All four of the candidates for the Republican nomination for governor who participated the other night at a forum in New Haven struck satisfactory poses against raising taxes and imposing tolls.
The four -- Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who has the Republican state convention’s endorsement, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and businessmen Steve Obsitnik and David Stemerman -- dutifully called Governor Dannel Malloy a failure and condemned the eternal Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
Boughton and Herbst even took daring positions on Hartford’s inept and corrupt city government. Boughton asserted that it should have been allowed to file for bankruptcy rather than be rescued financially by state government. Herbst said state policy should “stop rewarding bad behavior.”
But the candidates had nothing serious to say about closing the $2 billion deficit projected in state government’s operations next year. That deficit won’t be closed simply by not raising taxes.
Connecticut’s big policy challenge is to reduce taxes and spending to restore a healthy relationship between government’s income and the private sector’s. But if the Republican candidates are sincere in their positions on taxes and tolls and one of them is elected governor, the main work of the next administration will be to cut spending in a big way. So the foremost question of the campaign is: Where and on whom exactly will any cuts fall?
At their forum the Republican candidates seemed to expect that the Democratic nominee for governor won’t ever put this question to them.
But since the candidate endorsed by the Democratic state convention, Ned Lamont, is already committed to raising taxes and imposing tolls, he will be practically compelled to emphasize the question. Then Lamont might look honest and informed, and if the Republican nominee doesn’t have a detailed answer, he will look -- and be -- evasive and shady.
Lamont’s challenge the other day was to fend off criticism of his wealth from Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who is petitioning to challenge Lamont in a primary for the Democratic nomination.
Lamont, descendant of a wealthy family who has made tens of millions in business and is financing his own campaign, lives in a mansion in Greenwich and, Ganim charged, must be out of touch with ordinary people because that mansion has eight bathrooms.
Since he advocates raising taxes and imposing tolls, Lamont indeed may be out of touch, but not necessarily because of his wealth.
For of course many wealthy politicians have had decent instincts and have been sympathetic to the poor and strivers -- politicians like the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the later-generation Rockefellers.
Lamont has been nominated in large part because he has agreed to spend much of his fortune on his own campaign after pledging to take orders from the government employee unions, whose members the Democratic Party thinks compose the whole of the working class.
Besides, most complaints about the wealthy in politics are hypocritical, for who, even among the most proletarian, wouldn’t prefer to be rich? Ganim himself did during his first stint as mayor of Bridgeport. That’s why he took so many kickbacks.
Ted Kennedy discovered this during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1962.
As Kennedy was shaking hands at the Charlestown Navy Yard, a man gruffly called out to him: “Kennedy, they say you’ve never worked a day in your life.” Before Kennedy could get too embarrassed, the man added: “Don’t worry - you haven’t missed a goddamn thing.”
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.