Day readers on which gubernatorial candidate will better address cost of living

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Jun. 26—Many Day readers believe Gov. Ned Lamont will better address the cost of living in Connecticut, saying they don't know much about his Republican opponent Bob Stefanowski. But state GOP messaging has hit home for some conservatives in the region, who say Lamont's administration hasn't done enough in giving relief to businesses and in stemming the tide of inflation.

The Day asked readers, with ongoing inflation, whether they think the incumbent Lamont or his repeat challenger Stefanowski is better equipped to handle the rising cost of living, whether it be housing prices, consumer goods or other factors. The Day will be seeking input from its readers throughout election season and leading up to Election Day. Readers last responded to a Day inquiry about the gubernatorial race in February.

Marshall Collins of Salem, a member of the Board of Finance in the town, said he will be voting for Stefanowski with more enthusiasm than he did in the last election. His support for the Madison businessman comes from his contention that the political debate in Connecticut needs to come closer to the center.

"Ned Lamont really gets rolled by the legislature. I've seen it, and his office isn't real good at dealing with the legislature," Collins said. "As a result, they throw stuff out, and he goes back and forth, and it just hasn't worked, not that the Republicans up there have done a good job either. But he really hasn't been able to deal with the legislature effectively."

"He has trouble asserting himself with the legislature," he added. "Stefanowski is going to have Democratic majorities, but you have to deal with it. Jodi Rell had huge Democratic majorities. ... It would at least move the debate more toward the center."

Collins — he calls himself a New England Republican, "which some people would say is a Democrat" — said that returning Lamont to office "would maintain the status quo, which clearly hasn't shown balance or worked."

"Lamont has fingerprints on the fiscal mess Connecticut is in," he said. "Lamont used the massive one-time federal funding to mask dramatic increases in spending that ignored the underlying weakness in Connecticut's economy."

Some of what Collins said echoes what other conservative readers told The Day. But the main concern raised by Republicans is that Lamont has not cut taxes enough. Several used the example of the diesel tax increasing on July 1, saying that cost will get passed down to small businesses.

Paul Jezierski, an East Lyme Republican, also took issue with the state's handling of its finances, saying that it spends money "like a drunken sailor."

"I'm 61, and I remember growing up, the state was a state people flocked to," Jezierski said. "Now, it seems like there's not a penny that the government can't spend. They're constantly spending."

He likes Stefanowski's proposal that, if elected, he will audit the state's spending. "Nobody has said that before in my memory. It's an attractive idea to me," Jezierski said. "There are so many redundancies."

"It's time for a change, maybe Stefanowski isn't the perfect answer, but I just think it's time to change it because we've continued to go down a path of fiscal irresponsibility," Jezierski added. "I don't think it's going to hurt to put a conservative Republican in there, give them a chance."

Lynn Young of Stonington, who is an unaffiliated voter, pointed out what a handful of respondents from both sides of the aisle said — "I don't think either one can do much as governor to combat inflation and a housing shortage, which are occurring on a national level."

"In the end, I am pretty Swiss on both of them, but I'm so tired of the liberal anti-business and enemy-of-the-taxpayer agenda I will most likely vote for Stefanowski, even though I primarily blame the General Assembly and have supported Lamont in the past," Young said.

She elaborated on why she supports Stefanowski's economic policy more than Lamont's.

"Lamont's pledge is not to raise taxes, I'm talking about income taxes. Stefanowski's push is to say, 'Hey, we're always at the bottom of every ranking known to man for taxes, cost of living, anti-business climate, and so on,'" Young said. "His platform seems to be an effort to lower taxes, not just keep them the same. And with a $3.5 billion rainy day fund, it doesn't seem totally unreasonable. But Lamont's got that General Assembly, and they have new money, and all they want are new programs. His pledge is to tread water. I think the state from a business perspective is highly over regulated."

She said Stefanowski, if elected, would be going into a legislative session "knowing he was having to go to war."

"I think he would be less inclined to curry favor and more inclined to be difficult with them and take to the press and explain his points of view because he wouldn't be beholden to the party," Young said of Stefanowski.

"I don't think either candidate can overcome the single party strength of the General Assembly. I think Lamont has gradually abandoned many of his fiscal conservative impulses as a consequence," Young added.

Paul Berkel, a Mystic Democrat, noted the lack of power a governor has over nationwide inflation: "Any Governor has few weapons in their arsenal to combat these rising costs of living."

But he and other Lamont-supporting respondents saw his relationship with the General Assembly as an asset rather than a drawback.

"Lamont, as the sitting Governor, has taken advantage of the state's current financial stability and his support through the state legislature," Berkel said. "In the meanwhile the adage 'better the devil you know versus the devil you don't know' seems the better approach, and thus Governor Lamont deserves an opportunity to keep Connecticut on a positive approach toward the future."

Several Republicans and Democrats alike were reserved in their support of their chosen candidate in their responses. But ardent supporters of both also replied to The Day's inquiry.

"I have been a fan of Ned Lamont since he primaried Joe Lieberman," said Joyce Back, a Groton Democrat who sometimes votes Green or Working Families Party. Lamont won the primary against Lieberman for U.S. Senate in 2006, but lost to him in the general election.

Back has registered to volunteer for Lamont again in this election.

"I saw him speak in person, at his sister's house in Stonington. He comes across as matter-of-fact, almost on the dull side, but he's fact-based," Back said. "He's not, 'Let's pretend.' I have a problem with Republicans, I'll admit. Not that there are no good people who are Republicans, there certainly are, but they're not fact-based. I've watched Ned Lamont as governor, and when the pandemic happened, he just went with the facts."

Many Democrats who responded to The Day pointed to Lamont's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason why he may be better suited to help Connecticut weather the storm of national inflationary pressures.

Back attributes the higher cost of living to price gouging by businesses, and, like other Democratic respondents, said Lamont has taken what limited action he can to fight inflation.

"Large corporations, unfettered because of the actions of Republicans over the years, are raking in huge profits, higher than at any point in history. The governor of Connecticut cannot control this price gouging; all he can do is minimize its impact and this Mr. Lamont has done," Back said. "He supported the health of small businesses through various actions and programs. He signed legislation passed by the state Senate to reduce gasoline tax and prevent property taxes from rising to the point of further burdening the people. He continued to support the Husky program, which ensures that no Connecticut resident will be without health insurance coverage."

Robert Chew, a Groton Democrat, pushed back on conservative respondents who say Lamont hasn't cut taxes enough.

"You can't cut taxes without cutting revenue. If you cut revenue, you're going to have to increase the amount of state finance you put into bonds, and you're going to be buying or selling bonds at very high interest rates," Chew said. "Of course, Republicans' answer to everything is 'cut taxes.'"

Chew said he is concerned Stefanowski is beholden to the far-right of the Republican Party.

"I don't know about Stefanowski, he hasn't tipped his hand yet. He's putting out a lot of ads where he's talking to real people. He may be an election-denier, climate-denier, Trump crazy for all I know," Chew said. "If he gets in, he's going to have to accommodate the people in his party who are crazy."

Stefanowski has made efforts to cast himself more as a centrist since his 2018 campaign loss to Lamont. Of the more than 30 responses received by The Day, more than half of the Lamont-supporting respondents said they knew very little about Stefanowski — only from his advertisements as well as what's been written about him in the news media — exemplifying the benefits of incumbency.

Patricia C. Vener-Saavedra of Hamden, who identifies her party as Socialist Alternative, rejects the two options for governor. She argued that because they are both capitalists, neither can make more than a marginal difference on the cost of living for poor people.

"The most you can get from a capitalist is Reagan's trickle-down theory, which is patently ridiculous. By the time it gets down to the people at the bottom of the pyramid, there's nothing left," she said. "They're both mainstream. They both are businessmen. And businessmen don't see people. They see the bottom line."

Vener-Saavedra admits that she's a bit of an anomaly as an avid leftist in the Land of Steady Habits — both conservative and liberal respondents offered pleas for bipartisanship, and some argued the far wings of both parties are hurting the country's political discourse. But Vener-Saavedra said she has always held that long-term prosperity should not be sacrificed for short-term gain.

"I know people who tell me, 'Oh, well, Lamont will be marginally better.' But you know, marginally is not enough for me," Vener-Saavedra said. "Marginally might help the upper-middle class. It's not going to do a damn thing for the rest of us."

s.spinella@theday.com