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attorney general debate Mattei, Tong butt heads over qualifications

August 8, 2018

NEW HAVEN — In their last appearance on the same stage before the Aug. 14 primary, Democratic candidate for attorney general Chris Mattei challenged William Tong, the party’s endorsed candidate, on whether he met the state standard to hold the office.

Connecticut requires its attorney general to have 10 years active practice of law. Mattei told the audience of more than 100 people at the Bethel African Methodist Episcospal Church in New Haven on Tuesday that Tong had only been involved in one trial in his 20 years as a commercial litigator.

“The Democratic Party needs to have a candidate that is viable,” said Mattei, a former federal prosecutor. “This is far more important than your ambition to run.”

Tong dismissed the statement as a “smear campaign” that Mattei has been pushing since the party’s state convention in May. He said Mattei was mouthing Republican talking points.

“Would it help if I produced my long-form birth certificate, too?” asked Tong, a state representative from Stamford.

Mattei’s request struck a chord in part because when in 2010 Susan Bysiewicz — a Democrat now running for lieutenant governor — sought a judge’s opinion on her qualifications to be attorney general, she was disqualified from running. Bysiewicz argued her three terms as secretary of the state constituted practicing law. The judge disagreed.

Paul Doyle, a state senator from Wethersfield who chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee with Tong, teamed up with Mattei to press Tong if he really was as progressive as he advertised during the hour-long debate hosted by the Connecticut Law Tribune and New Haven Independent.

Mattei and Tong engaged in a fierce verbal spitting match over which of them was more progressive.

“I’m in favor of a $15 minimum wage indexed to inflation. William voted against a 25 cent increase to the minimum wage when it was eight bucks,” said Mattei. “I’m in favor of progressive taxation. William voted against increased taxes for families making over $500,000 a year. I’m working to make sure workers can collect if they have been the victims of wage theft. William voted against allowing workers to collect just recently.”

“I’m for a public health option in Connecticut,” Mattei continued. “William’s voted against it.”

Tong, who has led the passage of the state’s bump stock ban in the legislature this year and is a champion of domestic violence victim protections, countered, “It’s really easy to cherry pick votes if you never served in the Legislature.”

“I have voted to increase the minimum wage three times since then,” he said.

The debate also reprised the question of recreational marijuana. Tong and Doyle do not favor legalizing recreational marijuana; Mattei does and highlighted the point Tuesday.

Mattei also noted that Tong, who describes himself as an architect of the state’s medical marijuana program, voted against an early medical marijuana bill years ago.

Tong called his vote against medical marijuana “an error” and “mistake,” that he has since “atoned” for by helping build and expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

Tong reminded the audience repeatedly that he was endorsed by the Connecticut Working Families Party, which includes the state’s major labor unions.

“There is no more progressive party in the state than the WFP,” he said.

Mattei said the building trades unions endorsed him.

Meanwhile, Doyle pushed Tong on why he could not get the House to pass legislation on sexual harassment this year. Tong said it was up to the speaker of the House to call bills to the House floor.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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