Three candidates running for governor in Connecticut clashed over how best to fix the state’s economy in a spirited debate at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Auditorium in Storrs Wednesday night.
Having unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel, a former CEO of MetroHartford Alliance who used to be a Republican, join the two major party candidates Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski, on stage for the first time made for some awkward exchanges. Democrat Lamont, who’s run before but is making it to a gubernatorial general election for the first time, attempted to differentiate himself.
“This is sought of a unique opportunity for me. I’ve only run against a Democrat. This time I have an opportunity to run against not one but two Republicans. You know, Oz is a sort of a traditional Connecticut Republican and Bob is more a Trump Republican.”
That prompted this protest from Griebel.
“Ned is running against a Republican and an independent candidate for governor. You’ve got to be really sure there is one Republican up here not two.”
Stefanowski took issue with this.
“You know Ned is going to hide behind Oz all night. And just for one clarification, I have the endorsement of the Independent Party of Connecticut…”
Griebel came right back.
“Bob is the Independent Party candidate, endorsed candidate. 27,000 registered members of the Independent Party, most of whom don’t know that they are in the Independent Party, 63 showed up to vote. Bob beat me 40 to 14. So I want to keep it in context when we say we are an Independent Party candidate.”
A stark difference between the three candidates is on highway tolls. Griebel says he wants an immediate return of tolls in order to pay for needed transportation infrastructure development. Lamont wants tolls only for trucks. And Stefanowski says he’s against reinstating tolls.
When it comes to fixing the state’s projected $2 billion budget deficit, Stefanowski proposed eliminating the state income tax over eight years in order to stimulate economic activity.
“It’s time to put more money back in the hardworking people of Connecticut’s pockets. So we can invest in education. We can invest in infrastructure. We can invest in healthcare. And the best way to do that is by lowering taxes and getting a vibrant economy going again in Connecticut.”
Griebel agreed that some taxes need to be lowered but dismissed the idea of getting rid of the state income tax.
“The personal income tax is the workhorse of this budget and that has to stay in place to ensure that we do minimum damage to this state as we go forward.”
Lamont said getting rid of the state income tax would be a bad idea.
“As Oz says, first of all do no harm. Don’t start by a 10, 11 billion dollar tax cut for millionaires. Say you have to shove that in to try and fix this. What I heard from the fiscal committee is that I want an honestly balanced budget from day one. Something with certainty, something that takes off the risk from the table.”
Lamont proposed some property tax relief instead.
National politics also made it into the debate, with the candidates grading President Donald Trump, beginning with Griebel.
“I’d say D plus…”
“I don’t like a lot of the tweets, but his economic policy, lowering taxes, we could use some of that in Connecticut…so A, B, C, D?...I’m not going to give a grade.”
“You gave him an A before. I want to know if he still gets that?”
“I like his economic policy.”
“He does not reflect Connecticut values one iota. I think he’s wrong. I give him an F.”
The candidates were also asked to grade outgoing Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy. Both Republican Stefanowski and Democrat Lamont gave the outgoing governor an F, while unaffiliated Griebel gave Malloy a D plus.
Two other petitioning candidates on the ballot for governor in November, Mark Stewart Greenstein of the Amigo Constitution Party and Libertarian Rod Hanscomb, were not invited to take part in the debate. Neither one registered in last month’s Quinnipiac University poll. Griebel had 4 percent support in the poll.