It can be tough to get lots of voters whipped up about a campaign to determine the state’s next top bookkeeper. But this year’s race for comptroller offers more interest than you might expect.
You’ve got a Green Party candidate, Rolf Maurer, whose top priority is “transitioning to a hemp-based economic infrastructure,” which isn’t about marijuana. Maurer is also proposing a state-owned bank to avoid Wall Street entanglements, and calls himself a write-in candidate for state treasurer.
The Republican hopeful, political neophyte Sharon McLaughlin, said she was worried about “stepping seriously outside my comfort zone.” McLaughlin finally decided she could do some good for taxpayers by cutting waste if she could get elected and just “really dig” through the state’s account books.
The Democratic incumbent, Kevin Lembo, was once commissioned a “Kentucky Colonel” by the governor of the Blue Grass State. (It had to do with Lembo’s charity work on foster and adoptive care.) Lembo is seeking his second term as comptroller, and has used his office to push for health care reforms and more transparency in government.
He’s also Connecticut’s first openly gay statewide official, and has an apparently insurmountable advantage in campaign funding against his opponents.
Lembo has qualified for more than $800,000 in public campaign financing. To get that money under Connecticut’s system, he had to raise $75,000 in small contributions. Lembo’s campaign cash has already produced one round of TV ads that began showing last week.
McLaughlin admits that she couldn’t even come close to qualifying for the public financing and doesn’t know how much she’ll be able to raise beyond the $2,700 she had collected in July. Maurer didn’t bother to try for public money — he told state election officials that he’s not planning on raising or spending more than $1,000 on his campaign.
Money isn’t everything in politics, but McLaughlin knows that it counts for a lot in a campaign in which the financing is so lopsided.
“It’s absolutely a David vs. Goliath type of race,” she said in a recent interview. “I definitely am at a huge disadvantage.” She also insisted that voter unhappiness gives her a chance for an upset.
She is taking heart from a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, which is generally considered to be a Democratic-leaning operation, that found Lembo with only a 38 percent to 33 percent lead against McLaughlin. The poll indicated that 12 percent of those likely Connecticut voters surveyed would support Maurer — a surprising number for a minor-party candidate.
“I do believe people are fed up with the fiscal policies of this state. … People are frustrated with the direction we’re heading,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, 57, currently serves as treasurer of the Ellington Congregational Church. She is a widow and has a master’s degree in accounting, and her work experience includes 15 years for Entex/Siemens.
She waited a long time to get into the GOP race for the comptroller’s nomination, and finally clinched it with a convincing victory in an August primary against challenger Angel Cadena of Shelton.
If elected, McLaughlin said she is confident. “I can identify areas … where we can save money.” She wants to work more closely with state auditors, tighten up the state’s internal controls over spending, and believes that it “sets a tone for all the people of the state when they know someone is watching.”
Lembo, 51, said he considers the job of comptroller to be the “fiscal guardian” of state government and believes that “taxpayers are rightly concerned” about how their money is being handled.
“I’ve tried over the last four years to be a straight shooter and call the balls and the strikes as I see them,” Lembo said. He cites his creation of a new “Open Connecticut” online website for all of the state’s financial information, part of what Lembo said is his ongoing effort to increase state government transparency.
Lembo won his first term as comptroller with 53.8 percent of the vote in his 2010 race against Republican Jack Orchulli. A resident of Guilford, Lembo has a master’s degree in public administration, and served as Connecticut’s first state health care advocate. He and his spouse, Charles Frey, have three children.
The massive campaign financing edge that he has over his rivals isn’t the result of anything unfair on his part, Lembo said. “Having the resources to run a campaign for comptroller certainly gives me an advantage,” he said, adding that all the candidates had an opportunity to qualify for similar taxpayer funding.
Connecticut’s law requires that a candidate raise a certain amount of private money to qualify for public campaign money — to demonstrate that he or she “has enough broad-based support to warrant public financing,” Lembo said.
Lembo rejects Republican criticism that he is part of an overall problem of government overspending in Connecticut. He said his job as an elected official is to “deliver government services in a way that’s most effective and efficient. … And I’ve tried to do that in the past four years.”
Maurer is not an easily discouraged individual. This is his sixth run as a minor-party candidate. Asked why he keeps on in the face of defeat, Maurer said: “You don’t know, so you keep trying.”
He said his candidacy is about offering ideas and getting people to talk about alternative ways of doing things. Maurer points to his “hemp-based economy” as an example, explaining that this marijuana-plant relative has about 25,000 industrial uses and can be used for everything from fuel to plastics to milk.
“All types of products can be produced on a decentralized basis,” he said.
Maurer also says that creating a state bank, as already has been done in North Dakota, would offer Connecticut government and residents a way to avoid the pitfalls of Wall Street, increase returns on state investments and help keep money in this state.
A co-chairman of Connecticut’s Green Party, Maurer has a master’s degree in communication and has worked for eight years in trade and directory publishing.
Copyright © 2014, Hartford Courant
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