Herbst heads to GOP convention, feeling 'cautiously optimistic'

Balancing town commitments while campaigning for state office has made for an especially busy last few months for First Selectman Timothy Herbst. After working his normal hours at Town Hall each day, Herbst said, he gets in his car and drives around the state. He estimates he’s visited roughly 60 Connecticut Republican town committees and committee members and called more than 1,000 delegates, all in preparation for this weekend.

Herbst is seeking his party’s nomination for state treasurer this Saturday, during the Connecticut GOP Convention at Mohegan Sun. Trumbull’s first selectman, who was elected to his third term in November, said he is feeling “cautiously optimistic.”

His opponent for the nomination is Ridgefield resident Bob Eick, a partner in CRT Capital Group. Herbst and Eick are both vying for the nomination to go up against 16-year incumbent state Treasurer Denise Nappier. There has been no shortage of jabs thrown between the two GOP candidates leading up to this weekend. Herbst most recently criticized Eick in a Hartford Courant article for working as an executive for a company in 2007, now RBS Securities Inc., that federal regulators said misled investors with a product tied to subprime mortgages. Eick, for his part, has criticized Herbst as a career politician and for Trumbull’s pension woes.

“Every decision I have made has been subject to public scrutiny,” Herbst told The Times this week. “Every decision he has made has been behind closed corporate doors.”

Herbst said the state needs a “career reformer,” not a career politician, and his record in Trumbull shows that he is a reformer, citing his work in collective bargaining negotiations and addressing the underfunded pension. He also cited his work with pensions as helping to get Trumbull’s credit rating upgraded, allowing the town to get better interest rates on bonds.

The first selectman said he has similar plans for Hartford.

“Our pension is ranked 49 out of 50,” Herbst said of the state. “When you are in a hole that deep, you can’t invest your way out. You need to take a holistic approach.”

Herbst said that, if elected, he would set an example by opting out of the state pension and entering a defined contribution plan, as he did when elected as first selectman. He would work to get new state hires to do the same.

“We need to honor the commitments we made and start implementing long-term reforms,” he said.

The first selectman has asked that the Trumbull Town Charter be reopened, and for language to be added that requires the town to fund its pension at the actuarially recommended contribution, or the ARC, amount. He said he would work to get similar requirements passed in Hartford.

In his opinion, the office of state treasurer is the second most important in the state and needs to be more visible. Much depends on the proper handling of the state’s assets, and when the state can improve its standing that means better interest rates when it comes to borrowing money for projects like infrastructure repairs.

“There is a reason the latest Gallup poll shows 50% of Connecticut residents would leave if they could, and that’s high taxes,” Herbst said. “What’s driving those taxes is having to pay our bills. An underperforming pension fund leads to more debt.”

Herbst has received several endorsements from fellow municipal leaders all around the state, including New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.

He has also been raising funds to qualify for public financing for the primary and general election. He said his campaign is close to the $75,000, raised in increments of $100 or less, needed to qualify.

The vote for the state treasurer nomination will be Saturday. Herbst said his campaigning experience has been “humbling” and he is surprised to see that people around the state have heard of his work in Trumbull.

“I never expected to be elected first selectman when I was,” he said. “If you told me five years later I would be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed it.”