Forum: Democrats consider state-wide candidates

Read the full article with video on Nancy on Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. – Stump speeches came to Norwalk on Monday, as Democratic state-wide candidates made their cases to the Democratic Town Committee.

Seven gubernatorial candidates, two candidates for treasurer, five candidates for attorney general and two secretary of state candidates spoke for five minutes each, then answering questions and touching on topics such as marijuana, mass incarceration, tolls and the economy.

“The range of issues that the governors have to face are huge and we have very, very qualified people that are running for governor this year,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said, in introducing the highlight of the evening, the gubernatorial hopefuls.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to elect another Democratic governor here in the state of Connecticut,” because the last thing Democrats want to do is let the state move backward given all the progress that’s been made on criminal justice reform, growing jobs and education funding reform, he said, pointing out that the State Senate is equally divided by Democrats and Republicans.

Paid family leave will be Senate Bill One this year, with net neutrality the topic of Senate Bill Two, he said, asserting that Republicans running for governor have some very extreme ideas.

Dita Bhargava.

First up was Dita Bhargava, who talked of being raised by her immigrant mother to strive to meet her ambitions, and progressed to expressing support for public/private partnerships and a desire to invest in infrastructure, with tolls as part of the revenue source for that.

“Young folks, and retired folks these days, want convenient urban living. We need strong cities with affordable housing, better schools and better intercity transit. I am a different kind of Democrat with the vision and the experience to get the state back on track,” the former Wall Street trader said. “The Republican Governor’s Association has been consistently targeting me because they fear my type of candidacy. They can’t tie me to failed policy programs and because of my pro-business progressive vision; 20 years ago, families flocked to our state and I know we can be that vibrant and attractive state again because all of our assets are still here.”

High profile businesses have left but they’ve gone to other high-tax states, so, “It’s not about taxes necessarily, it’s about the ecosystem,” she said.

She’d seek a public/private partnership to expand Bradley International Airport, she said.

Luke Bronin.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin talked of his background as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan, a member of President Barack Obama’s treasury department and as chief legal counsel to Gov. Dannel Malloy, pushing through “common sense gun reforms” after the Sandy Hook massacre.

As mayor, “I had to confront an unprecedented fiscal crisis in our city , and to do it honestly and transparently, to be unafraid to make hard decisions and to build partnerships that a lot of people didn’t think were possible,” he said. “… that really gets to what the heart of what being a Democrat means, which is recognizing the power of the government to make change when it is filled with people who are not just the best and the brightest but who care, and who recognize the transformation we can make in people’s lives and in communities, through government.”

Bronin said he has been proud to stand up to President Donald Trump on sanctuary city issues

“I think what we need in the state of Connecticut right now is somebody who is not afraid to make tough decisions and who is not just talking about change but has shown a willingness to make change, and somebody who isn’t just talking about standing up to Donald Trump but somebody who has been doing it,” he said.

An audience member asked about the federal tax bill.

“We have to look around at some of the experiments that are being talked about,” Bronin said. “There were some that don’t make sense to me. There’s one possibility of converting some of our income tax to payroll tax, which would get around that. But I think we’re going to have to see what the effects of that bill are and we are going to have to be open to a pretty broad restructuring of our tax code to deal with it, because it is a massive hit.”

Bronin said he supports legalizing marijuana as “an issue of safety and common sense,” given that neighboring states are doing it. Marijuana should be regulated and some of the revenue dedicated to fighting opioid addiction, he said.

Susan Bysiewicz.

Former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said Connecticut needs a leader with experience, as “we’ve seen what happens” down in Washington when someone without political experience takes a top role.

Not only was she secretary of state for 12 years but she is a business lawyer, she said.

“I have spent the last eight years helping more than 80 companies across Connecticut bring thousands of good pacing paying jobs. We need a governor that also has private sector experience because our economy needs to work for everyone,” she said.

She supports tolls and a pay equity bill, which would help families by providing women with the income they deserve, she said.

Asked, like most candidates were, about marijuana, she said that the number of opioid deaths in Colorado dropped when the state legalized marijuana.

She supports family leave and healthcare for everyone, she said.

“I think we could make a tremendous economic difference for our state if we move in the direction of single payer,” she said, expressing support for lowering the age for people to qualify for Medicare.

Sean Connolly.

Sean Connolly, former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke of his family’s history as Irish immigrants and said he had run a state agency with efficiency and effectiveness.

“Too many people don’t believe that the opportunity that my family had over the last three generations exists anymore,” he said.

He has an economic plan on his website, and, “Forget about Amazon, let’s focus on the jobs we have here and grow that organically,” he said.

“I will be that cheerleader, a cheerleader here in Connecticut and also with a megaphone across our nation,” he said. “You know, as someone who has not run for office before, I am not running because it’s the next political title that I want or a line on my resume. I am not running because I am looking for a forever job in elected office. I am not running this time to better position myself for next time. I am running this time to roll up my sleeves, jump n h trenches and to go to work to elevate service over politics in the state of Connecticut.”

He’d consider marijuana “based in discussion and collaborative effort,” he said.

“Yes to marijuana,” Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said, beginning his talk with a quip.

Bridgeport was bankrupt when he first became mayor in 1991, he said, expressing pride in creating one of America’s first afterschool programs and the results it offered.

Joe Ganim.

Bridgeport has seen economic development on its waterfront, but, “I made some terrible mistakes,” he said, referring to his exit from office in 2003 after being convicted on federal felony corruption charges.

Deciding to run again in 2015, five years after being released from prison, wasn’t easy but he was committed to moving Bridgeport forward with a greater level of transparency, he said.

“As Democrats… if we expect the people to give us the keys to the capitol again after eight years … we are going to have to get a vision together that shows we know what we are talking about, we want to take the state to the right place and we have a track record and experience to back it up,” he said.

“The engine that will drive the new Connecticut economy lies in our cities,” he said.

Jonathan Harris cited his experience as a state senator and mayor of West Hartford, and most recently as Commissioner of Consumer Protection.

Jonathan Harris

“We are between two economic engines, New York and Boston,” he said. “Instead of always trying to be like them, let’s connect better into them, with infrastructure, with rail, with fiber optics, to move people, freight, ideas back and forth.”“I am the proven progressive problem solver,” he said. “I get things done, whether it was as mayor of west Hartford, as a state senator, as deputy treasurer, as commissioner of consumer protection, or in my private sector law practice and in economic and real estate business that I had. As a matter of fact, I was actually regulated by consumer protection and then I became the regulator. I have literally seen things from both sides.”

Connecticut needs to reinvent its toxic relationship to its municipalities and there is “a second pathway of economic development” that isn’t top down but bottom up like “we did in Hartford,” he said.

Yes to marijuana, but, “We have to be careful with how we do this to keep it away from the Neanderthal attitude of the federal government,” he said.

Ned Lamont.

Ned Lamont, a Greenwich millionaire known for defeating then U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in a 2006 primary, noted that he was batting cleanup in the “American Idol style” of campaign speeches.“I think you need somebody who has not been too closely tied with the Hartford scene over the last five, 10, 15 years. I think you need somebody who will give this state a fresh start,” he said. “… We are the party of change and that is what I have done my whole life.”

He’d “legalize weed” and “mass incarceration is over,” he said.

One way to give convicted criminals a second chance it to rebuilding the tired old transportation infrastructure, including tolling, he said.

Pressed by an audience member, Lamont said, “I’d find alternatives to incarceration. I give all those folks who have been incarcerated for all those low-level drug crimes, which is racist and wrong, and I give them an opportunity, a better opportunity. I think if the governor takes the lead we can make a big difference there.”

In lesser offices, incumbent Secretary of State Denise Merrill said, “I never thought i would be standing here fighting for voter rights. I thought it was a settled question, in 1965, when we passed the Voter’s Rights Act. I am very proud that Connecticut has bucked the national trend: we are actually increasing people’s right to vote.”

Her opponent, Karen Talamelli Cusick, said the office has been lacking direction, leadership and initiative.

“My goal is a new vision, a new approach for our party and our state. One that is proactive, and protects our voting rights but goes further, facilitates and encourages business, growth and development. Is financially disciplined and helps restore hope back to the 3.6 million residents of our state,” she said.

State Rep. William Tong said he’d bring an immigrant’s background to the Attorney General’s office.

“I know what it is to suffer hate and bigotry and to have people come after your family,” he said. “I feel like I have a unique voice to say to the President of the United States, if you think you are going to ride a wave of hatred and bigotry and remake our world, you will have to come through me and all of us, and we are not afraid of you.”

State Rep. Michael D’Agostino said, “When you are hiring the Attorney General, you are not just hiring the chief civil litigator for the state of Connecticut, you are indeed hiring an advocate, an advocate for policy, for policies that we hear about as Democrats. I see that as a core function of the job.”

Assistant Attorney General Claire Kindall said she was in the women’s march and is now on unpaid leave because she felt she could make a difference by running for the top job.

“I know what that office does and it doesn’t do because I have been doing it for 20 years. There’s no training wheels,” she said.

Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor, said, “What I believe is necessary now is for the Attorney General of the state of Connecticut to serve as a voice for people against what has been encroaching corporate power and concentrated political power.”

Anyone who travels through Connecticut should be required to comply with our Connecticut’s gun safety laws,” he said.

Regarding Trump, he said, “There is a benefit in Connecticut in challenging this man at every turn… win or lose, we cannot give this administration any quarter when it comes to what they are doing to our country.”

Candidate for treasurer Arunan Arulampalam said he’s a Hartford attorney who works with financial firms.

“I think we need a treasurer who is going to deal with our pension obligations,” he said, promising that he has solutions but they can’t be explained in a five-minute stump speech.

“A treasurer should serve as a chief economic officer for our state and I would like to use the platform and use the role to be an advocate for our state’s business, to look at how we invest that money,” he said.

John Blankley said that his corporate career has given him the experience to do everything a treasurer has to do.

“What we need in this situation is someone who is battle tested, someone who has done this job before, in terms of bond issuance, in terms of treasure management and certainly in terms of pension fund management,” he said.

Connecticut is a great place to do business, he said, quoting Business Magazine as saying that 34 of the 500 fastest growing businesses are in Connecticut.

Leaving the event, Norwalker Heidi Godleski said, “It’s very exciting that so many people would like to be in the positions. I think it’s healthy and it’s wonderful for Connecticut that there is that interest from so many people who are experienced and knowledgeable about our state.”