Candidates gather at GOP opening

—Jeannette Ross photos
With 11 candidates running for office and a stand-in for one more it almost seemed like the number of politicians rivaled the number of voters attending the grand opening of Wilton Republicans’ campaign headquarters on July 30.

The command post at 24 Danbury Road included wallpaper as a commemorative sign-in sheet, two framed photos of former President Ronald Reagan, a collection of I Like Ike buttons and other GOP memorabilia, not including the “Trump” socks worn by Republican Town Committee member Ray Tobiassen.

Committee chair Bill Lalor welcomed the guests and invited each of the candidates to speak.

Mark Bouton, the party-endorsed candidate for governor who is also endorsed by the RTC, started things off. He spoke of an 18-month moment “to turn this ship around. … If we could put more money into this economy we know people will spend it in our stores, restaurants and businesses, people will come here, will want to stay here, will want to invest here, will want to expand here and we can do that by phasing out the state income tax over the next 10 years.”

Sue Hatfield, the RTC’s choice for attorney general, was next up and brought up the issue of tolls, a subject a number of candidates focused on. She said Democratic Attorney General George Jepsen referred to the recent state Bond Commission decision to commit $10 million to study electronic tolls on state highways as “a drop in the bucket.” Holding up a bucket she carried with her, she called it her “toll bucket. So it’s time we had an attorney general that has a vote on the Bond Commission with a fiscally responsible position and that is what I will bring to the Bond Commission.” The former Wall Street attorney also said she has more state courtroom experience than any other candidate.

Bob Stefanowski, another candidate for governor and former chief financial officer of UBS Investment Bank, said “we need to start running this state like a business. If you look at what Donald Trump has done for this economy in a relatively short period of time it’s a great illustration of what somebody who has common sense, who has run large organizations, who knows how to negotiate, who knows how to recut all those lousy deals that prior administrations have done … we could use some of those skill sets here in Connecticut. He is also in favor of “resizing government” and phasing out the state income tax.

Dominic Rapini, seeking to challenge Chris Murphy for the U.S. Senate, said Murphy “and all the liberals are playing checkers while Donald Trump is playing chess.” He said, “when you think about me you think about three things: I’m a technologist working for Apple more than 30 years, I’m a business person where I solve problems for Apple every day with eight or nine zeros in them and create solutions that I sell internally and externally just as you would expect from a United States senator.”

Endorsed candidate Matthew Corey is also vying for a chance to challenge Murphy for his Senate seat. Owner of a high-rise window cleaning company he said there isn’t a town or city in the state he hasn’t visited. “So unlike Senator Murphy I don’t have to walk across the state to figure out what’s wrong with the state of Connecticut and the problems we face or the country.” Claiming he works seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, he said he hires young people in the inner-city, “I understand the struggle,” he said. Murphy, he said, hasn’t “worked one day in the private sector.” A U.S. Navy veteran, he said “Senator Murphy’s been on the public dole his entire life.”

The RTC has also endorsed Thad Gray for treasurer, who spoke next. The position, he said, is important to all taxpayers. He enumerated a bail-out of Hartford signed by Treasurer Denise Nappier, a Democrat, that he linked to an ensuing downgrade of the state’s credit rating, and her abstention in the vote on the $10-million toll study. A retired chief investment officer, he said he has the experience to do the job.

Joe Markley, now a state senator from Southington, is running for lieutenant governor.  The principles of the Republican party, he said, “are the only thing that can restore our state.” He said the problems the state faces can be boiled down to two words: Dan Malloy. “We can’t change direction unless we change leadership … if we win and we can restore fiscal sanity to this state we can respect personal liberty and we can make economic opportunity … and then if the economy comes back the rest of our problems will go away.”

Also running for the nomination for lieutenant governor is Jayme Stevenson, who was represented by Susan Marks. “She’s a team player, she’s a consensus builder,” Marks said. As first selectman of Darien, “when it comes to issues she works with both sides of the aisle and she gets things done,” Marks said, adding Stevenson would support whoever won the nomination for governor.

Standing in for state Rep. Themis Klarides, the House Republican leader who could not attend, J.R. Romano, chair of the state Republican party, said “it would be a lot worse here if it were not for the deadlock in the Senate and the close margin in the House,” referring to the number of Republicans and Democrats serving in the General Assembly. He urged the party faithful to work to elect their candidates in the suburbs, which he said can be a path to victory. “It’s not the candidates who are going to save the state, it’s the people in this room,” he said.

Wrapping up the evening were comments from Wilton’s local candidates. State Sen. Toni Boucher said “our number one job is to listen to people and take their voice to Hartford. And I’ll tell you what they’re saying and it’s four words: not one more penny.” Over Malloy’s tenure the Republicans, she said, submitted 10 alternative budgets. The toll study, she said, is not needed. “I do have a very tough opponent,” she said of Democrat Will Haskell who is challenging her and who is supported by Murphy, Congressman Jim Himes, and others.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle reminded the audience “what this election is all about … [people] want their future back.” Taxes are too high, good jobs are lacking and home sales are lackluster. “We need to have a dynamic economic development policy to make sure that we attract new companies here.” Transportation is falling apart and school performances are declining, she said. The election, she said, is about giving people’s future back to them.

Just before state Rep. Tom O’Dea was to speak, gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik stopped in. Praising the efforts of Wilton’s representatives he said, “what we need is a leader in Hartford to set the right tone, to redefine the culture of Connecticut so we can change our destiny. … I may not be the smartest person in the room but I am the best leader in this room for this moment now to pull people together, give people a big bold vision to focus on, that’s why I talk about five steps to build 300,000 jobs over the next eight years.”

In cleanup position was O’Dea, an attorney, who was brief, saying, “this is the best job I’ve ever had and the hardest job I’ve ever had. … I hope you will reelect me to work hard for you the next two years.”