Amid protest plans, conservative Nebraska governor cancels plans to stump for Stefanowksi

Republican candidate for governor Bob Stefanowski speaks after receiving his party's endorsement at the State Republican Convention, May 6, 2022, in Mashantucket, Conn.

Republican candidate for governor Bob Stefanowski speaks after receiving his party's endorsement at the State Republican Convention, May 6, 2022, in Mashantucket, Conn.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, an ardent critic of efforts to impose tougher gun controls following recent mass shootings, canceled a planned trip to Connecticut this week to stump for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski due to a scheduling conflict, the latter’s campaign said on Monday.

Democrats already announced plans to protest Ricketts’ appearance at a Tuesday night fundraiser in Canton on over the governor’s public stances in opposition to gun control and abortion rights.

The two-term governor was also scheduled to appear at a breakfast fundraiser for Stefanowski in Hartford on Wednesday morning hosted by the Republican Governors Association, of which Ricketts serves as the co-chairman.

Liz Kurantowicz, a spokeswoman for Stefanowski’s campaign, said on Monday afternoon however that a “schedule change” had prompted Ricketts to cancel his trip. She said there were no plans to reschedule his appearance.

A spokesman for Ricketts’ office in Nebraska did not respond to questions about the governor’s schedule.

Stefanowski, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, has faced repeated attacks from Democrats and Gov. Ned Lamont over his association with Republicans such as Ricketts, whose conservative positions on issues like guns and abortion contrast with Stefanowski’s moderate approach toward social issues and focus on an economic message, in particular hammering Lamont over inflation and rising gas prices.

Lamont’s campaign has sought to undercut Stefanowski’s moderate image in recent weeks, accusing Stefanowski of flip-flopping on stances he took four years ago and relying on the support of “extremist allies” in the national conservative movement.

The news of Ricketts canceling his planned visit to Connecticut prompted a similar line of attack from the Lamont campaign on Monday.

“After refusing to release his consulting clients and his 2018 NRA questionnaire, this is just the latest attempt from Bob to conceal his actual positions from the voters of Connecticut,” Lamont campaign spokesman Jake Lewis said in a statement. “However Bob’s record speaks for itself: from supporting Trump and Trump’s justices that are on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade, to his promise to ‘veto any legislation that makes it tougher on gun owners.’ The simple truth remains that Bob is too extreme for Connecticut.”

Local Democrats, who helped organize the protest against Ricketts’ appearance in Canton, also questioned the rationale behind the change in plans.

Katie Kenney, the chair of the Democratic Town Committee in Canton, said she was surprised at first when she heard of Ricketts’ plans to visit the town, which went solidly for Democratic President Joe Biden in the most recent presidential election. Stefanowski won the town more narrowly in 2018, when he surpassed Lamont by about 5 percentage points.

“In many cases the Republican Party in Connecticut has tried to present themselves as more moderate than that, so I was surprised that they would want to associate themselves with someone with such extreme positions,” Kenney said.

In response to Lamont’s comments on Monday, accusing the governor of seeking to distract voters from issues such as the mounting cost of living and an FBI probe into a former official in charge of overseeing school construction grants. She did say whether either fundraiser would continue to take place without Ricketts.

“While residents suffer at the hands of the Biden/Lamont inflation, Ned Lamont will continue to do anything he can to distract people from his high tax policies and corruption scandals that make every day harder in Connecticut,” Kurantowicz said. “Bob has a plan to immediately tackle inflation, make Connecticut more affordable and state government more accountable so these kinds of scandals don’t continue to plague our state.”

Tuesday night’s fundraiser was set to be hosted by former Hartford Life International CEO Greg Boyko at his farm in Canton. When reached for comment on Monday prior to the news that Ricketts had canceled the trip, Boyko declined to comment on Ricketts’ views about gun control or the protest that Democrats planned to hold at an elementary school down the street.

“I’m just doing this to help my friend Bob Stefanowski get elected,” Boyko said.

Boyko could not be reached again for comment later Monday afternoon. Kenney said she and other local Democrats were still planning on holding the protest starting around 5:30 p.m.