With appearances around the state, newspaper essays criticizing the Lamont administration, and some candor about the deficiencies of his campaign last year, retired business executive Bob Stefanowski seems to be preparing for another run for governor.
Having lost for the Republicans an election they were favored to win, Stefanowski ordinarily might not be the party’s first choice in 2022. Giving a second nomination to another business executive, Tom Foley, the Republican nominee for governor in 2010, did the party no good in 2014. Both candidates were vague and uninformed, and with his insistence that he could eliminate the state income tax without explaining how, Stefanowski established his anti-tax position only at the expense of demagoguery. Additionally, his standing with Republicans was weak, as he won the five-candidate primary with a laughable 29 percent.
Yet it’s not hard to imagine things going better for Stefanowski next time.
Just as he won the primary by starting his campaign early and getting his commercials on television first, Stefanowski now is way ahead of anyone else thinking of seeking the next Republican nomination for governor. He has no obvious competition. Indeed, the Republican bench seems empty. Self-funding neophyte candidates — Stefanowski himself was one last year — may always materialize, and the other such candidate in last year’s Republican primary, David Stemerman, may return. But Stemerman was unimpressive to primary voters and Stefanowski retains far more recognition. Even now Stefanowski is often approached in public by people who remember him favorably and urge him to run again.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s dissembling on highway tolls has not just wrecked his standing with the public. It also has empowered Stefanowski to run as the “I told you so” candidate. If the governor’s imposing tolls, raising taxes and spending, and increasing mandates on business fail to restore Connecticut’s economy — how can they? And if another national economic recession sets in, which seems likely, three years from now a Republican again might have a good chance to win the governorship, especially if Trump has departed one way or another. People who voted Democratic in Connecticut last year to punish the president may notice eventually that they’re the ones paying the higher taxes and tolls, not Trump.
Stefanowski’s ad-libbing his way through the campaign last year wasn’t smart, but he is smart enough to master the issues if he chooses, thereby changing his reputation from ignoramus to policy wonk. He has plenty of time to do it. There is also plenty of time for people to forget how uninformed he was in his first campaign. The General Assembly’s Republican caucus staff can run a school in the issues for him and other candidates, not that Republican legislators themselves always seem to have attended.
If Stefanowski keeps making himself seen and heard frequently, it may not be long before he is considered the likely nominee in 2022.
But does Stefanowski really want to run again for governor, or just to seem relevant? Does any Republican really want to run?
More important, does anyone have the courage to say what needs to be said in a campaign and, in office, to do what needs to be done if state government ever again is to be more than a pension-and-benefit society for its own employees?
Can what is necessary be done, or is it too late because Connecticut’s government class is already fatally larger than its private sector?