Ethan Book began the year with high hopes for his New England Limousine Service of Fairfield.
“I started out this year doing about 30% better than I was doing last year,” he said. “Then I hit March and April. In April, my total business revenues were $173. And that did not include fuel costs and vehicle costs for going to Bradley Airport and back. It did not pay anywhere near what I needed to cover my fixed expenses.”
Although his company qualified as an essential business under Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders, it wasn’t essential to a consumer base directed by the government to stay at home.
“There was no demand,” he lamented. “Yeah, I was not prohibited in operating, but there was no demand.”
Book, who was a former vice president of Connecticut Bank and Trust Co. before starting his limousine business, is laying the groundwork for a new job in seeking the Republican Party nomination to become state representative from Bridgeport’s 128th District via the Aug. 11 primary. This is not a spur-of-the-moment career changer for Book: he sought the position in the past three biennial election cycles, always losing to Democrat Christopher Rosario. Book had also tried to gain the 2010 Republican nomination for U.S. senator from Connecticut as a petitioning candidate and his party’s endorsement for the 2019 Bridgeport mayoralty race, falling short on both occasions.
So why is Book seeking public office despite a decade’s worth of indifference from voters?
“We have a problem in Connecticut with 40 years of Democrat majority legislators in Hartford and that has caused some skewing of excesses, particularly in the areas of high budgets and spending,” he said. “Our current state rep has been a party to record budget and tax increases, which everybody knows has resulted in a weakening of the Connecticut economy. Many businesses and people are leaving the state, which further weakened the economy and increased the state budget deficit. That puts the state of Connecticut in a very difficult position for dealing with something like the pandemic.”
Book criticized Lamont’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group as an assault on the democratic process.
“We have a governor who has a task force without any publicly politically elected officials of any party,” he said. “We need public representation on something like that. We also have a system where none of its meetings and deliberations are subject to disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act, and the governor hired a consultant for $2 million for the reopening process. This is crazy, absolutely crazy.”
In regard to government’s role in reopening the economy, Book stressed that he would not put the onus entirely on the federal government to bail out the states.
“I’ve seen statistics where states with Republican administrations are better positioned financially to deal with the pandemic than those that are run by Democrat governors,” he said. “And if there has not been good financial management in the states, why should the government the federal government bail them out? We have an issue of separation of powers between the federal government and the states, and we have the limitation of Congress in Article One Section Eight of the Constitution, which are just the delegated powers.”
Book added that he was “not saying that we should put people in danger,” but he worried that too much government aid would wither the sense of self-reliance that fuels many entrepreneurs.
“I was turned down for an SBA loan and I was frustrated,” he said. “I was disturbed with that. But what I have done is refocus on some other things which might be better for me in the long run.”
Of course, both Lamont and President Trump came to their respective positions directly from the business world — although Lamont, not unlike Book, had a few unsuccessful runs for office before snagging the political equivalent of the brass ring. Yet Book is cautious about encouraging his fellow business professionals to hit the political trail.
“I think some people who have the potential for office are discouraged from office because of the difficulty in running and because of what they see as corruption in both parties of the political system,” he said. “I would speak to these business people and say that to run for political office, you almost need to be like a church worker who is called by God. And I think businessmen can be a great asset and would certainly be better than the excessive proportion of attorneys who became legislators — that can be a problem.”