GOP candidates tout their records in debate

July 13, 2018

All five Republican candidates for governor finally took the stage together Thursday night when Madison business executive Bob Stefanowski made his first appearance at a debate — and was forced to explain his years of failing to vote.

While extolling their different backgrounds, the candidates generally hewed to the same positions on gun control, economic policy and transportation infrastructure.

It was standing room only inside the 400-seat Cabaret Theater at Mohegan Sun Thursday night, as fan clubs for each of the five candidates were encouraged to voice their support. Campaign materials littered the aisles.

Greenwich hedge fund mogul David Stemerman, former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, Danbury Mayor and party-endorsed candidate Mark Boughton, Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik and Stefanowski, a former financial executive at UBS and General Electric, all tended to talk about their own accomplishments.

Under attack from Herbst, Stefanowski was forced to concede he spent years not voting in any elections.

“I didn’t vote, I should have, I wish it were different,” Stefanowski said. But he added, “I’ve traveled across the state and I can tell you there are a ton of dissatisfied voters out there.”

The unspoken implication: Many of them have not voted, either, or have been unhappy with the ballot options. “And these people are going to come roaring back in November,” Stefanowski said.

Records in Madison, where Stefanowski lives, show that the candidate voted last November, after news reports that he had not voted in at least 10 years.

Early in the debate the candidates relished the chance to oppose additional gun laws and sanctuary cities, with Herbst as the most zealous, touting his endorsement by the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.

“Unlike Dan Malloy, I am not going to punish law abiding citizens. We’re going to punish criminals,” he said.

Herbst added that he would have local officials work with the state to document violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

“I believe...that we live in a law-abiding society,” Obsitnik said, describing his military record. “Things like sanctuary cities I do not support.”

Boughton talked about enforcement actions in Danbury as recently as Thursday.

“I get what has to happen in terms of enforcing the Constitution and we stand ready to work with our federal government to do that,” he said.

Boughton worked to separate himself himself from the stellar business credentials that Stefanowski, Obsitnik and Stemerman all claimed.

“Leading is different than running a business. It’s a different skill set,” Boughton said. “You’ve got to be able to create consensus to get things done. You see, in business you can just tell people what to do or you can fire them. You can’t do that in government…This is not a time for on-the-job training.”

On the economy, Stefanowski cited the plan he developed with the help of Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer.

“Look what Donald Trump’s tax cut has done in this country,” Stefanowski said in answer to a question about how he would solve the state’s budget shortfalls.

He did not mention, however, that the Trump administration is set to borrow an additional $1 trillion to make up for federal deficits resulting in part from the tax cuts. Connecticut, unlike the federal government, must run balanced budgets and is only allowed to borrow to fill budget gaps under very limited circumstances.

Stefanowski wasn’t the only candidate to take fire from Herbst, who also criticized Stemerman for donating to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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