Op-Ed: Eliminate the Connecticut primary for lieutenant governor

Over the past few elections, it has become obvious that Connecticut’s political system is in disrepair.

The Citizens Election Program (CEP), which was set up to make Connecticut’s elections less dependent on so called “corrupt” money, has proven, at least at the gubernatorial level, to be a bust. In 2010, only one candidate met the fund-raising threshold to qualify for public funds, Dannel Malloy, and it took him well over a year to reach the required $250,000.

Op-ed submit bugIn 2014, only one Republican, Tom Foley, was able to qualify; and did so after the May Convention. Two Republican candidates for lieutenant governor were able to amass $75,000 in contributions and qualify for public funds. Those Republican lieutenant governor candidates each received $406,275 in taxpayer money.

The McKinney/Walker “Team” (LG candidate, David Walker, did not qualify on his own) and Tom Foley also each received $1,354,250 in taxpayer money for their primary campaigns. This funding tilt towards LG candidates has created a system that betrays the public interest principles that public funding was intended to serve, because it seriously distorts gubernatorial election politics.

If ever a concept has been turned upside down, it is the effect of the public campaign finance laws, in conjunction with party nomination laws, which allow for the individual nomination and taxpayer funding for a lieutenant governor primary — an office with no power other than to preside over the State Senate — to overshadow the primary for nomination of candidates for our most important office, governor.

Prior to the institution of the Citizens Election Program in 2007, Connecticut saw a lieutenant governor primary on the Democratic side in 2006 and the Republican side in 1986. Since the adoption of the CEP, Connecticut has had more lieutenant primaries in four years  — three — than it had in almost 30 years — two.

Between the 2010 and 2014 elections, the taxpayers of Connecticut spent in excess of $1.5 million feeding the campaign coffers of candidates who were seeking nomination to be lieutenant governor – an office which does not even require full time attendance to complete its one responsibility. Under the current system it is conceivable that Connecticut could have a primary for lieutenant governor and no other office.

The state Constitution requires that the governor and lieutenant governor be elected as a team. As such, political parties should be required to nominate their candidates for governor and lieutenant governor as a team. Should there be a primary, the team should stand together on the primary ballot and those people allowed to vote in the party’s primary should select the team they want to serve as their party’s team.  Individual primaries for lieutenant governor become a distraction to the gubernatorial primary.

The General Assembly must look at this process and change the law on nominations for governor and lieutenant governor. Since these two offices are elected as a team, they should be nominated as a team and, should there be a primary, they should run in the primary as a team. The law must be changed to eliminate the separate nomination of candidates for lieutenant, and require that each person seeking his or her party’s nomination for governor name a lieutenant governor candidate.

In 2018, there will undoubtedly be multiple candidates for governor on the Republican side and, should Gov. Malloy choose not to seek reelection, multiple candidates on the Democratic side.

Without a change, in addition to numerous candidates for governor seeking taxpayer money to run in a primary (today that amount is in excess of $1.3 million per candidate and will be more in 2018) there will assuredly be numerous candidates seeking funds to run in the lieutenant governor primary. (Today that amount is in excess of $400,000 per candidate.)

Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for multiple candidates to run a primary campaign to be the nominee to the office of lieutenant governor.

Connecticut needs a better system and the answer is as simple as it is clear. Change the nomination rules to require that each candidate for governor choose a candidate for his or her lieutenant and then that “ticket” would receive a single grant from the Citizens Election Program to run its primary campaign.

Only the General Assembly can make that change, and it is time that the General Assembly undertake that change, and, in fact, review the entire nomination process, and make changes which will ensure that Connecticut voters have clear and uncluttered choices for the most important offices in our state.

Ben Proto served as counsel and chief counsel to the Connecticut House Republicans from 1987 – 1996;was Republican Town Chairman in Stratford from 1996 – 2000 and was the Connecticut coordinator for John McCain in 2000 and 2008.

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