HAMDEN — It’s been a long time between races for Larry DeNardis.
Twenty-eight years after leaving Congress and one week before his 72nd birthday, DeNardis declared his candidacy for governor Thursday at a museum dedicated to a bygone industrial age, bringing to seven the number of Republicans actively seeking the job.
“Connecticut needs a governor who has the integrity, the experience, the vision, the courage to do what is right and not what is politically expedient,” DeNardis said. “I know I can be that governor.”
Helped by Ronald Reagan’s coattails, DeNardis was a state senator who defeated Joseph I. Lieberman in 1980 for an open U.S. seat in the 3rd Congressional District and became one of the Northeast moderates known as the “gypsy moths.”
His time in Congress was short. In 1982, he lost the seat in a mid-term election to Democrat Bruce Morrison, whose own career ended with a losing run for governor in 1990. After an unsuccessful rematch in 1984, DeNardis had a brief career in the Reagan administration then moved on to academia, seemingly ending his career in elective politics.
On Thursday, he joined the crowded field vying for the privilege of becoming Connecticut’s 88th governor as the state copes with what may be its worst fiscal crisis, kicking off his campaign with a 30-minute speech here in his hometown at the Eli Whitney Museum.
“My family and friends are wondering why at this time in my life and during this most difficult period am I undertaking the task of running a statewide campaign for governor,” DeNardis said. “It is precisely because of the times and the circumstances we find ourselves in I have decided to run.”
DeNardis, who has taught political science, philosophy and international relations and was president of the University of New Haven from 1991 until 2004, stepped into the race with a speech that opened with a rambling aside about Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin and a developer of assembly-line methods for manufacturing firearms.
He offered Whitney, a graduate of Yale University who died in 1825, as an example of an ingenuity and entrepreneurship still present in Connecticut, but struggling against an indifferent government.
“Will the state of Connecticut welcome the production and honor their ingenuity here in their home state or will Connecticut force these new inventors to build their plants elsewhere and employ citizens in other states or countries because of unfriendly laws and policies toward business and toward those who create jobs in this state?” DeNardis asked.
He conceded he will need to be less professorial and more concise on the trail.
“It will have to be changed drastically,” DeNardis said of his style. “I appreciate that. I’m used to 60-minute classes.”
He joins a race led so far by Tom Foley, a Greenwich businessman and former ambassador with no electoral experience. All seven active Republicans — two others have formed candidate committees — are expected to meet in a debate televised live on WVIT, Channel 30 at 7 p.m. next Thursday — on DeNardis’ birthday.
DeNardis said he will not seek public financing under the Citizens’ Election Program, which is jeopardized by a court ruling declaring the program constitutional for its treatment of minor-party candidates.
He was introduced by Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, who holds the same legislative seat once held by DeNardis. Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, whose party bore the brunt of DeNardis’ critique of the legislature, stopped by to offer his well wishes, but not his endorsement.
“Larry’s been my friend for 25 years,” Looney said.
DeNardis said he expected the next governor to face a deficit of at least $3 billion. He promised a smaller government, offering no specific cuts, and more vigorous efforts to promote economic development.
“The failure of the Democratic leadership in Hartford to recognize the seriousness of the situation, their audacity to ignore the financial reality that there is not enough revenue to pay all the bills of the government, their irresponsibility in running up bigger and bigger budget deficits and their failure to do their sworn duty and uphold the constitutional cap on spending is without precedent and must immediately come to an end,” he said.
DeNardis said he would have vetoed the Democratic budget that Gov. M. Jodi Rell allowed to become law without her signature last year.
“Our General Assembly has spent us into record deficits and created massive amounts of bonded indebtedness that our grandchildren will be paying for the rest our of lives,” he said. As if on cue, one of his three grandchildren wandered by the lectern as DeNardis spoke.
DeNardis called for a tighter constitutional cap on spending.
In questions after the announcement, DeNardis left open the possibility he would sign a bill abolishing the death penalty. Rell vetoed such a measure last year.
“I don’t know. You know, that’s not a dodge,” DeNardis said. “I supported the death penalty as a state senator, but we all live and learn, don’t we? So I would re-examine that issue.”