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Governor Ned Lamont talks tolls, pizza and the character of Connecticut

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Governor Ned Lamont is photographed in his office in the Capitol Building in Hartford on September 24, 2019.

Ned Lamont was elected Connecticut’s 89th governor a year ago this month, taking office in January. We talked with him about the state’s collective pessimism and that controversial toll issue, but our most pointed question was about pizza.

It seems like Connecticut has this perception of itself that is very negative. What do you think about Connecticut being its own worst critic?

There’s a lot of truth to that. We’re quick to talk ourselves down, and sometimes that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t have rose-colored glasses. When I came into this, I knew what our $100 billion unfunded liability was. I know the fact that our fixed costs are eating up a much higher percentage of our budget than all my competitors. I know that we have to work harder to recruit young people here. I know that I’ve got to work harder to make sure good-paying jobs stay here in the state, but damn it, this is an amazing state. The quality of life is second to none. We’re in an extraordinary location — from Long Island Sound to the fields of Litchfield. We’ve got so much going for us. I want to be realistic, but I’m trying everything I can to make people optimistic about our future here. And young people are moving back. There’s a park within 15 miles of anybody anywhere in the state, a beautiful park. And if you miss the bright lights of New York City and Boston, I’m going to make it easier for you to get there. Great places to visit, wouldn’t want to live there.

What’s something maybe people don’t know about you that they would be surprised about?

Maybe I want to keep it a secret. That’s why they don’t know it.

What’s a day in the life of the governor look like?

I get up at dawn. That’s what happens at a certain age. I read everything, online and in print. Sometime around eight o’clock, I talk to senior staff, get an idea of what’s rippling out there and we go over the schedule. Usually, I’m out the door around eight, nine o’clock in the morning. I try to get out there. I try to meet people. I try to not just do official functions but a lot of unofficial things. I like going to restaurants. I like surprising people. I usually do something with the press. I want to be out there. I want people to ask me questions they’ve got. If the legislature is in session, I’m in the office. I’ve got to be there. There I’m meeting with legislators. I’m inside the capital ecosystem. Right now I’m describing when the legislature is not in session.

OK. Then what?

I get back in the late morning, maybe go have lunch with somebody related to politics or not related to politics. Again, I like to do things informally with people whenever I can. Then in the afternoon, it’s policy staff, thinking about what we’re going to be doing in the next session. What are our priorities and how do we plan for it? My philosophy in life, I like to do big things. I want to make a difference. I’ve got four years and I don’t want to leave anything on the battlefield.

Speaking of complications, one of the topics I have to ask about is tolls. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word?

Future of Connecticut. Look, it’s a really hard vote. I’ve had 15 legislators come in privately and say, “We can’t borrow our way out of this transportation crisis. You have a really good solution, but not now, it’s too early. I had a really tough race. Can we do it later? Let’s study it.” I think that’s sort of been the discussion about fixing our transportation system for a generation and that’s why it didn’t get fixed. Every day I sit down and talk to people, the business leaders, the labor guys, they know how important this is to the future of the state. Folks who are stuck in traffic on I-95 in gridlock know how important it is to speed up that traffic flow. It’s easy to be against something, so I think the naysayers are having a lot of fun being against.

My final question might be the most controversial you’ll get asked during your tenure. What’s your favorite Connecticut pizza?

I know that’s gotten politically charged. I gotta confess, I don’t want to P off New Haven, because it’s a really important voting bloc, but I can walk right down the street to Glenville Pizza, in Glenville [in Greenwich], about a mile from my house. I took the kids there for years. So memories count for a lot. 

This article appeared in the November 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.

The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University