Lamont says his mandate for a second term is economic growth
Gov. Ned Lamont basked Wednesday in the breadth of a double-digit reelection victory that he called a mandate to hold the line on taxes and spending, grow an economy that lags national growth, and continue to pay down Connecticut’s unfunded pension liability.
Lamont, a Democrat most comfortable governing from what constitutes the political center in a blue state, said his priority will be encouraging “growth and opportunity” in Connecticut, a state whose annualized economic growth averaged an anemic 1.8% over the last five years.
“I said probably 200 times, ‘I don’t want more taxes, but I don’t mind more taxpayers.’ And I hope everybody got my message on that,” he said. “And when I say more taxpayers, that means growth and opportunity. Everything I do is gonna be looking through that lens of growth and opportunity.”
Lamont spoke at a post-election press conference outside the state Capitol with the rest of the winning statewide Democratic ticket: U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Attorney General William Tong, Secretary of the State-elect Stephanie Thomas, Comptroller-elect Sean Scanlon and Treasurer-elect Erick Williams.
Lamont said he is sensitive to the pressure inflation is exerting and has directed his secretary of policy and management to calculate whether the state can afford to continue the gasoline tax holiday past its current expiration date of Dec. 1, with an eye toward a possible special legislative session.
The new term of the governor and other statewide constitutional offices, as well as all 187 members of the General Assembly, begins Jan. 4, the opening day of the five-month legislative session. Democrats will be in control of the legislature and every statewide constitutional office.
Lamont, the first Democrat to win a gubernatorial election by double digits since William A. O’Neill’s reelection in 1986, will be leading a party that carried an astonishing range of communities, from impoverished urban neighborhoods to the enclaves of wealth in Greenwich and other Fairfield County suburbs.
“All these artificial blue, red divisions out there. ‘Oh, it’s the suburbs against the city. It’s labor versus business.’ I didn’t see that in Connecticut,” Lamont said. “I saw a state that really came together. We came together during that election yesterday. You saw that breadth of support across all the different communities.”
The labor movement picked up two new friends in the state Senate: Jan Hochadel, a teacher and former president of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut; and Martha Marx, a nurse and labor activist. Both won open seats, Marx flipping a GOP seat.
Two other labor allies won reelection after being targeted by Republicans: Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, a former UAW regional director; and Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-Hamden, a union organizer.
“We don’t have an agenda yet,” said Ed Hawthorne, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO. “We’re meeting soon and working on an agenda that will put the working people of Connecticut first.”
In his first term, Lamont delivered on a union agenda that included a $15 minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, a ban on captive-audience meetings used against union organizers, and raises for state employees.
But he stymied efforts to make the state’s taxes more progressive by sharply increasing taxes on wealthy taxpayers, and he praised a volatility cap included in a bipartisan budget passed in 2017 as a sensible fiscal reform that should continue.
“Gov. Lamont is somebody that has a passion about reaching out across the aisle and he’s a business guy who wants to market the state as a place that can grow. That’s all part of the reason that he won,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who doesn’t face reelection until 2024.
But Murphy said the progressive labor bills passed by the General Assembly and signed by Lamont undoubtedly contributed to the election results.
“I do think that the boldness of the state legislature to provide benefits to working people is part of the story as to why people have faith in Connecticut Democrats and why voters came out and decided to give the governor and his partners in the state legislature another shot at doing that same kind of work,” Murphy said.
Unofficial results showed Lamont beating Republican Bob Stefanowski in their rematch by about 155,000 votes and 12 percentage points. In 2018, Lamont won by 44,382 votes and 3 percentage points.
“I think the brand of Republicans is a bit bruised right now. I think that’s got something to do with it,” Stefanowski said Wednesday on WPLR-FM.
Based on voter fears and anger over inflation, Stefanowski said Tuesday, he was convinced the margin of victory would be fewer than 50,000 votes.
“This one’s hard to figure,” Stefanowski said on the radio Wednesday. “Maybe the people happier than I thought. I hope they are.”