Herbst, GOP candidates clash in first debate

Former First Selectman Tim Herbst was among four Republican candidates for governor to participate in Monday’s Realtor TV debate, hosted by WTNH News 8. The candidates, Herbst, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik, and former hedge fund manager David Stemmerman, found themselves in agreement for most of the debate, especially when criticizing Gov. Dannel Malloy, calling for tax reductions and opposing sanctuary cities.

Boughton, who earned the party’s nomination at the convention, advocated phasing out the state income tax as a way to stem the flow of residents leaving Connecticut in search of greener pastures.

“I bet if you did that, people would come to Connecticut,” he said. He cited the income tax as one of the major differences between the state as it is now and as it was in the 1970s and 1980s.

“This is not the Connecticut I remember, but under a Boughton administration this will be a state you’ll never forget,” he said.

Herbst promised to have a “budget repair bill” in front of the legislature within 45 days of taking office.

“We have $71 billion in unfunded pension and liabilities,” he said. “It’s crippling our budget. We have to eliminate the state tax and the Social Security tax for our seniors, and cut the corporate rates to show businesses we’re serious.”

Confronted with a question about whether they would welcome a campaign visit from President Donald Trump, Herbst and Boughton enthusiastically welcomed the idea.

“We absolutely welcome our president,” Herbst said. “Democrats want to make this election about Washington because they don’t want to talk about their eight-year record of failure. They nominated a candidate [Ned Lamont] that I call Retread Ned, that is actually to the left of Dan Malloy.”

Obsitnik, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, was more reserved, saying that as a veteran he would always support the commander-in-chief, a position he repeated several times when asked by moderators if he wanted Trump’s support.

“Donald Trump didn’t create Connecticut’s problems and he’s not going to solve our problems,” he said.

Stemmerman and expressed support for the commander-in-chief, saying he would be welcome to come to Connecticut any time he wants, but said the state’s challenges would need to be solved within Connecticut. He also made a brief diversion into talking about values.

“When we set our own values here in Connecticut, they are our own,” he said. “Our own values are reflected for me and my family, married to the same woman for 20 years. I have five children.”

All four candidates also rejected the idea of sanctuary cities, carefully expressing support for the idea of legal immigration while also embracing federal restrictions on immigration.

“I want people to come to our country legally,” Hersbt said. “I do not want criminal illegals in any one of our towns and cities that compromise the health and safety of our citizens. There have been well documented instances of criminal illegals here who have committed additional crimes because they were not properly deported or processed.”

Boughton went a little further, declaring Connecticut in essence a sanctuary state.

“The U.S. Constitution is clear, immigration policy is the purview of the federal government,” he said.

The debate ended with candidates asked to state, in one word, the most important issue in the campaign.

Stemmerman and Obsitnik answered succinctly, with “growth” and “people,” respectively. Boughton took a little liberty with answer, saying, “Jobs and the economy.” Herbst doubled up Boughton with an eight-word answer, “Pension and benefit reform to lead to growth.” As the audience chuckled he clarified.

“Hyphenated, it was hyphenated,” he said.