WEST HARTFORD - With less than two weeks to go until Republicans in the state take to the polls, the party’s three candidates for lieutenant governor converged on NBC Connecticut Studios on Wednesday for a debate.
For about an hour, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart, state Sen. Joe Markley from Southington and Darien First Selectwoman Jayme Stevenson made their pitches for why they’re best equipped to be Connecticut’s second in command.
The three candidates explained their differences and similarities on issues like health care and collective bargaining and discussed what they think the role of the lieutenant governor should be.
Markley said if he were lieutenant governor he would like to do more business outreach.
“I think that’s something that could be done in the lieutenant governor’s office, almost an office of business protection, both to encourage businesses and be a resource to them when they have problems with government,” Markley said.
The state senator added that his experience in the state legislature will be helpful to the next governor.
Three of the five Republican candidates for governor have never held office before.
Stevenson said as lieutenant governor she would be able to help the governor fix the state’s transportation system and policies.
The first selectwoman serves as the chairwoman of Western Connecticut Council of Governments, in which she has helped manage how federal and state transportation funding is utilized.
“I have a very boots-on-the-ground understanding of transportation policy and funding,” Stevenson said.
She’d also like to focus on education and combating the state’s opioid crisis.
“We are failing our children in our urban centers with education, I’m passionate about that,” Stevenson said.
Stewart said she thinks the lieutenant governor should be more involved with Connecticut’s cities and towns, especially those struggling with their finances and balancing budgets.
“I know firsthand when year after year you’re getting cuts from the states, but you’re also getting these unfunded mandates that are being passed down to you,” Stewart said.
Stewart explained how the state’s car tax mandate has lost New Britain money in funding because of broken promises.
“I know that New Britain is not the only city that is facing struggling problems like that, and as the state budget gets worse and worse we’re going to see that happening more and more.”
Ultimately, the candidates’ goal Wednesday was to tell voters why they were more electable than their counterparts.
Just like the Democratic lieutenant governor race between party-endorsed candidate Susan Bysiewicz and Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, voters in each party have to decide which candidates best represent them in November’s general election.
While also saying she has respect for her colleagues on the stage, Stevenson used her closing statement to take a few jabs at her opponents’ electability.
“Bar none, I have the most demonstrated experience and electability to be able to help the Republican ticket win in November,” Stevenson said. “I have great respect for my colleagues here on the stage – anybody that steps into the public service arena really deserves a lot of credit. Senator Markley, however, has a voting record with some very difficult votes that are going to be very difficult and likely risk the Republicans ability to win in November. And Mayor Stewart, while we heard a lot of good things tonight about her fiscal experience, the data says something different.”
Markley countered that his difficult votes are something he’s proud of, and he said he has historically demonstrated electability by his holding of other posts.
“I think that it’s critical that the base of the Republican Party knows that they have somebody on the ticket that they can depend on and that that base is not simply supporting us but activated,” Markley said. “We need an army to win this election, and I believe I can attract that army because the people that are motivated know that they can trust me in office.”
Stewart said she’s consistently demonstrated the ability to win elections in a Democratic municipality like New Britain.
“I am sitting here today because I worked hard to be here. I worked very hard as mayor of the city of New Britain, one of Connecticut’s urban cities, to be here tonight,” Stewart said. “I’ve earned it not because I’m a woman, not because I’m young, but because of my record in success that many of us know about.”
The primary election for both parties is Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.