Malloy, Foley Spar in First Conn. Governor Debate of 2014

The first debate between Connecticut’s two major party candidates for governor produced few surprises, as Tom Foley and Dannel Malloy tackled recurring issues, including gun control and economic development.

Norwich Free Academy was the setting for what will be the first of several debates between these two, staging a rematch of their bout four years ago. While some things remain the same, some have changed, notably Connecticut’s new gun law, which Governor Malloy passed in the wake of the Newtown shooting.

“Since we passed that legislation,” said Malloy, “we have stopped over 200 people from buying guns. Some of those individuals had mental illness, some of those people had recent — this is unbelievable — they had recent domestic orders against them, and they were trying to buy a gun.”

Foley has not previously said he would actively seek a repeal of the law, but now, with independent challenger Joe Visconti courting the gun lobby, he got closer to that position, saying he would attempt to shield people who have failed to register their weapons.

“Law-abiding citizens bought something perfectly legally, and you say: if you don’t do something within two or three months, you’re going to be a felon?” he said. “Governor, what were you thinking? Absolutely, that aspect of the law, I would change.”

Education has been a battleground for Malloy during his first term, with controversial school reforms and a contentious fight with teachers. He was asked by moderator Ray Hackett of The Norwich Bulletin about that episode. “Your education reform has had some pushback,” said Hackett. “How much of that do you attribute to your remark about teacher tenure, that they only have to show up?”

That extracted an apology from Malloy. “Well, you know,” he said, “I probably — I should admit that that was bad language, and it wasn’t actually about them, it was about tenure…. I shouldn’t have said it. I apologize for saying that.”

Foley’s turn to face the music came with a question about his recent ill-fated trip to the site of a doomed paper mill in Sprague, an event that turned into a slanging match with union reps and local officials. Malloy took the opportunity to attack Foley’s record as a businessman, going into great detail about his time running the now failed Bibb textile company, but Foley didn’t bite.

“People are feeling a huge squeeze in this state,” Foley told the governor. “A lot of people can’t afford to live in the state anymore. Way too many people are unemployed, particularly in our cities. Why are you spending so much time looking at some deal I supposedly did in the 1990s? You must have spent hours on this.”

In interviews afterward, the two summed up their encounter very differently, with Foley saying the voters deserve a more civil and construction conversation. Malloy rated it a great discussion of conflicting visions.