With time growing short Boucher still 'exploring' a run for governor

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) is not ready to formally jump into the race for governor just yet.

Ms. Boucher, who formed a committee to explore the feasibility of running for the Republican candidacy of the state’s highest office, is holding off despite three other candidates who have officially declared: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who tossed his hat in the ring last week; state Sen. John McKinney (R-28); and Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, who announced his candidacy at the end of 2013. Tom Foley of Greenwich, who opposed Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2010, is also expected to formally enter the race. The Republican Party convention is scheduled for May 16-17 at Mohegan Sun.

“I am continuing to raise financial and delegate support,” Ms. Boucher told The Bulletin on Friday, Jan. 10, adding she has spent the last several months traveling across the state listening to people’s concerns and priorities.

She trails her would-be competitors in fund raising, reporting her committee had raised more than $37,000 for the quarter ending Dec. 31, bringing her fund-raising total to $66,659 since she announced her exploratory committee in August.

All candidates and exploratory committees were required to report their fund-raising efforts on Jan. 10. To be eligible for public financing through the Citizens’ Election Program, a candidate must raise $250,000 from at least 2,500 individuals in contributions of $100 or less.

Mr. McKinney, of Fairfield, who is the state Senate Republican leader, announced that his campaign raised $101,080 during the fourth quarter. That boosts him to a total of $134,167 since launching his campaign July 23.

Mr. Foley raised $101,000 for the quarter and $131,000 in total since September.

In a press release issued Friday, Mr. Boughton said he had raised nearly $40,000 through the exploratory committee he formed in August, bringing his total to nearly $130,000.

Mr. Lauretti reported raising $1,200 in December.

Listening tour

During her listening tour, Ms. Boucher said, she has been struck by the similarity of comments she has been hearing.

“It doesn’t matter the income level or community, people are very concerned the state has changed so dramatically,” she said. “It was once the envy of the country for having no or low taxes, for its schools and for its quality of life.”

In contrast, now, she said, “it is expensive to live and conduct business in.”

Changes in the state income tax and high utility rates are hitting small businesses hard, she said.

“People are looking for some relief, a different type of leadership that faces facts and steps up to the plate to fix things.”

She added “it has been very gratifying to feel they are supportive of the message I have.”

Throughout this period of exploration, Ms. Boucher has consistently beaten the drum for a reduction in state spending. Increasing revenues through taxes is only “pushing people out the door,” she said.

Officials need to “look at all the cost drivers and see what’s causing the most problems” in order to make Connecticut competitive again, she said.

At the same time, “we also have to secure funds for a much-needed safety net for the poor,” she said.

States should be in the businesses of funding education, transportation, and a social safety net, she said, “but not buying a tennis tournament.” She was referring to the purchase, for more than $600,000, of the rights to a Women’s Tennis Association tournament in New Haven.

She also criticized “giving handouts to big corporations that are profitable to move them from town to town.” The Malloy administration has supported loans to companies, such as the one given to Cannondale Bicycles — part of Dorel Industries — to move from Bethel, Conn., into larger quarters in Wilton.

She would rather give all businesses a break in taxes and regulations.

One idea she said deserved attention was that of tax-free zones for new businesses raised by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “That should be studied,” she said. “We absolutely should be doing that.”

Ms. Boucher is also in favor of moving behavioral health services to the private sector. When asked if that would be helpful given the concern over mental health services following the Sandy Hook tragedy, she said, “It has to help. We’ve closed down hospitals and the patients were dispersed with no oversight. This is a severe crisis.”

There are hospitals willing to step in, she added.

Transportation is another big issue. The state’s contract with Metro-North comes up for renewal in 2015 and she supports putting Connecticut’s commuter rail service out to bid.

“Other vendors can run the trains,” she said.

On the education front, a perennial concern of Ms. Boucher’s, she said double-digit increases in tuition are making higher education less accessible.

She would also like students who are planning to become teachers to get prep courses as freshmen, instead of waiting later in their college careers.

“They need to get experience on the ground early,” she said.

Ms. Boucher championed making it possible for students to graduate from high school in three years, and she would also like to see juniors and seniors encouraged to take college classes while still in high school.

Too often, she said, talented students “are left to flourish on their own,” which can end up dampening their growth rather than encouraging it.

Spending cuts

When asked about spending cuts, Ms. Boucher said she would start by eliminating the income tax credit put in place in 2011.

“A governor might have to go back to the bargaining table,” she said, referring to state employee contracts. Two areas she specified were fringe benefits and the age of retirement.

The health care plan for state employees, she said, allows for $5 co-pays for prescriptions and $15 co-pays for doctor visits.

Noting that nearly all the declared and non-declared candidates are from Fairfield County, Ms. Boucher said she has stressed how she is different.

“I am not the same,” she said, explaining that she has worked in large and small businesses over 30 years and now is with an investment firm. She holds a master’s in business administration and a brokerage certificate.

She has served in local government on Wilton’s Board of Education and Board of Selectmen. She was on the state Board of Education and has served in the state House 12 years and the Senate five years.

“I’ve negotiated union contracts. … I know how to work in government.

“I am an immigrant. I came to this country when I was 5, to Naugatuck, as blue collar as you can get.”

Citing strong family values growing up, she said education was a priority every day. “That speaks to the people of Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, and Norwalk,” she said. “I feel I can bridge the gap — instead of class warfare we need class unity.”

In her last election, Ms. Boucher won in each of the seven towns that make up the 26th District — Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton — four of which lean Democratic.

“At the end of the day,” she said, the Republican Party will need “someone who can win. This state is very blue.”