Rod Hanscomb graduated from Stamford High School in 1985 and then left Connecticut to serve six years in the U.S. Air Force. Following his military service, he lived in Texas and then moved to Seattle, where he opened and operated an Italian food retail store and a custom houseboat-building company. When he returned to Stamford in 2014, he was confused at what transpired in his nearly three-decade absence.
“When I left Connecticut, it was pretty much on top in many ways,” he recalled. “And in coming back, I was like, ‘Jeez, what’s going on here?’ In Texas and Washington state it seems there are building cranes on every block and things are just booming. Clearly, we’ve gotten on the wrong path in this state.”
Hanscomb is eager to get the state back on what he considers to be the right path. Earlier this month, he gained access to the election ballot as the Libertarian Party candidate for Connecticut governor.
Hanscomb defined the Libertarian mantra as being “fiscal conservatives, but social liberals.” The party, which has not fielded a candidate for Connecticut governor since Ned Vare won 0.56 percent of the vote in 1998, sparked a higher-than-normal level of attention in the 2016 election when its presidential candidate Gary Johnson fielded approximately 4.4 million votes, or 3.27 percent of the national tally. However, an argument could be made that Johnson’s results had less to do with his charisma as a candidate and more as a protest vote against one or both of the major party candidates running that year. And even Hanscomb admitted the Libertarian Party has not been fully successful in establishing itself as a third force in politics.
“On the national level, the messaging and the marketing has been very poor,” he said. “Too many people get caught up in the fringe issues and do blogs about hemp and cryptocurrencies and that just turns off the vast majority of people.”
For his part, Hanscomb gravitated to the Libertarian movement after relocating to Connecticut. He briefly worked as a sales representative for a heating and air conditioning company, but the sale of property that he owned in Seattle enabled him to take time off for travel and what he dubbed “self-study,” at which point he found a kinship in the Libertarian cause. And while Connecticut did elect a governor from outside the Democratic and Republican spheres — Lowell Weicker, who was elected in 1990 on his independent A Connecticut Party — Hanscomb was convinced that the state’s voters are receptive again for another option.
“They said in 2014 there was a 50 percent voter turnout,” he said. “There was, but it was a 50 percent turnout of registered voters. Once you get involved in this game, you start to realize that 12 percent of eligible residents in the state are unregistered. So, the voter turnout really means that two-thirds of people stayed home. Sixty-five percent of the populace, for whatever reasons, aren’t motivated to go out to vote. Clearly, they are waiting for another voice and sense of reason.”
For the main issues facing the state, Hanscomb considered taxes to be of primary importance and he is advocating the gradual elimination of the state income tax.
“Forbes magazine recently had an article that said nine of the 10 fastest-growing states in America don’t have an income tax,” he said. “And there are only nine states that don’t have an income tax.”
To replace the revenue lost from dropping the income tax, Hanscomb advocates following the example of the nine states profiled in Forbes by raising the sales tax — in this case, into the 9 percent range. But he also stressed that this required more than merely hiking the sales tax and leaving the rest of the state’s economic house untouched.
“This state does not have a revenue problem — it has a spending problem,” he continued, noting the question of state employee pensions is either not understood by voters or too wrapped up in emotionalism. “Take the emotion out of it and talk about what the real problem is. Everything has to happen in steps, and the first step is that state workers have to get off any type of pension program. Even the U.S. military doesn’t have pensions anymore. They dropped it because it was unsustainable. Yet the state of Connecticut still has a pension.”
Hanscomb argued that many state employees may not realize that a 401(k) would provide more robust returns than a state-supported pension, and he pointed out that the pension is only as strong as the state backing it. “Too often, people get caught up in the pension thinking that the government can always guarantee money,” he continued. “There is a point that if a state goes broke or runs out of money, there is nothing the federal government can do to force us to do anything.”
As for the hot-button issue of bringing back tolls to Connecticut, Hanscomb said he was “100 percent against tolls,” noting that the proposed 20 cents a mile toll would burden residents with long commutes. “If you’re living in Norwich and you’re commuting to New Haven and back every day, add that up and you’re looking at $500 a month,” he said.
On the question of bringing an MGM Resorts International to Bridgeport, which would require changing state law, Hanscomb had little enthusiasm for the idea.
“If there had never been casinos in Connecticut and MGM was coming in with the proposal for Bridgeport, I’d probably be for it,” he said. “This idea that there is a never-ending market for gaming is totally false. You go to upstate New York and across the country, there are casinos all over the place that are at 20 percent capacity. Ten years ago, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods brought in $430 million on slot machine revenue, but last year it was $260 million.”
He also raised the concern that a Bridgeport casino would cannibalize the revenue from the two tribal casinos, especially when would-be gamblers coming in from New York City would stop off in Bridgeport rather than trek across the state to Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods. “For every three dollars you brought out of Bridgeport, you’d probably be losing a dollar out of revenue from the others,” he said. “That is not a very dynamic mentality when it comes to building the business climate in Connecticut.”
On the health care front, Hanscomb called for price transparency so patients know in advance what they will be charged, thus enabling individuals to shop around for a more cost-effective solution. He said, “purchasing power has to go back into the consumer’s hands and away from the power of the government and the insurance companies.” And while he acknowledged this would be a breakthrough, since no state offers price transparency, he also saw it as putting Connecticut in a new leadership role.
“What would that mean if we were the haven for great quality health care at a reasonable cost?” he asked.
While on the campaign trail across the state, Hanscomb said he is receiving positive feedback, although the Libertarian Party is still an unknown quantity to many voters.
“People aren’t as familiar and there is still the battle against the duopoly,” he said. “In many ways, the system is still set up for the two-party pick.”
Still, he pledged to focus on policy and not devolve into personality attacks against his opponents. “We don’t need to attack Republicans or Democrats — we’re just talking about issues,” he said.