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David Stemerman, a three-point plan for every policy

August 5, 2018

All of the Republicans running for governor tout pension reform as the top issue of the election. They say it’s what’s needed to get the state out of its $2 billion deficit.

David Stemerman, the candidate who seems to have a three-point plan for every issue facing Connecticut, goes much further. He’s a businessman trying to bring a business mentality to state politics and his first goal takes aim at the state employee union contracts.

“If we don’t solve that, we can’t do anything else,” he told the Hearst Connecticut Media Editorial Board recently.

Stemerman, who closed his $2 billion hedge fund to run for governor, plans to move the pension obligations off the state budget books and privatize them. If the union membership won’t agree to give up their benefits to help the state, it will be Stemerman’s way or the un-tolled highway all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“That means to effectively void the contracts and act unilaterally,” Stemerman said. “To assert the state’s sovereign authority. What we would have then is a legal dispute based on competing clauses of the U.S. constitution. You would have unions depending upon the contract clause and the government depending upon the 11th amendment. And I am confident that when Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh that our interpretation of the constitution will be supported by the United States Supreme Court.”

Of course, he doesn’t think the unions will let it get that far — he points out that they took a blow with the Janus decision, which took away the power of unions to fees from non-union members — but if they do, he’s already looking for the right team to make his case.

“What we need to accomplish in this state for our union negotiations, is something that’s never been done at the state level,” Stemerman said. “What I will be looking for is the most experienced, most talented, most capable, most accomplished people to help us in doing that.”

From business to politics

Stemerman, who lives in Greenwich with his wife, Jolene, and five children, announced his candidacy five months ago. He made no mention of the Republican party at the time and, to this day, there is no mention of the party on his website. He said he wanted to create a broad appeal to voters outside of the GOP.

But make no mistake, his campaign is decidedly conservative. In addition to undoing union contracts, Stemerman is anti-toll — why tax when you can privatize — and though the NRA gave him an F, he thinks the state’s existing gun laws have gone far enough, and isn’t opposed to arming teachers “where appropriate.”

Unlike other Republican candidates, Stemerman is not promising to eliminate the state income tax — that’s impossible, he said — but he does want to lower taxes across the board and his economic plan relies heavily on public-private partnerships, as does his infrastructure and transportation plan. Never mind those plans rely on specific set of conditions — like a Supreme Court decision in his favor — Stemerman’s confident he can make it happen.

His public persona has evolved with his campaign, too. Stemerman, who was at first mild-mannered and shaky on stage, stumbled across his words in his first debate appearance, and seemed uncomfortable in a room full of politicians and party insiders.

Now, Stemerman, who has invested more than $12 million into his campaign and amassed a team of political tacticians, many of whom have worked for his fallen competitors, is on the attack. He was the first candidate to take shots at another Republican candidate — one Bob Stefanowski, the other wealthy business executive who petitioned onto the ballot and is self-funding his campaign — and hasn’t let up since. He’s now often the first to point an attack at a competitor, even without prompting.

Inspired by the likes of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder — all businessmen turned politicians — Stemerman fondly recalls watching Ronald Reagan, in his fine suits and Windsor knots, take over the presidency from Jimmy Carter, who was frugal and wore a brown sweater.

“It’s about being an entrepreneur, it’s about being a problem solver, it’s about thinking outside the box,” Stemerman said.

As for whether the business approach will work in Connecticut, Stemerman firmly believes it’s the only thing that will.

“You’ve seen in our race, a bunch of different styles about how people approach this,” he said. “Some are antagonistic and combative and others are collaborative, and my view with this is on the one hand, you need to be very firm and say, ‘These are my beliefs,’ but you also need to be someone who brings people together.”

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

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