Naugatuck – State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, opened an exploratory campaign for governor Tuesday in the struggling industrial town where she arrived as a 5-year-old immigrant from Italy nearly six decades ago.

Boucher, 63, a state legislator for 17 years, representing some of the state’s wealthiest communities, announced her exploratory candidacy in a gazebo on the Naugatuck green, across from public buildings her father cleaned as a janitor.

“I grew up in Naugatuck at a time when Connecticut was one of the most prosperous states. And it was a beacon of hope and opportunity for poor immigrant families like ours,” Boucher said.

Boucher ignored her rivals for the GOP nomination – three, and counting – to frame her interest in becoming the state’s governor solely as a reaction to the performance of the state’s first-term Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy.

“Connecticut is in serious trouble, very serious trouble. You can’t pick up a newspaper without reading another negative headline about the dire economic conditions,” she said. “Things have gone so badly, people are downright angry.”

Until asked, Boucher said nothing about one of her signature issues: Her opposition to the state’s legalization last year of marijuana for use as a palliative treatment for chronic illness. She called the issue settled.

Connecticut cannot afford another four years of rule by a Democratic governor and legislature, she said.

“Thanks to the irresponsible policies of one-party rule, our economy ranks dead last,” Boucher said. “I hardly recognize the Connecticut I grew up with. It was a Connecticut that rewarded hard work and success, not punished it.”

Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola, a fellow graduate of Naugatuck High School, applauded Boucher for singing from the same songbook as the other GOP hopefuls, one in which all the tunes are about fiscal issues and Malloy.

He also said her announcement in Naugatuck was a smart way to emphasize her modest roots. Her father, Giuseppe Iannuzzi, never learned to read or write, while Boucher established a career as a corporate executive, working for General Electric. She is now employed by Common Fund, which provides investment advice for nonprofit institutions.

“She has a great story,” he said.

Boucher is the first woman to take a formal step toward seeking the nomination in 2014, confounding some who had predicted she was setting her sights on lieutenant governor.

Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield is a declared candidate for the GOP nomination, while Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton recently opened his own exploratory campaign.  Joseph Visconti of West Hartford also is a candidate.

Like McKinney and Boughton, Boucher said she will seek public financing.

Tom Foley of Greenwich, the 2010 nominee who self-funded his campaign, is expected to announce by the end of the year.

Boucher is likely to find that the jump from the legislature to a statewide candidacy is a big one. No one in modern times has been elected governor as a state legislator, and recent history favors candidates who previously have run statewide.

Her viability as a candidate will rest in large measure on her ability to raise funds, she said. As an exploratory candidate, she can accept maximum contributions of $375.

If she becomes a candidate for governor, she can accept contributions of no more than $100 as a participant in the state’s voluntary system of public financing, which provides qualifying gubernatorial candidates with grants of at least $1.25 million for a primary and $6 million for a general election.

Boucher has a largely conservative voting record in the General Assembly, with an exception being her support of a woman’s right to an abortion and her vote for a law requiring hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.

She was on the losing side of several recent high-profile issues, opposing the repeal of the death penalty and passage of a ban on discrimination against transsexuals, a minimum-wage increase and law requiring paid sick days. 

Boucher also opposed a law allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain a Connecticut driver’s license.

Boucher served in the state House of Representatives for 12 years, before her election to the Senate in 2008. She also was a member of the Boards of Education and Selectmen in Wilton.

She is married to Henry “Bud” Boucher. They are the parents of three adult children.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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