Dave Walker, Republican of Bridgeport and declared Connecticut gubernatorial candidate, uses colorful language to describe the shrinking population and fortunes of the Constitution state.
“You remember when Ross Perot ran for president he spoke of a giant sucking sound,” Walker said.
Perot, whom Walker described as “a friend of mine,” used the phrase in the second 1992 Presidential Debate for what he believed would be the negative effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he opposed.
“We can debate the pros and cons of NAFTA,” Walker said. “But we are starting to hear the giant sucking sound of people leaving the state with increasing frequency. We’ve been an outbound state for some time, with more people moving out than in, and we are the only state with a declining population.”
There is only one other geopolitical organization in the U.S. with a declining population: Puerto Rico. “I respectfully suggest we don’t want to emulate Puerto Rico,” he said.
Walker and his wife, Mary, attended a July 27 meet and greet at Amodex Products in Bridgeport, owned by the Dacey family of Easton. Gowan and Beverlee Dacey hosted the event, which attracted several dozen Eastonites to meet the candidate.
“There is concern about how things are in our community and the state, particularly with regard to the financial mess we’re in,” Beverlee Dacey said in introducing Walker. “I’ve gotten to know Dave in Bridgeport, and he’s been an amazing resource to addressing a lot of the concerns we have as business owners for growing our city and bringing back an economic center in our urban areas.”
Walker joins a crowded field of Republicans hopefuls: Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst; Mike Handler, director of administration for the City of Stamford, Glastonbury state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan; Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; attorney Peter Lumaj and others are vying for the state’s top elected office.
Democratic hopefuls include state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.
Declared candidates and those who have formed exploratory committees have been traversing the state to win over their political base and raise money to try to qualify for public campaign financing under Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program. Walker is seeking contributions of $100 or less in accordance with the program.
Walker, 65, bears a striking resemblance to former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays and coincidentally lives in the Congressman’s former home in Black Rock. Walker served as comptroller general of the U.S. from 1998 to 2008, under President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. In 2008 he was recruited by Peter G. Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group, and former Secretary of Commerce under President Richard Nixon, to lead Peterson’s new foundation.
Walker stepped down as president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in 2010 to establish his own venture, the Comeback America Initiative. He has also served as a partner with Arthur Andersen and as senior strategic advisor for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“I am not a politician,” Walker said. “I am a professional problem solver, and a performance, accountability, transformation and turnaround specialist. I am also an independent-minded and inclusive person, who focuses on progress rather than partisanship, and results rather than rhetoric.”
His touted his qualifications as leading and transforming organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sectors and said he been honored to receive presidential appointments from Presidents Reagan, Bush (41) and Clinton and was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate each time when different political parties controlled the Senate.
Walker previously ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014. The number one question he received from the press and the public was, “Why aren’t you running for governor?” he said. He is undeterred by the competitive field for the 2018 gubernatorial race.
“Connecticut is at a critical crossroads,” Walker said. “During the past 30 years our state has gone from a leader to a laggard in far too many categories.”
According to the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers State Financial Position Index, Connecticut ranks number 47 of 50 states in relative financial position, and it is in the bottom tier of states for competitiveness, he said.
In addition, businesses and individuals have been “voting with their feet” for a number of years, he said. From a personal perspective, he is a husband, father, and grandfather. Like many of his fellow citizens, he and his wife have experienced a significant decline in the value of their home, and a significant increase in property tax burdens.
“The status quo in Connecticut and in several of our cities is both unacceptable and unsustainable,” he said. “We need to take dramatic actions to grow the economy, create more job opportunities, enhance our state’s competitive posture, improve our critical infrastructure, strengthen integrity in government, restore power to the people, address our troubled cities, and put our state’s finances in order.”
He said that 80% of the financial problems Connecticut is facing stems from unfunded retiree pensions and retiree health care benefits, and both Democratic and Republican governors have contributed to the dire situation.
Achieving a turnaround in Connecticut will require extraordinary leadership from a governor with the right experience, high energy, total commitment, personal credibility, and strong communication skills, coupled with a proven track record of success in transforming large and complex organizations, he said.
It will also require a leadership team committed to making tough choices, and the ability to bring people together across party lines to solve problems. All of this is needed to turn our state around, and create a better future, he said.
“Are we going to help turn Connecticut around or leave?” he said. “We’ve decided to stay. We love our home, we love the state, but I cannot stand the status quo. In the seven-and-a-half years we’ve been here our home value dropped a third and property taxes are up 55% due to failed leadership at the local and state level.”
He likened the situation to “slapping bandaids on cancer. You can beat cancer, we all know people who have beat cancer, but you can’t beat cancer unless you are really serious and you make tough choices.”
If elected, Walker said he would “focus on three things like a laser: how to grow the economy and jobs, how to restore integrity and accountability at the state level and how to get the state’s finances in order.
Beverlee Dacey thanked everyone for coming to the meet and greet and said she hopes it is the beginning of a lot of support and excitement for his bipartisan background and focus on fiscal responsibility.
To learn more about Walker and his campaign, visit davewalkerct.com.