Tom Foley at WNPR. Chion Wolf / WNPR
Tom Foley at WNPR.
Tom Foley at WNPR. Chion Wolf / WNPR

Republican Tom Foley addresses the Connecticut AFL-CIO today with one likely goal: Assuring labor he is miscast by Democrats as the next Scott Walker, the GOP governor who curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin.

The wealthy Greenwich businessman has no chance of wresting the labor federation’s endorsement from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a first-term Democrat. But if Foley can’t win labor’s friendship, he is trying to convince public employees he is not their enemy.

Foley quotes Malloy verbatim in pledging not to ask state employees to reopen a deal the governor negotiated in 2011 for a pay freeze and other concessions.

“A deal’s a deal,” Foley says.

It is a message calculated to soothe union members, not excite Republican voters who must choose between Foley, the convention-endorsed candidate, and two GOP challengers, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield.

With eight weeks and one day until the GOP primary, Foley is enjoying a prerogative of the frontrunner: He is largely ignoring his GOP rivals and trying to say nothing that can be used against him in November, should he win the primary on Aug. 12.

Foley, 62, who was George W. Bush’s ambassador to Ireland, lost to Malloy by 6,404 votes in 2010, the closest gubernatorial election in Connecticut in 56 years. It is an experience that has imbued in him a certain caution, at least in this phase of the campaign.

He is more willing to say what he won’t do as governor than what he would do.

In April, Foley was a no-show at a televised forum attended by the rest of what was then a six-candidate field for the GOP nomination. Four of the five present, including McKinney and Boughton, said more worker sacrifices would be needed.

McKinney said this week that voters want to hear more from Foley on a range of issues.

“I believe in order to win the primary, more importantly, to beat Dan Malloy, you need to be offering ideas and convincing people you can solve their problems and do that in a way that contrasts things Dan Malloy has offered them for four years,” McKinney said.

Foley, who refused to debate before GOP convention in May, has declined an invitation to a forum in Hartford on Wednesday, but a spokesman says he has committed to at least two debate before the primary.

Coy on guns and ammo

On Thursday, Foley and John Dankosky of WNPR wrestled on “Where We Live,” a live one-hour public affairs program, over his position on the post-Newtown gun controls passed by the General Assembly and signed by Malloy.

It started with a caller, Bethy from Glastonbury.

“I don’t understand your position on the gun control law from articles that I’ve read. So can you be very specific on whether or not you support the law, and as governor, will you sign a bill to repeal Connecticut’s gun legislation?”

Foley seemed to chuckle.

“Listen, I’ve been very clear about this, but I’ll repeat it again. If I had been governor, the bill would’ve been very different,” he replied.

But how would it have been different?

“Well, there are an awful lot of things in there that inconvenience law-abiding citizens who believe they have a right under the second amendment to own and use firearms, and what I said when this tragedy happened was that the government should address any solutions they can to make sure some of this doesn’t happen again, but there’s an awful lot in that bill that had nothing to do with what happened at Newtown and wouldn’t prevent another Newtown from happening,” Foley said.

Dankosky pressed for specifics. He asked Foley to point to something, anything he wouldn’t have included in the gun-control bill.

“Well,” Foley replied, “anything that is inconveniencing to law-abiding citizens who believe they have a right under the second amendment to bear firearms –”

“Do you think we should have background checks for gun purchases?” Dankosky asked.

“Well, listen, these — the weapons that were used in Newtown were all legally purchased,” Foley said. “The ammunition was legally purchased. None of this would have prevented Newtown from happening. All I’m saying is that the action that was taken by public officials should’ve been addressed at preventing another Newtown from happening, and that’s not what came out of this bill.”

He said he saw the cause of Newtown as the mental health of the killer, Adam Lanza, not his access to the firearms and ammunition legally purchased by his mother.

But what about the law’s ban on the 30-round magazines Lanza used? The post-Newtown law now restricts Connecticut purchasers to 10-round magazines.

In an interview with The Mirror, Foley wouldn’t say.

“Taking away rights that people believe are their’s under the Constitution, if it wasn’t go make any difference in preventing a future Newtown tragedy, I had said that was a mistake,” Foley said. “I’m not really going to comment on the specifics of the bill.”

With his insistence that the issue was mental health and his objection to any provision that wouldn’t have stopped Lanza, does that mean he supported none of the restrictions of guns and ammunition in the law?

“I’ve been clear on where I stand on Gov. Malloy’s bill,” Foley said. “I’m not going to sit here and describe what my bill would have looked like.”

Connecticut not Wisconsin 

Today, if union members press him on how he would deal with a projected budget shortfall of more than $1 billion next year, Foley is likely to repeated his standard answer, that he would hold spending flat for two years.

Foley also says labor costs are off the table, as are changes in work rules and the binding arbitration laws that dictate the relationship between public employees and state and local governments.

“Connecticut is not a right to work state,” Foley said.

A year ago, Scott Walker was the keynote speaker at a Connecticut Republican fundraiser, saying Wisconsin could be a model for this state’s GOP.

Wisconsin was like Connecticut when Walker ran for governor in 2010: Democrats held the governor’s office, both houses of the state legislature and just about every other office worth holding.

“Today, everything has flipped,” Walker said. “There’s hope. There’s hope. In many ways, it parallels.”

Foley laughed then when asked if Walker was a viable role model for the next Connecticut governor.

“That doesn’t seem to be practical here in Connecticut,” Foley said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

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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