. Boughton has injured himself with an impossible pledge.
And then there is David Stemerman. Like Lamont, Stemerman is rich and lives in Greenwich. Lamont inherited his fortune. Stemerman made his. During the 16 years I have been writing this column, it has been both my privilege and burden to talk to a lot of candidates on and off the record. I’ve never met with one smarter than Stemerman.
The former hedge fund manager possesses a nimble and curious mind. Stemerman is not indifferent to the magnitude of the problems that will confront the next governor on his first day. He relishes discovering and refining the array of new policies that will be required to reverse the growing despair over the state’s future that is the most poisonous legacy of the last eight years.
Stemerman is the only Republican who can match Lamont’s taste for spending tens of millions on his campaigns. In the competition of ideas that should mark the next three months, Stemerman will show the way forward while Lamont continues to try to figure out which of his beliefs are safe to disclose to voters.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at email@example.com.