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Bob Stefanowski, from Democrat to die-hard Republican

August 5, 2018

A year ago, Bob Stefanowski re-registered as a Republican after a nine-month hiatus as a Democrat.

That small change, as easy as checking a box in an online form, has prompted vicious attacks from his opponents as he runs for governor, a decision he also made about one year ago.

People switch parties all the time as their views evolve. But from what Stefanowski indicates, his views never wavered. When asked why he flirted with being a Democrat after 26 years as a Republican, Stefanowski, 56, answers a different question.

“I looked at it and said, my tax policy, my social policies, the right role for me was to run as a Republican candidate for governor,” Stefanowski told the Hearst Editorial Board. “I think my tax policy is about as Republican as it gets.”

It’d be tough to label him a RINO — Republican In Name Only, as some of his competitors like to toss around — because he sounds like some of the most conservative factions of the Republican party, which makes his changing party affiliation that much more startling.

A 30-year business executive who’s spent time at Price Waterhouse, General Electric, UBS Investment Bank and a payday lending company, Stefanowski favors smaller government and wants to privatize state services like the Department of Motor Vehicles and Bradley International Airport.

He plans to eliminate the income tax and implement zero-based budgeting, a plan he proudly boasts is endorsed by Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer and Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow. The state can make up the revenue by cutting out things like an office for the governor in Washington, D.C., that he said costs $100,000. The other revenue savings are unclear.

He’s not opposed to taking a union contract negotiation war to the courts, though he said he doesn’t think it’ll be necessary. He opposes sanctuary cities and has little sympathy for the families seeking asylum who’ve been separated from their children at the border.

“I’ve got three daughters, I’m sympathetic, but we have to enforce federal law,” he said. “If you don’t enforce federal law, it’s a slippery slope. Where do you stop?”

On guns, he thinks Connecticut has enough laws and received an A” rating from the National Rifle Association. A question on universal background checks is one of the few to elicit a long pause from the normally sure-footed retired executive.

“I think the law right now is sufficient in that area,” he said. Later, when defending his evolving party affiliation and affirming his Republicanism, he brings up guns again, unprompted.

“I don’t think it’s a change, I think it’s an evolution,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time over the past nine months with gun owners that I think have been persecuted and I don’t think it’s fair and I don’t think they’re the problem. I think the problem is mental health.”

The advertised candidate

Like his party affiliation, Stefanowski’s campaign doesn’t follow the traditional course.

He didn’t participate in the state Republican convention, though he went there and threw a well-catered party that earned him 500 signatures toward the 9,000 he needed to petition onto the Republican primary ballot. He started buying television advertisements long before any of his competitors but has participated in fewer debates and forums than any of the other candidates.

He emphasizes his experience as a businessman — comparing it to that of Donald Trump — and scoffs at the idea that political experience is necessary to be governor.

He turns most policy questions back to the economy and the state budget crisis. As a result, it’s difficult to get a sense of Stefanowski the man as opposed to Stefanowski the candidate. But the tidbits collected along the campaign trail begin to paint something a little clearer.

Stefanowski grew up in New Haven where his father ran the scoreboard at the Yale Bowl and he often helped. His parents were married more than 60 years when his mother passed away last year due to complications from dementia, and his father, now in his 80s, still lives in New Haven. He has three daughters and lives in Madison with his wife, Amy. He’s a marathon runner — he’s completed London and New York City — and he’s keeping a diary of his campaign.

His resume, on the other hand, is no secret. He spent more than a decade overseas — that’s why he says he didn’t vote — and when he returned, he split his time between Philadelphia and Connecticut before retiring in 2017 to become a consultant.

“I never thought I’d be running for governor,” he said. “But I’m telling you, I’m going to win this election and turn this state around.”

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

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