ROCKY HILL — Gov. Ned Lamont playfully pitched himself to a crowd of business leaders Tuesday morning as Connecticut’s version of Ted Lasso, the beloved television character hired as the coach of a Premier League soccer team even though he lacks any practical experience with the sport.
Lamont, a Democrat who came into office spouting the famous line from the musical Hamilton about wanting to “be in the room where it happens,” told the audience at the annual Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday that he now wants to mirror Lasso’s infectious optimism and his ability to rally his players to believe in their mission.
“I try to do that with the state of Connecticut,” Lamont said to a round of laughter and applause.
“Ted Lasso is my guy,” Lamont said. “People ask, who is your hero? And usually they say Jack Kennedy or Ronald Regan. I like Ted Lasso.”
The amateur stand-up routine Lamont delivered Tuesday is a rite of passage for governors in Connecticut. The annual breakfast event has historically been a venue for light-hearted speeches by governors ahead of the holiday season.
Former Republican Gov. John Rowland’s wife famously used the occasion to read a holiday poem attacking members of the press who had been covering a corruption scandal that would later land her husband in federal prison.
Lamont’s remarks about his new favorite television show served as one of the few points of relief, however, for what was otherwise a preview of the incumbent’s stump speeches as he runs for reelection next year.
When he took office, Lamont argued the state and its residents were down on themselves. There were constant concerns, he said, about the health of the economy, the financial outlook of the state and major employers like General Electric exiting Connecticut.
But Lamont argued Tuesday that most of the problems voiced about Connecticut’s economy and the state’s fiscal health are “hogwash.” And he said he is working to correct people’s impressions about the state.
“I think this is the most amazing state in the country,” Lamont said. “I love Connecticut.”
In a room full of businesspeople, Lamont rattled off what he views as his list of accomplishments during his first term in office — most of them centered around the state’s fiscal health.
Lamont said his administration has worked to steer Connecticut through the coronavirus pandemic, to balance the state’s budget and to to pay down the state’s historically-neglected pension debt.
“Listen, there is no hanging up the mission accomplished banner,” Lamont said, referring to the state’s pension debt. “We have a long way to go, but for the first time in a long time we made incredible progress there.”
The state used surplus from the previous fiscal year to make more than $1.6 billion in supplemental payments to its pension systems for teachers and state employees, but there is still about $40 billion in long-term pension debt that is expected to place significant pressure on state finances into the 2040s.
Connecticut’s economic recovery from the pandemic has been mixed and the state currently has one of the worst unemployment rates in the country, according to the most recent federal jobs data.
Still, the governor implored those at the breakfast Tuesday to think more positively about the future of Connecticut and the state’s economic prospects in 2022 and beyond.
“The economy is coming back and I do think that you’ve got to believe,” Lamont added, riffing off a major theme in the Ted Lasso show. “Viruses are infectious, but so is optimism.”
Looking forward, Lamont tried to position himself as the best person to manage the historic financial investments that Congress is providing to the state in the aftermath of the pandemic, including billions of dollars in new infrastructure money and additional spending on social programs.
“We are getting a fair amount of dough from Washington, by the way,” Lamont said. “And my job is to make sure that money is appropriately invested for the future.”
In the coming years, Lamont said that money should cut people’s rail commutes by 20 minutes and help provide daycare and childcare assistance so that parents can go back to work.
“I want to show that we have made a difference with these resources,” he said.