Politics, politics, politics. As the August 14 primaries approach, just about everything happening in state government is the stuff of political debate.
Take, for example, the idea of installing tolls on Connecticut’s highways. Without the support of either State Treasurer Denise Nappier, who abstained, or Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who is running for a third term, the state Bond Commission approved Gov. Dannel Malloy’s request for a $10 million study on highway tolling – a decision that was immediately challenged by House Republicans in a move that may have more political than legislative traction this fall.
Oz Griebel, who is running as an independent for governor and was chairman of the former state Transportation Strategy Board, is advocating for a pilot program that would put tolls on the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes of Interstates 84 and 91.
The major party candidates for the state’s highest offices, meanwhile, continued to scrap, particularly on the Republican side where five men are wrestling for one nomination. The two self-funded and wealthiest candidates for governor, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman, called each other derogatory names in a new round of TV spots. Their dog fight also dominated last Tuesday’s forum where Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former First Selectman Timothy Herbst of Trumbull and Westport tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik struggled to get a word in edgewise.
Herbst went on the offensive Thursday with a law-and-order proposal that would, among other things, reopen the recently closed Connecticut Juvenile Training School and end the state’s program of offering prison inmates early release for good behavior. (There are some other people unhappy about the management of the prisons, as well; and they have filed two lawsuits complaining about the healthcare – or lack of it – provided to inmates.)
Herbst also jumped into the heated debate over the propriety of Haddam Selectwoman Melissa Schlag’s decision to take a knee while the rest of the board recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
On the Democratic side, gubernatorial contender Joe Ganim, Bridgeport’s mayor, accepted the endorsement of four trade unions, but could do little to provoke opponent Ned Lamont into talking about anything but Ganim’s felony conviction and prison term for corruption in office.
Other Democrats apparently have more distant political objectives and are maneuvering to win the majority party leadership in the Connecticut House.
Politics, of course, is fueled by money, and four more candidates for statewide office qualified for public campaign funds: Shawn Wooden, Dita Bhargava and Art Linares for treasurer, and Jayme Stevenson for lieutenant governor. Democrat Eva Bermudez Zimmerman and Republican Erin Stewart, both 31-year-old women challenging their party’s convention-endorsed candidates for lieutenant governor, cleared that financial hurdle Wednesday.
Mary Glassman, meanwhile, made a quick trip to Washington to attend a fundraiser for her benefit put on by U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and John Larson, D-1st District. She is running for departing Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s 5th Congressional District seat against newcomer Jahana Hayes, who has U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s support. There is a huge difference in personal wealth between the two. Two of the Republican contenders, former Meriden Mayor Manny Santos and Ruby O’Neill have different kinds of investments, while a third candidate has not filed a disclosure.
Speaking of Washington, there continues to be political angst over President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, where some fear he will speed the high court away from a strict separation between church and state. Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, also think Kavanaugh’s appointment would threaten special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
As Congress rushes to finish work before its August recess, Connecticut lawmakers are once again trying to get some federal help for homeowners who have been victimized by tainted concrete that has caused the foundations of their homes to crumble. Congress also finished work on a final defense authorization bill that increases military spending to $716 billion for 2019, raising the number of Sikorsky-made helicopters the Pentagon can buy next year and boosting submarine construction at Electric Boat.
More federal money for jobs in the state is a good thing, but not likely to solve the state’s ongoing state employee pension costs that are expected to surge dramatically over the next 15 years. So there’s a new group trying to come up with a solution that takes advantage of the state’s financial and physical assets.