GOP candidates for governor hit their key points on Saxe stage

Nine Republican candidates for Connecticut governor took the stage in New Canaan April 18, and there were a couple of things they all agreed on: Solving the unfunded public employee and teacher pension liabilities crisis in the state government is job one, and Connecticut has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

An estimated 550 people from around the state went to Saxe Middle School for the three-hour political event, organized and sponsored by the state Republican Party, moderated by state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125, New Canaan) and featuring questions from Ken Dixon of Hearst Connecticut Media and Dr. Gary Rose, chairman and professor in the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. It was the fifth and final GOP debate before the state convention in May.

With so many candidates given a significant amount of time to respond, only about eight questions were raised during the three hours. Following is a topline view of some notable responses and memorable takeaways — candidate by candidate — in the view of one reporter.

Mark Boughton

Nine-term mayor of Danbury

Notable: He wants not to “nibble” around the edges but to “end the current pension system period.”

He also aims to phase out state income tax.

He said he would protect gun owners’ rights and fund mental health programs in order to understand the mentality of violent people. He would break down barriers to police and strengthen interagency communication.

Asked if he would increase the gas tax to fund transportation, he said he would instead find savings.

Memorable: “This is our moment folks … our Republican moment. … This is our time. Be proud we’re Republicans.”

Commuters would be “second-class citizens no more” in his administration, and he said he would “strap myself to I-95 if they put tolls up.”

Mike Handler

CFO, city of Stamford

Notable: There are not enough teachers in technical colleges because they have to retire, get master’s degrees, come back, and make $50,000. Fixing that will help educate more students and fix the manufacturing problem.

To improve the state’s infrastructure, Handler would put more projects in the hands of the private sector.

Education is failing in the cities because there is too much emphasis on students’ final years in school and not enough on the first few years before kindergarten.

Memorable: The state rewards bad behavior and punishes good behavior. The city of Hartford is not solving its problems locally. It is taking money from others. “I will reward good behavior and punish bad behavior.”

Tim Herbst

Eight-year Trumbull first selectman

Notable: He refers to himself as a “proven reformer and a Hartford outsider.”

He would attack regulations, commit to education, and reduce the cost of doing business and energy.

Tackling the achievement gap goes past school hours. “It takes a community effort, around the clock,” including after-school programs.

Fifty-five people leave Connecticut every day.

He said he has the “spine of steel to do what needs to be done. … I am prepared to do without fear or favor what is right. … I am prepared to be a one-term governor.”

Memorable: “Infrastructure will be the biggest challenge for the next governor.”

Regarding unfunded mandates: “If you’re not going to fund them, eliminate them.”

Mark Lauretti

14-term mayor of Shelton

Notable: “Mayors understand we are limited in what we can do” in areas such as the achievement gap in education. He suggested it may be more about “what doesn’t happen in parent/student/teacher relationships than it is about spending money. “Educators cannot be all things to all kids.”

“Is it the money or structure of how we deliver services?”

Memorable: Ten years without a tax increase in Shelton allows the tax base to grow and had “reinvented the city … all by making the city affordable.”

“We are an employee hub because we are more affordable than anyone else.”

“Make Connecticut affordable, then you generate more revenues.”

“Lowering the corporate income tax will help create more jobs.”

Peter Lumaj

Attorney, Fairfield

Notable: Democrats are failing kids by design. “The teachers’ union is not interested in seeing city kids succeed.”

“Give kids the choice of moving from a failing school to an unfailing school in the district. Competition is good.”

Have an armed guard in every school. Remove state income tax under $100,000. Lower the sales tax. Refuse tolls and fees. Downsize agencies 14%, except police, to save $1.3 billion.

He is most proud that he is not to be dependent on government in his personal life.

Memorable: I was in born in slavery (in communist Albania). I can overcome challenges.

“Your government is all about command and control. … Socialism is here. … Democrats want command and control over you and I.”

Steve Obsitnik

Retired tech entrepreneur CEO

Professor, entrepreneurship

Notable: There is a direct correlation between government spending and declining revenue.

Get colleges to talk to businesses so they can create trained workers for what is needed. “Build knowledge centers.”

He said he would work with the legislature. “I don’t know all the answers, but I build teams.”

To deal with transportation and infrastructure weaknesses, “have a special fund where they can’t put their hand in the cookie jar.”

Memorable: “Leader sets tone. Tone sets culture. Culture is our destiny.”

“This is going to be about character. Who can win a race in November, and who will do what is right when no one is watching?”

Prasad Srinivasan

Four-term state representative,, Glastonbury

Medical doctor, allergist

Notable: Create education savings accounts. Families who are in low-performing schools should be able to go to other schools.

No new taxes. No tolls.

The state has $750 million for transportation, but it is not used for transportation. “Keep the funds in transportation.”

To combat gun violence, send more funding for mental health.

Memorable: His health care experience is critically important, especially to fight the opioid epidemic. He wants more education about alternatives to opioids, and he wants prescriptions to be monitored so “no doctor shopping” and “no pharmacy shopping.” Also, he wants Narcan available more broadly.

He suggests forming a combination industry and education “triage” to make sure there is a pool of talent in the workforce: 25,000 jobs have gone unfilled because of the lack of talent in the workforce.

David Stemerman

Hedge fund finance entrepreneur


Notable: How are we going to attract more business? Ask what they need. Quality of workforce. Bring businesses to community colleges. Create apprentice programs.

To combat gun violence: better funding for mental health. More security in schools, and pay for it by taking money from political “lawn signs and bumper stickers.”

Education: Understand the importance of choice. Create a money-follows-child, student-centered system.

Memorable: Around the world, roads, airports, etc., are operated by the private sector.

Take business from other states the way Utah took jobs from California.

For more information on saving the state from financial crisis, see his website.

On other subjects, like supporting the private sector, high-quality schools, low taxes, and cost cutting, he said he would have some new information soon on his website.

David Walker

CPA, Bridgeport

Former U.S. comptroller general

Notable: “ I am the only candidate with a proven record of making government smaller.”

There has been “gross mismanagement” in the Department of Transportation. The Democrats’ answers to problems are “more money, more money.” No increase in gas tax and no tolls. “Cut the costs.”

In education, he suggests getting rid of overhead, and “allowing flexibility to achieve excellence.”

“We are wasting a huge amount of money,” Walker said.

Memorable: “This is the most important election in the history of Connecticut.”

“Who can win? Who can get the job done?”

“Make the right decision and hope is on horizon.”