by Kristina Vakhman
Central Connecticut welcomed gubernatorial candidates to speak on their campaign promises at “Visions For CT’s Future: Gubernatorial Candidates Forum on Issues Confronting CT College Students” on Monday.
A collaboration between CCSU’s Student Government Association, the Center for Public Policy and Social Research and the O’Neill Endowed Chair in Public Policy and Practical Politics, the forum featured Republican, Democrat, Independent and Libertarian candidates. All candidates on the ballot were invited; 13 showed up.
President Dr. Zulma Toro opened the event by thanking the candidates for their willingness to participate, as well as by applauding the students in the audience, stressing that CCSU is committed to involving its community in public affairs.
“We look to our students as the next generation of our state’s public and political leaders,” Toro emphasized. “Forums like this provide our students with opportunities for hands-on collaboration with coming and aspiring government leaders. We believe that by connecting students with our democratic process, it will encourage and empower them to participate fully [in civic and political service].”
Moderators Dr. Robbin Smith, chair of the political science department, and student Dante Solano, Vice President-elect for the SGA and chair of the External Affairs Committee, followed Toro with words of their own, introducing the candidates.
The Democrats in attendance were U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Sean Connolly; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim; businessman Guy Smith; former lawyer Mark Stewart; and Lee Whitnum, who previously ran for the U.S. Senate and Congress. Jacey Wyatt, though invited, did not come.
The Republicans were CCSU alumni and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; former lawyer Peter Thalheim; Scott Merrell; and former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker. Prasad Srinivasan, also invited, did not come.
Independents Richard Nelson “Oz” Griebel and Marisa Manley, as well as Libertarian Rod Hanscomb, were at the table, too.
The issues up for debate were college affordability, Connecticut’s job market, gun violence and criminal justice reform. Each candidate had three minutes to address one or more of these topics. Here’s where they stand.
Boughton: “The economic challenges in our state should be and ought to be the foremost thing that all of us talk about, given the fact that many of you will be in the job market looking to stay employed in the state. We need to do three things. One is that we need to redesign the permit process. Two is we need to restore the business relationship that’s been lost with business in our state. Three is we need to work on our transportation system, which is critically important. Four is our next step here is to be bold and it’s to be brave. It’s time we talk about what we need to do for our future.”
Connolly: “We have thousands of jobs that we have on the table because of investments in infrastructure. We need to work on our roads and highways. From an economic perspective, we have to get [roads, highways, railroads and ports] right. [We also have to be] an economic driving of growth with [small] businesses.”
Ganim: “In some ways, we are in crisis. [There’s] a budgetary crisis. I think my skill set puts me in a position to kind of be able to lead with experience on the issues mentioned here, whether it’s for a better transportation system, centers for high learning, the environment, the economy or jobs.”
Griebel: “[I’ll] make sure the jobs that come here, stay here by creating an environment where entrepreneurs want to start companies and create jobs. It’s absolutely at the top of the list.”
Hanscomb: “The fastest-growing areas in America are all in states with no income tax. The current policies where it’s just more taxation is not working. [We need] no income tax, and we’ll have to make up for it with a slightly smaller sales tax.”
Manley: “I’m running because Connecticut is in crisis. My vision for Connecticut is that we become a destination state again: low tax, high opportunity. We want people to come to Connecticut. We’ve got to reduce taxes and provide increased technical education. [On gun control], I think that’s the critical issues. We’ve got to take notice [of the shooters beforehand] and take action.”
Merrell: “Young people’ve gotta wake up and smell the coffee. [The ‘Big Brother’ government] is leaving you in economic doomsday with federal deficits and spending.”
Smith: “All these [President Donald] Trump Republicans wanna arm teachers—not when Smith is governor. Connecticut is a leader in the ban on assault rifles. [We have to] go to the credit card companies and to the CEOs and say, ‘Change your terms of service and do not permit assault rifles to be bought with your cards.'”
Stewart: “I can answer all four questions with two words: ‘More Liberty.’ More liberty means school choice, [means] we don’t bust people for marijuana and [means] immigrants who’ve been here for a long time deserve to be protected. More liberty means don’t incarcerate people for needless crimes. On guns, more liberty means we get to protect ourselves.”
Thalheim: “Getting jobs is a problem. Our state makes it difficult for the poor and those of moderate means to get a job because unless you have the fees to pay the administrative state, [you can’t get a job].”
Walker: “Connecticut is broke. I’m a [President Ronald] Reagan, [President George W. Bush] and [President Bill] Clinton appointee. My expertise is restricting government and putting their finances in order. God knows, we need that.”
Whitnum: “Our judiciary is 48th in the state. My ballot whip is making Connecticut a better state by evolving it. All this corruption costs us big. The judges who never leave [and] the judges who keep you in the system and keep you coming back want you to keep paying the system.”
To learn more about the candidates individually, visit their websites.