The match not made in heaven

May 20, 2018

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the newly GOP-anointed candidate for governor of Connecticut, has come further than ever before in his quest to lead the state.

This third time could be the charm, but he needs one lucky break — the party’s choice for lieutenant governor has to lose in the August primary. State Sen. Joe Markley from Southington, who won the nomination last weekend, is far too conservative to help the ticket.

Boughton and Markley had not teamed up; each position is endorsed separately. If anything, Boughton was more likely to turn to New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart for a running mate.

When I spoke with Boughton last week and suggested Stewart would better for the ticket, he was circumspect, a party loyalist to the convention’s choice. After all, Boughton himself had been in that position, back in 2010 when he became Tom Foley’s running mate, not by any earlier alliance. We know how that turned out.

Boughton and Markley are both in their early 50s; Stewart is just 31, but the ticket balance is not about ages, though Stewart’s youthful connection is appealing.

It’s about a different set of numbers. Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in this blue state. Of Connecticut’s 2,318,251 registered voters, according to Secretary of the State official counts in November, only 481,336 were Republican compared to 848,493 Democrats and 956,463 unaffiliated; 31,959 registered with minor parties.

By the numbers, a Republican cannot win for governor without attracting unaffiliated or Democratic voters.

Boughton, with a good Danbury story to tell, could do that. But not with Markley. A registered Democrat might give the pickup-truck Republican (as Boughton likes to call himself) a chance, but would be alienated by a staunch conservative running mate.

Markley, first elected to the senate in 2010 as a Tea Party of one, has voted against gun safety — including the recent ban on bump stocks supported by other Republicans such as state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky of Newtown who co-sponsored the bill — against pay equity, against community shared solar, and against the budget last year, though ultimately he voted for it.

His voting record on these and other issues, such as against removing the death penalty, may be fine for the conservative wing of the Republican party, but not for gaining support beyond it.

Stewart could help broaden the ticket and not just by virtue of gender. She became mayor of the state’s eighth largest city when she was 26 and closed the city’s deficit while improving its bond rating; she created a task force to end homelessness and led a large solarization project on a city reservoir.

Now, I’m not endorsing Stewart nor even Boughton at this point. I’m just looking analytically at the GOP side of the race in light of last week’s convention and the match not made in heaven.

Eight years ago Boughton made his first run for governor and ended up second to Foley; they lost. Four years ago Boughton was on his way to the top of the ticket, but teamed up with Heather Somers, a former Groton town mayor and now a state senator, to combine donations and reach the public financing threshold. She ditched him at the convention.

Boughton has learned lessons, he’s more politically astute and pragmatic. He can rightfully tout Danbury’s economy, with the lowest unemployment rate in the state. But it will be hard to sell that message to those outside the party with a partner like Markley on the ticket.

Boughton has to hope Stewart wins the primary for lieutenant governor in August otherwise his third try for the top office will be quixotic.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jacqueline Smith at jsmith@hearstmediact.com or 203-731-3344.