In CT governor debate Lamont, Stefanowski set off fireworks


UNCASVILLE — In their second and final debate, Gov. Ned Lamont, Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski and long-shot Independent Party candidate Rob Hotaling on Tuesday night argued over police accountability, an alleged rise in crime and an decrease in respect for law enforcement.

Behind in the polls by double digits, it might have been a make-of-break night for Stefanowski, a business consultant and former corporate executive who lost to Lamont by more than 44,000 votes in 2018. First focusing on the projected two-year $6 billion state budget surplus, including $4 billion in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, Stefanowski continued to proclaim that Lamont should have done more to provide tax relief beyond the $640 million approved in the budget that took effect July 1.

Lamont countered that investing more of the surplus into the state’s underfunded retirement plans for Connecticut state employees and public school teachers was the best thing financially for taxpayers who will save $430 million a year over the next decade, after state governors going back nearly 30 years spent surpluses, raised taxes and neglected the growing pension liabilities.

But debate fireworks went off before 400 people in a ballroom at the Mohegan Sun Casino when Stefanowski attempted to connect last month’s murders of two cops in Bristol to the state’s 2020 police accountability bill, which included tougher penalties for rogue cops and ended warrantless searches.

“This governor has decimated law enforcement throughout the state,” Stefanowski said during the hour-long debate co-sponsored by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and broadcast live on WTNH News 8. “The Fraternal Order of Police said it and every officer I’ve talked to, your police accountability bill has created a sense of leniency and corruption in the state of Connecticut and you need to be held accountable for it.”

After the debate, Stefanowski told reporters that he misspoke when he used the word “corruption.” He vowed to repeal the police accountability law if he wins the governor’s office. 

Hotaling pointed to a recent pro-Stefanowski mailer attacking Hotaling, charging that he supports defunding police, a common Republican talking point nationally this campaign season. “He needs to correct the record,” said Hotaling, who as a Black man born in Liberia, first on stage and then after the debate with remarks to reporters recalled an incident in which he was profiled by Bridgeport police. He described being threatened by a police officer who held his holstered gun and yelled at Hotaling during a case of mistaken identity when the Cheshire banker was living and working in Bridgeport.

“If you’ve gone through an experience like that it makes you think differently, and yet I still support the police 100 percent in getting the tools that they need to be successful,” Hotaling said. “But I also know that our communities have been disproportionately targeted and this, the bill, solves some of that. Is that the type of society you want to live in? I love police, I support police, but they need to have the proper level of accountability.”

Lamont focused on Stefanowski’s A-plus rating by the National Rifle Association during the 2018 cycle. “He won’t touch guns,” Lamont said. “We’re not serious about crimes unless we’re serious about guns.” After the debate, Lamont told reporters that he would consider pushing for legislation to totally ban military style rifles. In the 2013 gun safety law enacted after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, while the sale and possession of military style rifles was banned along with large capacity ammunition magazines, those who already owned them, could keep them if they registered the weapons.

“There’s only one person on this stage right now who’s gonna support the heck out of everyone who puts their life on the line every day,” Stefanowski said, gesturing at his opponents. “These guys are both soft on crime.”

“There’s a lot of cheap accusations that our bipartisan juvenile crime bill, that the police accountability bill had something to do with the tragic murders of two of our cops,” Lamont said. “I just think that is the cheapest grandstand you can imagine. If you want to do something serious, look that was a mad man who was drunk with a AR-style assault weapon. That’s what happened there. Get those AR-style assault weapons off the street if you want to get serious about crime.” Twitter: @KenDixonCT




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