Herbst backs gun owners, Trump at GOP debate

Tim Herbst — timforconnecticut.com photo
Tim Herbst — timforconnecticut.com photo

Former First Selectman Tim Herbst flexed his conservative bona fides last week at the Republican candidates primary debate at Mohegan Sun. The debate, hosted by Lee Elci, featured more agreement than debate among the participants, but there were occasional fireworks, particularly over which candidates were true Republicans, and Herbst’s fiscal record as Trumbull first selectman.

In his 90-second opening statement Herbst once again positioned himself as a Hartford outsider and proven reformer, touting the town’s grand list, school system, and pension plan reform. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, occupying the center podium as the party-backed candidate, also cited his track record leading one of Connecticut’s largest cities, vowing to turn Connecticut red.

“Just like I did in Danbury, a blue city with a 3-1 Democrat to Republican registration and made it a red city for the past 20 years,” he said.

The debate format gave each of the five candidates 12 minutes of speaking time. Elci opened the questions “with a bang” asking Herbst his interpretation of the Second Amendment, and asking “would you ever consider signing legislation that would implement more gun control.”

In his answer, Herbst vowed to defend “the 300,000 people in this state that lawfully have a license to carry a firearm.” Herbst also pointed out that the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, a gun owners group that claims about 30,000 members, endorsed his candidacy. He further drew cheers with promises to crack down on sanctuary cities, re-introduce the death penalty and repeal early prison release programs. Other candidates, led by Steve Obsitnik, followed suit with Bob Stefanowski accusing Gov. Dannel Malloy of persecuting lawful citizens “who have done absolutely nothing wrong.”

Elci, in a question directed at Obsitnik, asked the candidates to point to specific differences between them.

Obsitnik, a U.S. Navy veteran and tech company entrepreneur, differentiated himself by defining his career as one of being a “maker,” in contrast to the other candidates whom he labeled career politicians and wealthy finance billionaires.

“I’m a job maker,” he said. “I’m the only one that builds products.”

Stemerman pointed out that he is the only candidate that has been credited by the Hartford Courant has having a detailed plan. The others, he said, had provided only slogans.

Herbst said he was the only candidate on stage that voters could trust to govern as a Republican. He also criticized Stefanowski, without mentioning his name, for his political donations to Barack Obama and Chris Dodd, for changing his political party affiliations and for not having voted in 16 years.

Stefanowski fought back, saying “Timmy, when you criticize someone, you may give them the courtesy of using their name” before pointing out that he had spent a decade overseas.

“I didn’t vote, I should have. I wish it were different,” he said before attacking Herbst as the kind of politician that voters were tired of. He also criticized Herbst’s claims of lowering taxes twice.

“What you fail to mention is that you raised taxes eight times, and that over the course of your tenure, taxes went up 38%,” he said.

Herbst doubled down on his criticism of Stefanowski’s voting record, saying that he personally knew friends from high school and college, one of whom was serving in Fallujah during the surge, “and he found time to vote by absentee ballot, and you know what, Bob, you can bet that he’ll be voting August 14 in this primary.”

Lighter debate moments included Elci asking candidates “Red Sox or Yankees?” to which Herbst declared Yankees to Stemerman and Boughton’s Red Sox (Obsitnik said Mets, Stefanowski said New York Giants.”) Herbst also said he would bring the Dave Matthews Band’s album “Under the Table and Dreaming” with him if he were stranded on a desert island, a clear break from the others who favored The Beatles, The Eagles and the Rolling Stones. He also was the only candidate who admitted to not having a pet, but cited “the beautiful bobcat that’s been living in my backyard.”

All five candidates also gave President Donald Trump an “A” for his job performance so far.

In his closing statement, Herbst for the third time of the evening, stressed his trustworthiness as a Republican.

“The next governor needs to understand that political correctness is now over,” he said. “I am a fighter, and Connecticut needs a fighter.”