HARTFORD — Democrat Ned Lamont was sworn in as the 89th governor of Connecticut on Wednesday, pledging to be a "straighter shooter, an honest broker and a good listener" who will not allow the state's budget challenges to define the next four years.
The 65-year-old former businessman delivered a message of optimism at both his inaugural ceremony and his State of the State Address to a joint session of the General Assembly, saying the change in leadership at the Capitol marks a fresh start for Connecticut.
"What I love about America is that in every generation we get a chance to reinvent ourselves, and every election gives us a fresh start," he told lawmakers. "This is our chance to reinvent Connecticut, to think big and act boldly."
Lamont pledged to legislators that he will present them a state budget proposal next month that's balanced "not just for a year, but for the foreseeable future," noting he comes from a world where "the numbers have to add up at the end of the month or the lights go out." Lamont founded a cable television company that provided satellite and telecommunications services to colleges. He now faces the prospect of having to cover a projected deficit that's roughly $2 billion, beginning July 1.
"Let's fix this damn budget, once and for all," he said, promising he won't play "the blame game" when it comes to Connecticut's fiscal woes. "It's real, it's here and it's time to confront it head on."
At the same time, Lamont offered a preview of some legislative priorities for the next five months. The list includes:
— An eventual $15 an hour minimum wage.
— Greater investment in urban centers to attract young people.
— Making state government "all-digital" and encouraging WiFi access in every rural town.
— A 30-minute commute between Hartford and New Haven; New Haven and Stamford; and Stamford and Manhattan.
— A paid-family medical leave system.
— Aligning the state's education system with the needs of a 21st century workforce.
— Improving efficiency and cooperation in state and local government.
His message was embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven said there was nothing he heard in Lamont's speech that will be a "nonstarter" for Republicans, who now hold a smaller minority in the General Assembly after the November election. He said he's optimistic that Lamont will be both collaborative and fiscally responsible, given his business background.
"Any time you have a person who is coming in who looks at the world a little bit differently ... in a more inclusive atmosphere, it's better for government," Fasano said.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R- Derby, said she liked a lot of what she heard from the new governor. But she noted how the GOP was optimistic when outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was first elected. The two sides ultimately clashed.
"We have to make sure we give everybody a chance. I take people at their word until I don't," she said. "I do believe that with his financial background, he has a better understanding of where we are and how to fix it."
But Klarides said she's concerned about the large number of Democrats who call themselves progressives.
"So, I think it's going to be very difficult for him to do the things that he thinks are what he calls hard choices and hard decisions when I don't see them doing that," she said.
Democratic Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, who praised Lamont's optimistic outlook, tried to dismiss any Republican concerns about the challenge of reaching agreement with so many left-leaning members. He said the goal for everyone is to do what's best for the state of Connecticut as a whole.
"It's all about compromise," he said. "We see (Washington) D.C. right now. There's a bunch of political leaders from our president on down that aren't willing to compromise. That's not going to be us here in Connecticut."
Besides Lamont and state lawmakers, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Attorney General William Tong, Treasurer Shawn Wooden, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Comptroller Kevin Lembo, all Democrats, were also sworn into office Wednesday.