Guy Smith preferred to talk about how he’ll beat “career politicians” to become Connecticut’s next governor. Not what he said decades ago about Bill Clinton’s extramarital conduct or about Philip Morris’s anti-anti-smoking efforts.
Smith, a 68-year-old retired liquor distribution exec, is seeking the Democratic nomination against a field of current or former elected officials. He said he believes he’s uniquely positioned to respond to the “groan” factor in this year’s election.
“Everywhere you go in the state, when you say, ‘Hartford,’ people just groan,” Smith said during an interview on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
“I’m not a career politician. I’m not a career candidate.”
That, he said, is what people are looking for. His background as an executive at both Diageo North America — Diageo is the world’s largest liquor distributor — and the charitable group Americares, as well as time he spent advising Bill Clinton in the White House, give him the chops to tackle Connecticut’s budget and other challenges in new ways.
“I’m going to stand up to those clowns in Washington,” Smith vowed in a folksy Southern accent that he retains after 35 years living in the Nutmeg State.
Smith, the Tennessee-raised grandson of a Knoxville Journal newspaper publisher, describes himself as a “traditional” Democrat: pro-choice, pro-labor. One who won’t raise taxes under any circumstances. Rather then seek to reopen state union contracts, he said, he’d raise new revenues through electronic tolls (combined with a debit card for state residents that would allow them to claim tax credits at year’s end, so only out-of-staters end up paying) and legalized recreational marijuana (once a workable tool similar to the alcohol breathalyzer comes to market, which he estimates will happen next year). He’d also set up a state credit-backed infrastructure bank and support microloans to help small businesses grow. He’d seek to lure millennials to settle here through first-time homebuyer credits and free office space for start-up businesses.
Smith said he supports the state’s public-financing system for campaigns — which limits individual donations and bans special-interest money in return for matching grants — but isn’t participating in the system. “With the kind of economic problems the state has, the taxpayers of Connecticut don’t need to give me money to run for office,” he said.
The candidate may not be a familiar face in New Haven, but he has made the rounds of some churches with the help of his top Elm City backer, the Rev. Boise Kimber. Smith said mutual friends — Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton — encouraged him to meet with Kimber and seek his support. He called Kimber “an adviser” and “a very important component” of his campaign. (Kimber, who has been bringing Smith around town to meet politically influential people, declined to comment for this article.)
The Clintons & Philip Morris
Smith had his moment in the political spotlight in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton enlisted him to help with communications strategy during the impeachment process, when they weren’t both off relaxing at Renaissance Weekend. Smith said he has stayed close with the Clintons, doing radio appearances on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s 2018 presidential campaign.
At the time of the impeachment, the Weekly Standard magazine noted that Smith had previously done public relations for the Philip Morris company, charting strategy to combat proposed smoking restrictions.
“As an executive with the tobacco giant from 1985 to 1993, Smith was a leader in the public relations battles waged against anti-smoking advocates. Well before the president started massaging black voters and cracking open the piñata in his State of the Union address, Smith had the course plotted. Smith urged his Philip Morris colleagues to ‘emphasize that smoking restrictions ... place an extra burden on minorities and poor people,’” the magazine wrote at the time. “He advocated a campaign ‘to make Philip Morris U.S.A. leaders more visible and accessible to the public.’ And, presaging Clinton’s dependency strategy, Smith stated, ‘the job now is to ... get people ... to not only like us, but to actively support us because they feel that they need us.”
Asked this week about that article, Smith said: “I did work for Philip Morris. I worked for all the different parts of Philip Morris. I did work for the cigarette part. I did frequently talk about the effort to make smokers second-class citizens. That would have been consistent with what I said.”
During the “Dateline New Haven” interview, Smith was also asked how he views his work during the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky episode today in light of changing attitudes toward sexual misconduct by people in power. An edited excerpt of that conversation follows:
WNHH: What was your role, Guy?
Smith: I did political and communications strategy and I also did radio. I did radio shows with Rush [Limbaugh] …
What was that like? He must have said, “I’ve got this sitting duck.”
I did this for Hillary’s campaign also. I did a lot of conservative talk radio. Sometimes there were people who just wanted to scream.
How did Rush Limbaugh treat you?
It was good. We kind of laughed about it. He’s a a sponsor of a men’s prostate cancer [charity]. I’ve been involved in that.
Ollie North, who I think still has a TV show, he had a radio show. We went on. He didn’t like Bill Clinton. But he would say to his listeners, “Anybody can ask any question you want. But if you’re disrespectful, I’m gonna cut you off.” And a couple of times he did. Most people were not [disrespectful].
How do you feel in retrospect? Do you feel you were making excuses for horrible behavior? Or did you feel the Republicans were just looking for a pretext for a guy they couldn’t beat on the merits on political issues?
What I said then I will say now. What [Clinton] did then was wrong and immoral and reprehensible. But it wasn’t unconstitutional. And that was a distinction the American people saw and believed in at the time. The day he was impeached, his approval rating went up eight points.
Do you think that would be true now with the #MeToo movement? Now there’s been a reassessment by former allies about people who defended him. Especially feminists.
Well, I mean, you know, everybody’s certainly entitled to their point of view and their opinion and that sort of thing. If you did an analysis of things Abraham Lincoln said about black people in 1863 and put him him through a lens of today, he would be considered a terrible racist. And of course he was not.
But I mean you know what? What I’m here today in New Haven to talk you about is the next governor of the state of Connecticut.
But this issue is back in the news because of #MeToo.
It’s back in the news but it’s not about running for governor of Connecticut. That’s not what the people are interested in. They’re interested in how is this clown who’s talking to you right now going to fix the problems of Connecticut. I’m not going to raise taxes. I’m not going to make unions the enemy. We’re going to work together.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Smith is pro-life. He is pro-choice.)
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Guy Smith on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.”
WNHH interviews with other gubernatorial candidates:
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sean Connolly. Click here for an article about the interview.
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video to hear the full episode of “Dateline New Haven” with independent candidates Oz Griebel and Monte Frank. Click here to read a story about the interview.
Click above to hear the full WNHH interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Harris. Click here to read a story about that interview.
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for the full interview with gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about the interview.
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear the full “Dateline New Haven” interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Luke Bronin on WNHH FM, in which he also discussed, among other topics, the need for more vo-tech education and raining programs for coding and other high-tech jobs, as well as public-private job-creation partnerships. Click here to read an article about the interview.
Click on or download the above audio file or Facebook Live video below to listen to the full interview with Joe Ganim. Click here to read an article about the interview.
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for an interview with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dita Bhargava on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about the interview.Click on or download the above audio file or on the Facebook Live video to below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Handler on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program. Click here for a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Prasad Srinivasan on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about that interview.Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear a WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik. Click here to read a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to hear a previous WNHH FM “Dateline New Haven” interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Ganim. Click here for a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to a an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program; and click here to read a story about that interview.Click on or download the above audio file to hear an interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Drew; and click here to read a story about the interview.