Notes of optimism are being expressed by business leaders around Fairfield County and Connecticut about what Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s victory might mean for the state’s future.
Joseph Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said his group had held several meetings with Lamont during the campaign. “He understands the need for economic growth, and the huge burden he’s facing,” Brennan said. “He’s going to need help.”
Brennan said the private sector is ready to step up and work with the new administration to reduce the overall cost of government while improving the quality of services. “Lamont has a business background, so he understands the need for economic development and workforce development,” he said. “The problems we face aren’t going to be solved by a line-item approach or by raising taxes. He certainly understands that, and he seems very open to ideas on how to fix it.”
Brennan and others applauded Lamont’s initial steps at building a consensus by announcing on Nov. 15 a group of transition advisers notable for its diversity.
“I wanted it to be a group with different expertises so we really do have a chance to bring the best and the brightest,” Lamont, a Greenwich resident, said. “So this is folks with experience in state government and folks with a lot of experience outside of state government, including not-for-profits and the private sector. We have Republicans and Democrats, and it’s a group from all over the state.”
Those picked for the steering committee include such Democrats as South Windsor Mayor Saud Anwar; West Hartford Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan; State Rep. Chris Rosario of Bridgeport; and Hartford City Council President Glendowlyn Thames, as well as such Republicans as New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart and Eversource Executive Vice President and General Counsel Greg Butler, who considered a run for governor this year.
Others on the committee are Lisa Tepper Bates, a consultant to nonprofits ; Keith Brothers, business manager with the CT Laborers’ District Council; Larry Fox, a former union leader; Rabbi Daniel Ginsburg; Jan Hochadel, president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut; Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence; attorney Bob Martino; Tom McCarthy, New Haven’s director of labor relations; Connecticut Department of Banking Commissioner Jorge Perez; Chase Rogers, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court; David Salinas, a technology entrepreneur; Elease Wright, former chief human resources officer at Aetna; Stan Twardy, the former U.S. attorney for Connecticut; and J. Paul Vance, chief spokesperson for the Connecticut State Police.
“It’s not exactly a team of rivals,” said Fran Pastore, CEO and founder of the Connecticut Women’s Business Development Council in Stamford, referring to the 2005 best-seller about Abraham Lincoln appointing various political rivals to his cabinet upon winning the presidency. “But by including Republicans and all of these diverse perspectives indicates that he’s open to different views before making major decisions. It’s important to have all perspectives at the table.”
Although data on how many women voted for Lamont and how many for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski were not available, the last Sacred Heart University poll prior to the election showed Lamont leading in the category by a 40.8-34.8 percent margin. “His wife (venture capitalist Ann Huntress) is a very strong advocate for women,” Pastore noted, “and he’s been talking about the inclusion of women in many different places within his administration.
“We’ll see how that manifests itself,” Pastore continued.
Brennan similarly expressed hope that such Lamont pronouncements as “I’m going to do everything I can to be a champion for small business, big business” proves true.
Joe McGee, vice president, public policy and programs at The Business Council of Fairfield County in Stamford, said he and his group were looking forward to progress being made on a number of fronts, now that the days of two-term Gov. Dannel Malloy are winding down.
Given all the discontent with Malloy’s performance, “The Republicans should have elected a governor,” McGee said. “That they didn’t is really quite striking. The Connecticut Republican party has got to reassess their approach to the electorate.”
McGee said he was particularly taken by the fact that incumbent Republican State Sen. L. Scott Frantz had lost his position representing the 36th state senate district after five terms. Democrat Alexandra Bergstein will be the first Democrat to hold the seat, which covers all of Greenwich as well as parts of Stamford and New Canaan, since 1930.
“Stefanowski won Greenwich by less than 2,000 votes — practically any Republican won at least a 6,000-vote plurality there in the past,” McGee said. “Fairfield, Westport — those are towns that have always tended to vote Republican. But they didn’t give Stefanowski the cushion he needed, particularly Greenwich.”
In addition to Frantz, the defeat of another long-popular county Republican, State Sen. Toni Boucher, representing the 26th district, which includes Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, as well as parts of Bethel, New Canaan and Weston, by 22-year-old Democrat Will Haskell “should send a powerful message to Republicans in Fairfield County,” McGee said. That seat had been held by a Republican since 1973.
McGee opined that voters’ overwhelming approval of an amendment to the state Constitution guaranteeing that funds be held in a metaphorical “lockbox” for the Special Transportation Fund, to be used exclusively for transportation projects, “proves that Republicans have been on the wrong side of the transportation issue. They’ve been grumbling about the lockbox and denying the fact that we need to reinvest in our rail and highway systems. But the public gets it. The voting public is ahead of the politicians in a lot of ways.”
Brennan also approved the lockbox vote. “The electorate understood that those dollars should go to transportation, and not be used for other things, as they have in the past,” he said.
Brennan said the time has come for Connecticut to commit to “creating a globally competitive business environment. Whether it’s a global company or a single entrepreneur, we need to help them choose Connecticut as the place to grow and create jobs. That’s what resonates with the general public and with most legislators.”