Gov. Ned Lamont came out strong when he took the stage at the state’s Democratic party convention on Saturday.
Accepting the party’s gubernatorial nomination, Lamont kicked off his speech with a nod to his opponent, Bob Stefanowski, who received the GOP nomination Friday night.
“Last night I was watching the Republican convention a bit,” Lamont said. “And one thing Bob said that I sort of agreed with. He said, “So much can happen in four years. I’ll tell you, Bob, what’s been going on for the past four years.
Lamont said Connecticut was “struggling” when he took office four years ago. He called the “multibillion-dollar deficit” and said the state’s transportation fund “was up in smoke.” Today the economy is different, he said.
“Three straight years of budget surpluses and the biggest tax cuts this state has ever seen,” he said, his voice rising higher. Delegates at the Xfinity Theater shouted.
The governor knows his economic record is one of the strongest arguments he can make to voters in this year’s election. During Lamont’s first term, state finances quickly went from alarming deficits to large surpluses, and he made sure to remind his party of that at the convention this weekend.
This presents a challenge for Republicans this election cycle as they attempt to present a narrative of Democratic tax malfeasance.
“After 40 years of a Democratic-controlled legislature, Connecticut is the definition of a failed state — billions and billions in debt with absolutely nothing to show for it,” Stefanowski said Friday night at the GOP convention. He campaigned on the vow of making the state more affordable and focusing on the “core values” of “personal liberty, individual liberty, smaller government.”
But Lamont’s biggest approval boost during his first term came from his handling of the pandemic. Lamont reminded Democrats that he kept schools and businesses open through most of the pandemic and supported industries like construction and manufacturing.
“We did everything to maintain this state, to do it safely,” he said, also thanking the crowd for their efforts. “We led by example, we led with respect, we looked out for each other.”
Alex Rodriguez, a delegate from Hartford, said he admired Lamont’s efforts to control the tenor of the debate during the pandemic.
“He’s done a good job of avoiding being one of the loudmouths and voices that are always trying to tear things up,” Rodriguez said. He also praised the Lamont administration for making testing and vaccines available in all areas of the state. “I think he tried to maintain a consistent message and that helped people calm their fears.”
With the state’s job market still struggling to fully recover from the pandemic recession, Lamont took credit for the current abundance of job openings among Connecticut employers — even though many many companies describe the need to fill more positions as a challenge to their productivity.
“Yeah, four years makes a difference, Bob,” Lamont said, calling out his opponent again. “Four years later, we currently have 150,000 well-paying jobs waiting for anyone to come forward to seize the opportunity.”
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association expressed frustration with the labor shortage. Following this year’s legislative session, which ended this week, the trade association also lamented the nearly $500 million in federal unemployment debt that will largely fall on businesses to pay off.
“I probably feel the pain of this personally more than anyone in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, owner of a manufacturing company that employs 150 people in Connecticut. “Would I have liked a little more? Perhaps. But I think ultimately the failure was at the federal level, to recognize a year and a half ago that this was a powerhouse that was going to businesses across the country.
Needleman called Lamont’s economic policy “prudent” overall. “I think he tried to moderate some of the Democrats’ more progressive fiscal impulses. He was very thoughtful about it,” Needleman said.
But, Needleman said, he’s also concerned about affordability, particularly when it comes to energy prices.
“I’m concerned that electricity rates, heating your home with oil or gas, will have a negative impact on a lot of people. And I think maybe we have to find something about that because we can’t have a third of the population unable to pay their utility bills,” he said.
Lamont and Stefanowski are both businessmen. Stefanowski had a long career in corporate finance, with stints at GE and UBS before running a global payday loan company. Prior to entering politics, Lamont was the founder of Campus Televideo, a company specializing in cable systems for colleges, universities and gated communities.
“Now, you know, when the governor was elected, there were those who doubted that a businessman could get things done in Hartford. He proved them wrong,” Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz said in remarks after her appointment.
She wasn’t alone among Saturday’s speakers to highlight a long list of economic victories from the Lamont administration. This list includes paying off state pension debt, building a budget surplus, raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit, exceeding family medical leave paid, investment in education, vocational training and infrastructure, and tax reduction.
“It was the Democrats who balanced the budget, the Democrats who cut taxes, and it was the Democrats who made sure we had the resources we needed to invest in the future,” Bysiewicz said.