In the third debate of the general Connecticut gubernatorial election, Democrat Ned Lamont SOM ’80, Republican Bob Stefanowski and unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel took the stage — clashing on matters of national politics and management of state finances.
Held in the Jorgenson Theater at the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, the debate featured all three gubernatorial candidates for the first time, as Griebel was not invited to either of the past two debates. In front of a crowd of mostly college students, the candidates discussed transportation infrastructure and briefly touched on national politics. But, as in every other debate thus far, each question came back to the issue of the Connecticut economy and the state’s budget deficit.
As in previous debates, Stefanowski tried to paint Lamont as the replica of current Gov. Dannel Malloy. A July Morning Consult poll, which surveyed 326,000 registered voters from Apr. 1 to June 30, found Malloy to be the second least popular governor in the country, with a disapproval rating of 71 percent.
“Enough is enough. How many taxes are we going to put on people?” said Stefanowski. “Ned Lamont will be Daniel Malloy version 2.0 … you’re going to have taxes out your ears.”
In his two terms as governor, Malloy has instituted two of the largest tax hikes in Connecticut’s history. When he announced in April 2017 that he would not seek a third term, he opened up what has been a competitive race to find his replacement. Stefanowski, the Republican nominee, won a crowded primary field with 29 percent of the vote, while Lamont cruised to victory on the Democratic side. On the unaffiliated party line, Griebel, a former Republican, successfully petitioned to be on the November ballot.
Lamont disputed Stefanowski’s insinuation that he would closely follow Malloy’s footsteps, pointing toward his willingness to challenge establishment politics in his 2006 U.S. Senate run against Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and his 2010 gubernatorial run, where he stood against Malloy.
Lamont won the 2006 Democratic Senate primary against Lieberman as a single-issue candidate opposing the Iraq War. But when it came to the general election, Lieberman ran as an independent, and Lamont lost.
Stefanowski also criticized Lamont’s plan to institute tolls for out-of-state truck drivers, a position Lamont has espoused at previous debates.
Stefanowski characterized the plan to toll out-of-state drivers as a gateway that will inevitably lead to further taxation, attacking Lamont for flipping on various tax issues and labeling him as yet another inconsistent politician.
Lamont, for his part, repeatedly attacked Stefanowski for his plan to eliminate the state income tax over a period of eight years. He said the plan would result in an annual loss of approximately $10 to $12 billion, which would further cripple the state’s budget. This decrease would overshadow any potential economic benefit from the elimination, Lamont added.
“At some point, the numbers just don’t add up,” Lamont said in reference to Stefanowski’s income tax elimination plan.
Lamont also proposed a property tax cut, a policy he claims will benefit the middle class far more than income tax elimination.
Griebel was excluded from the two previous debates due to low polling numbers, although he participated in a debate with Lamont in early September. In a letter published on his campaign website on Sept. 16, he called for Lamont and Stefanowski to boycott the debates where he was not allowed to participate.
In his first debate, Griebel mostly refrained from attacking the other candidates, instead choosing to focus on promoting his own plan. He emphasized both his and his running mate Monte Frank’s experience in Connecticut, discussing his own work in banking and on the transportation strategy board, as well as Frank’s work to address the opioid crisis and introduce gun legislation.
“The biggest challenge we’re facing in Connecticut right now is a crisis of confidence,” Griebel said. “It is time for you as voters to take the state of Connecticut back from the two-party system.”
During the last debate, held on Monday at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Griebel held a Facebook Live Q&A. An Aug. 23 Quinnipiac poll reported that four percent of respondents were planning on voting for him.
When asked by the News about the biggest takeaways from the debate, Chris Powell, a political columnist for the Journal Inquirer, pointed to Griebel’s performance.
“The thing that came out for me, most of all, was that Griebel spoke well and looked gubernatorial,” he said.
National political issues were discussed toward the end of the evening, when candidates took part in a “Rapidfire” segment, where they were asked to provide one-sentence answers.
When asked whether he would support Brett Kavanaugh’s potential confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, Stefanowski demurred, declining to answer because it is a “federal issue.” Lamont said he would not, though Griebel said Kavanaugh deserves a fair hearing, while adding that the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct deserve to be heard.
When asked to give President Donald Trump a letter grade on job performance thus far, Stefanowski declined to answer again, though he had previously given Trump an “A” grade in his primary acceptance speech. Stefanowski also received a Twitter endorsement from Trump following his primary win.
Lamont gave Trump an “F” while Griebel gave him a “D+.”
Tensions flared in the last debate between the two major party candidates, with Stefanowski telling Lamont “I’m not sure what you know” and Lamont saying he had “never heard such arrogance.”
The tone at yesterday’s debate was slightly more measured — even in the crowd. Only one unsolicited round of applause punctuated the debate.
Ultimately, Powell noted that very little new information was gleaned from this debate.
“This debate was the least illuminating of the three,” he said. “The only question that matters is how you’re going to close the projected budget deficits, and none of them specified where they will get the money.”
The general election will be held on Nov. 6.
Conor Johnson | email@example.com .