Laura Devlin is running for Lieutenant Governor on the Republican ticket with gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski. She has served as the State Representative for the 134th District – which includes Fairfield and Trumbull – for eight years.
Devlin said she was chosen at Stefanowski’s running mate in part because of her legislative experience, which she said makes her a good fit for the role. Devlin said that a Stefanowski administration would target affordability by lowering the state sales tax to 5.99% and institute a property tax reduction of up to $10,000. Further steps to lower utility cost, Devlin said, would in part be addressed by restructuring the state regulatory authority, PURA, and eliminating the minimum guaranteed return for utility companies.
Devlin also emphasized local control of zoning of education.
Devlin and her husband, Phil Harkawik, have lived in Fairfield for 32 years and have a son, 30, and a daughter, 28, as well as two rescue dogs. She is also beekeeper and Devlin said she has “probably 40,000 bees.”
Incumbent Democratic Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz was not available for a number opportunities for a similar interview.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CTEx: What is motivating you to run for Lt. Governor?
DEVLIN: When I first ran for the 134th seat, to be honest, I had never stepped foot in the Capitol. I wasn’t exactly sure what a state rep. did, but I knew we had a problem in our state. I felt that fiscally the mismanagement was high and maybe I could make a difference.
I learned two rules when I entered the legislature. One was your word is your bond, and the second is that it’s a relationship business and I’ve tried to hold on to that through my time serving.
I guess if I have any claim to fame or notoriety in terms of accomplishments, besides the bipartisan budget that we passed in 2017, it’s my efforts along with my partner at the time, State Sen. Henri Martin, to fight Governor Lamont on what was then his top priority, which would have made Connecticut the most highly, densely tolled state in the entire nation.
I thought, as did Henry and our leadership, that that was just bad policy for our state. We knew that we had to do something different to fight against it because we’re in a minority. If we did business as usual, it just would have gone through. I actually quit my paid job in order to give everything I had to fighting against this.
Henri and I made ourselves available. We did over 20 forums, we put together a presentation and had it vetted through OFA, OLR – our key nonpartisan offices. We said that the only way we’re going to win is if we inform people about what’s going on here… We took the message out to the people and said, ‘Listen, you go tell your legislators what you want them to do – either vote yes or no.’ And overwhelmingly it was a no because it never came for a vote.
There’s that joke that when your kids are out of high school, you move out of Connecticut – honestly, I don’t think it’s very funny. My husband and I, like many, many people in this state, have gone through the list of all the places you’re supposed to move and we don’t know anyone there, we don’t want to go there. We truly are committed to staying in Connecticut and I’m gonna fight like hell to make sure you don’t have to spend most of your life here and get forced out.
CTEx: How do you see the Governor’s race?
DEVLIN: This is a winnable race for us and the Governor knows it… All of [Lamont’s] efforts are directed towards misrepresenting Bob’s position and my position on a woman’s right to choose and women’s reproductive health, which is an important issue – but he can’t talk about the economy and he can’t talk about public safety because both have been failing because of his lack of leadership.
CTEx: How are Lamont’s ads misrepresenting Stefanowski’s view of a woman’s right to choose?
DEVLIN: They are trying to create unfounded fear that we would change the laws in the state of Connecticut. I don’t know how many times we have to say it, how many ways we have to say it – Roe v. Wade is codified in Connecticut state law and we would not change that law.
CTEx: Inflation is a statewide problem, but it’s also national and global. What policies would you put in place that would help Connecticut residents with affordability?
DEVLIN: I want to back up there for a minute, because you are right – there’s lots of different factors that are involved. But, Governor Lamont has done absolutely nothing to make it less expensive to live here, and has added to the burden of inflation that we’re seeing. What he likes to talk about is the fact that, ‘oh, we have a surplus,’ and he’s doing a great job, and he’s making pension payments.
But if you go back to 2017, and that’s when we had balance in the legislature, I think for the first time ever. Because even though we’ve had two Republican governors, the state’s been under Democrat rule for five decades, and those two governors had super majorities in the legislature, so anything they would do, the legislature would overturn it. We had balance for the first time in 2017 and we’re the only minority party who passed a budget. Of course, Governor Malloy vetoed it, and then we came together and had a bipartisan budget.
Our demand was that these fiscal reforms that were the cornerstone of our budget stay in place – it created the spending cap, the bonding cap, and it has ultimately resulted in having a rainy day fund and the requirement that you pay off pensions. Governor Lamont has also actually increased our long-term liabilities more than the payments that he’s made through restructuring of liabilities that push it off on another generation.
The reason I take you through that is that there are fiscal reforms that have gotten our state on more solid footing that the governor is benefiting from and is trying to take credit for, but the policies that I’m going to share, in terms of our Connecticut First first program, in no way shape or form would we jeopardize what we worked so hard to put into place in 2017.
We’ve gotten a lot of money from the federal government and some of that has been used for operating costs. Some of it is funding programs that are not going to be sustainable because that money is going to run out …. Part of why we put these reforms in is a lot of money would come in through capital gains and then it would just get blown, so you get a windfall and it would just get spent.
In terms of relief, CT FIRST – Fight Inflation and Reduce State Taxes – has several different components which both address residents and businesses in the state. It includes reducing the state sales tax to 5.99%.
When Governor Lamont came into office, he increased taxes by almost $2 billion [including] an extra 1% on prepared foods and meals. He also put in place a highway use tax – which I consider his revenge against losing tolls – but is going to make the cost of everything more expensive in the state, and goes into effect January 1. We would not put that into place.
We also collect over 340 taxes in the state of Connecticut … So there’s like 200 at the bottom that contribute less than a quarter of a percent to our revenue, but they cost more to collect than they bring in, but they also just make it more difficult, more complicated. So why not simplify?
A significant piece would be to provide a Connecticut SALT [State and Local Tax] deduction of up to $10,000 of property tax against [an individual’s] state income. We know property taxes are really significant in the state – I think we have the second highest in the nation – and you can’t tackle it in a way that would hurt our municipalities who depend on that revenue. So many times false promises have been made – the last sales tax increase was done as a promise that would go back to municipalities, but it never did. So this keeps them whole.
We have three different fuel taxes and one is extended to just after the election – surprisingly – that’s the 25 cents on motor fuel, which we would extend to the end of 2023. We would also repeal the diesel tax until the end of 2023. And we would suspend the petroleum gross excise tax through the end of 2023.
Our annual cost for much of this would be about $791 million. And we have a one-time cost of $175 million that would also include paying off the unemployment compensation fund.
The foundation of what we are proposing is real, sustainable relief. Not draining the rainy day fund, not being irresponsible – maintaining the fiscal structure that we have in place and providing immediate and long term relief. These are just the first things that we’re confident that we could do. There’s other things that we’ve talked about – Bob talks about the corruption tax, the hundreds of millions in school construction, the overrun at the state pier, that state taxpayers are gonna end up on the hook for.
CTEx: The SALT deduction of up to $10,000 of property taxes would be for homeowners. What relief would renters receive?
DEVLIN: Good question and I need to clarify, which I’m happy to do and I can get back to you, because that would really just be for homeowners, so it wouldn’t provide relief for renters. I’d have to validate that, but it’s not going to include apartments or anything like that. They would get relief from just the overall general cost of living and our efforts to also address utility costs in Connecticut by taking a new approach with PURA.
CTEx: What would your new approach to PURA entail?
DEVLIN: There’s a few things to that. One is we would separate PURA from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection – it would be a standalone agency. We would also revisit the membership of PURA – right now it is all government appointees, but we would ensure that there are consumer representatives, and create a new independent board and charge them with focusing on affordability, accountability and safety, and eliminate the minimum guaranteed return for utility companies.
People are afraid and rightly so. Whether it’s the cost of groceries, the cost of gas, the cost to heat our homes, people legitimately are making decisions between filling their prescriptions, heating their home, buying groceries. This isn’t right. We can make it better and we will make it better.
CTEx: How do you envision your role as lieutenant governor?
Bob and I are a great team, and I have never been one to be shy to share my point of view. We have developed a really good sort of rapport talking about issues and where we might agree or might disagree, and finding compromise and working together.
I just share that because what he’s really looking for, and why he said that he had selected me is certainly my legislative experience. I have a reputation for sticking to my word, having a level of integrity that also helps build trust.
He’s looking for someone who will help listen to the people in the state and won’t be afraid to take action. Part of the role is presiding over the Senate, but he’s also looking for someone to help in terms of being a partner in policy making and then help get that policy through the legislature.
CTEx: How would you and Bob Stefanowski approach affordable housing issues in the state?
DEVLIN: We firmly believe in local control of zoning. What has been coming out of Hartford is one size fits all. One of the economic advantages of our state is the uniqueness of our 169 towns and communities.
In the community of Fairfield, where I live, what finally got people’s attention to the way this 8-30g zoning law works is a gray cinder block building that was built smack in the middle of our colonial downtown… The developer didn’t even have the respect for the community to try to make it look like it fits in. The problem with the 8-30g law is that it gives the developers far too much leniency to basically bypass local zoning laws.
This one state statute has not contributed meaningfully to affordable housing. It puts at risk probably the single biggest asset that homeowners have – someone could buy the house next to you and put up an apartment building. We need to move forward with affordable housing. So whether it’s amend 8-30g or just get rid of it and start over, it’s sort of the same – but we’re not saying repeal it and have nothing.
CTEx: What are your thoughts on public safety?
DEVLIN: Crime statistics came out and the Governor and other Democrat leaders talked about Republicans just fear mongering that crime stats are down. But I can tell you, nobody feels safer. Whether you feel it, see it or hear it, there is a growing sense of lawlessness in this state and we are committed to addressing it.
We have a very common sense approach – ultimately we’ve got to stop glorifying criminals, we’ve got to stop villainizing the police and ignoring victims. These officers, men and women, go to work every single day and put their lives on the line for us.
Our plan that we’ve unveiled is called CT Safe – it centers on three core [tenets]: restore qualified immunity, revisit the standards and use of force, and reinstate consent searches.
In those consent searches, they have found so many illegal guns, drugs – it really made a difference.
These policies would enable our police department to refill their ranks. Virtually every police department in the state is down significantly. The state police are down hundreds. We also need to enforce the laws that we have, and consequences are a really important part of having a healthy and meaningful criminal justice system. If you talk to the officers in the field, we are not doing the right thing. We’ve basically handcuffed their ability to do their job.
CTEx: Where do you stand on the cannabis bill? Do you think it’s adequate the way it’s written and does it address social equity concerns?
DEVLIN: I voted against that bill. It was another bill that was rushed, that some legislators didn’t even know what was actually in it. I don’t see that [Bob and I] are necessarily changing the bill.
I don’t think that was the right signal to send. That bill was passed for revenues – and legalizing marijuana and legalizing online gambling were priorities that apparently the Governor felt were important.
CTEx: What are your priorities for education in Connecticut?
We did roll out a Parent Bill of Rights and that has a few components to it, and one is certainly empowering parents and getting the government out of the way. We believe that some of the discussions that are happening in schools that parents were not aware of should be done at the kitchen table and not in the classroom. We’ve got to promote diversity and we’ve got to promote acceptance. But listen, if a kid can’t tie their own shoes in kindergarten, we shouldn’t be talking about sex ed in the classroom – that belongs at home. And also ensuring that parents have the decision over health care decisions for their children – that should be the choice of the parents.
We saw a big outcry about a year ago for mask choice for parents and parents were villainized by the Democratic leaders in Hartford and made fun of. I have never received so many emails on one topic in my eight years in the legislature, which were parents and teachers pleading for the ability to let it be a parent’s choice if their kid should wear a mask.
I spent over 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry for one of the companies involved in the vaccines. And I lean towards medicines, I lean towards vaccines, I’m vaccinated and boosted, my kids are, my husband is – but it’s got to be somebody’s choice.
We have a quality education piece which allows school choice. Bob and I ran into a guy in Bushnell Park [who] told us the percent of kids at reading level was in single digits. I was flabbergasted – I don’t know why people aren’t screaming from the rooftops. That is so unacceptable.
Yet, you have leaders that send their kids to private schools. We’re not saying ignore our public schools by any means, but a parent shouldn’t be trapped sending their kids to a school that’s failing because of their zip code. Money following the child is an important concept we absolutely have to look at.
We’ve also included a healthy school piece. We’ve done some things in the legislature over time that provide greater security of our schools, particularly after Sandy Hook. We’ve also done some things in light of COVID to provide more access and support for upgrading HVAC. Bob feels really strongly that we’ve got to ensure that every school is as safe as it can be.
The final piece of our plan – and I’ve heard it misconstrued sometimes because it can be a bit controversial – does include a provision of not allowing transgender biological males to compete against biological females in high school sports. That is a safety and a fairness component. For these kids, if sports is their thing, they need an area to be able to compete. But there are Title Nine protections that have been provided to girls and to women and we are committed to ensuring that those stay in place. Sometimes that gets misconstrued and sort of slanted in a different way, which isn’t at all our intent.
CTEx: Is there anything else that you would like to tell our readers?
DEVLIN: We are truly in this to make our state more affordable, to make our state safer. We’ve had people come into our state that have left the city, but a lot of people that have been in Connecticut a long time are looking elsewhere to move just because it can be hard to live here. We’re really committed to having an administration that is focused on working for the people of Connecticut’s and bringing common sense change.