Susan Bysiewicz hasn’t yet announced that she’s running for governor, but she has already picked up her first endorsement.
Well, tentative endorsement.
The endorsement came Monday from Democratic State Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden, one of the most outspoken left-leaning legislators in Hartford.
Elliott made the endorsement at the end of a joint interview with New Haven State Rep. Juan Candelaria on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program about their priorities for the legislative session that starts next month. They pointed to highway tolls, legalized recreational use of marijuana, and a $15 minimum wage at the top of their agenda, goals for which they said they plan to reintroduce bills this year.
Bysiewicz is the strongest advocate for those goals, and a broader progressive agenda, among the Democrats preparing to seek the 2018 gubernatorial nomination, Elliott argued.
“So we have Susan Bysiewicz, who’s going to be announcing soon. We have [2010 gubernatorial candidate] Ned Lamont, who will be announcing soon. [Hartford Mayor] Luke Bronin’s in the race. I’m sure they’’ll be all fine onthe issues that are important to me,” Elliott said. “I personally am probably going to be supporting Bysiewicz. I’ve had a relationship with her over the past year, year and a half. She’s been in there on all the issues that are important to me. I think that she will advocate in a way that the others may not.”
Elliott added that he reserves the right to change his mind later in the campaign. He ruled out supporting two other Democrats who’ve been on the hustings, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim (“His time has come and gone”) and Dita Bhargava (“You cannot coopt the term progressive because it’s expedient”).
Elliott’s support matters in part because he has played a leading role in advocating for state legislative candidates who will move the Democratic Party to left — even if that means primarying incumbents — on issues like the minimum wage, marijuana, paid family leave, support for unions, and overall seeking new revenues rather than focusing only on cuts to balance the precarious state budget. He took heat from some party leaders for polling his colleagues recently on those issues with the stated intention of supporting primaries against conservative Democrats who stray from the agenda, a position he reiterated on the “Dateline” radio interview. (Click here for a story about why New Haven Mayor Toni Harp supports Elliott’s strategy.)
Elliott rejected the argument that the party needs candidates who can appeal to centrist and conservative voters in a general election over those who can inspire the party’s progressive base to win primaries. “All you do is piss people off [when] you say one thing for the first couple of months, then something else in the general” election, he said. “Be who you are.”
Elliott supported the 2016 presidential primary campaign of socialist Bernie Sanders. That year he squared off against Bysiewicz, a Hillary Clinton backer, in a mock presidential campaign debate in Branford.
On Monday they were speaking from the same script.
In a separate conversation with the Independent, Bysiewicz offered ringing endorsements for Elliott’s top policy positions.
We need the “few billion dollars” a year that tolls would bring on interstate highways to rebuild roads and invest in mass transit, Bysiewicz argued. Like Elliott, she supported the idea of exempting residents of Connecticut communities from tolls near their homes. She said the state also needs the $50 million or so a year in taxes that would accompany legalized recreational use of marijuana; she also suggested that legalizing marijuana could lower the number of deaths from opioid overdoses, based on initial data from Colorado, where recreational pot is legal. And she backed a $15 hourly minmum wage.
If she does decide to run for governor, Bysiewicz said, a top priority would be pay equity for women, who compromise 40 percent of state families’ main breadwinners and currently early 78 cents on the dollar that men earn for comparable jobs. She argued that state government could help close the gap by requiring the release of more information about current pay discrepancies for certain jobs — while also requiring that women do not have to list their current salaries when applying for new jobs.
Bysiewicz, a former three-term secretary of the state from Middletown who is known for tireless and bare-knuckle campaigning, has had her eye on the governor’s mansion for decades. She wrote a book about the state’s first elected female governor, Ella Grasso. She launched a bid for the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, then switched to running for attorney general; she won neither nomination. She also sought, and failed to win, the 2012 Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. She currently has an “exploratory ” campaign set up to run either for the 13th State Senate District seat or for governor. She has raised enough money already to begin pursuing the latter job — $105,000 in the last two months alone, well more than needed for a State Senate race, from people in 130 different Connecticut towns. Her local supporters also engineered a coup at the Middletown Democratic Town Committee, expelling the city’s mayor, Dan Drew, who had been running for governor. (Drew has since withdrawn from the race.)
She said Monday that she will formally announce at an unspecified “soon” date whether she will indeed run for governor.
State Reps. Candelaria and Elliott have in past years sponsored and championed the bills to legalize recreational marijuana, institute tolls, and raise the minimum wage. They said Monday that they plan to reintroduce the bills this upcoming sessions.
Given the conservative drift of the legislature this past year — with enough Democrats defecting to pass a Republican, not a Democratic budget; and to weaken a law that helped get affordable housing built in the suburbs — they said they’re not optimistic about the measures passing.
That’s one reason, Elliott said, he’s working to ensure that not just all the Republicans in the legislature, but also conservative Democrats like Branford State Rep. Lonnie Reed, face opponents this year — Republicans in the general election, conservative Democrats in party primaries.
A bill to reinstitute highway tolls came within a vote of getting passed in the state House last year, they noted. And public support (at least as measured by polls) for legalizing recreational marijuana use has risen from 63 to 71 percent over six months, Elliott added. So pessimism aside, they said, it makes sense to continue pushing by forcing debate and votes on the floor. Even if they don’t win, they will have advanced the issue s and put lawmakers on the record. (At last count, 17 House Democrats opposed pot legalization, Elliott said.)
Elliott last session announced that he personally indulges in recreational pot use. Candelaria said Thursday that he does not personally smoke pot; he considers legalization a way to limit its abuse, raise needed revenue, and avoid locking up a disproportionate number of Latinos and African-Americans for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Both he and Elliott called for legalization to be accompanied by state action to help black and Latino entrepreneurs get into the marijuana distribution business,and to expunge marijuana offenses from people’s records.
Candelaria said he also intends to push this session for more support for families who have relocated to Connecticut from the island since the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Candelaria, who was born in Puerto Rico, lost an aunt in the storm.
Since the storm, he has helped raise $130,000 in emergency supplies for Puerto Rico, including mattresses, battery-operated oxygen masks, and fresh water. He plans to help deliver those supplies this coming weekend when he visits the island.
Once the session starts, he said, he plans to push for extended welfare benefits, housing support, and education aid for the families newlya rrived in the state. Some 300 families, including 180 children, have relocated to New Haven alone, he said.
Click above to watch how people in New Haven sought to pronounce Bysiewicz’s name when she pursued a run (later abandoned) for the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Correct pronunciation: BICE-uh-witz.
Click on the above audio file or Facebook Live video below to watch the full interview with State Reps. Juan Candelaria and Josh Elliott on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.”