John McKinney of Fairfield, the veteran state Senate minority leader, plans to leave one of the safest seats in the General Assembly, a district that includes part of Westport, to run for the Republican nomination to challenge Gov. Dannel P. Malloy next year.
In a Monday interview with Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, McKinney said he wants a statewide referendum next year on the economic and development policies of Malloy and majority Democrats in the legislature.
He charged that the record-setting tax hike of Malloy's first year has crippled the state further, while the governor's targeted use of state development money is picking winners and losers among huge corporations at a time when small businesses remain stagnant and saddled with higher taxes.
"I have been continually frustrated over the last couple of years as I've gone across the state of Connecticut, whether it's town hall forums or a budget tour, hearing from individuals who said over and over again that Connecticut is becoming harder to live in," McKinney said at a deli in his hometown of Fairfield. "Whether they're seniors, whether they're young 20-something-year-olds who have just graduated from college, Connecticut is unaffordable."
McKinney, 49, said he is "uniquely qualified" to be among the first members of the General Assembly to jump directly to the Executive Residence in Hartford. The candidacy of former Speaker of the House James A. Amann, who resigned in 2008 to focus on the 2010 governor's race, was the most recent failure.
"I'm excited about the future because we can start heading in the right direction," said McKinney, who was first elected in 1998 and became the GOP Senate leader in 2007. "I'm uniquely qualified," he said. "I know where the problems are. I know we can get Connecticut headed in the right direction, so Connecticut can be the great state it is."
McKinney, who represents the 28th District -- Fairfield, Easton, Newtown, Weston and Westport -- in the state Senate, said he would express-mail his full application for candidacy in time for the State Elections Enforcement Commission to receive it on Tuesday. That would make him the highest-profile Republican to file candidacy documents, although Greenwich businessman Tom Foley has said he will try again.
In recent years, McKinney and minority Republicans in the House and Senate have been stymied by Democratic lawmakers and Malloy, the first Democratic governor in Connecticut since William A. O'Neill left office in 1991.
This was the first year in five years that Republicans, down 98-53 in the House and 22-14 in the Senate, have not introduced an alternative budget focused on spending reductions and tax cuts. Democrats this year approved a record two-year, $44 billion spending package that took effect on July 1.
"We offered balanced, fully vetted budgets for over six years," McKinney said. "This year, the reality was Gov. Malloy and the Democrats continued to double down on a bad budget and take Connecticut in the wrong direction, while focusing on a Republican budget that they already said they weren't going to look at.
"It was clear that Gov. Malloy and the Democrats didn't want to talk about their budget. They wanted to distract Connecticut with other issues," McKinney said. "This economy belongs to Gov. Malloy and the Democrats. They made the decision to increase spending, they made the decision to increase taxes, they made the decision to increase borrowing -- and those decisions have affected our economy."
McKinney said Malloy has failed on a number of major goals, including a promise to make government more open and transparent; and that the state would be "open for business."
McKinney's trips around the state have indicated that companies are losing confidence, he said. He blasted Malloy for "raiding" the state's Special Transportation Fund, borrowing to pay for state operating costs and offering more than $100 million in incentives for the mammoth Bridgewater hedge fund to move from Westport to Stamford.
"As we got farther down the road, running for governor became something I began to think of more seriously," said the Yale-educated, non-practicing lawyer whose mother, Lucie C. McKinney, is an heir to the Standard Oil fortune. "I think everything for me crystallized over the last several weeks. I've been to all four corners of the state over the last two months."
On Monday night, McKinney, the son of the late U.S. Rep. Stewart B. McKinney, went to Newtown for the GOP nomination of First Selectman Pat Llodra to another term in that still-healing town.
The announcement of McKinney's candidacy for the Citizens' Election Program will require him to collect about $250,000 in small, $100 contributions, with $225,000 coming directly from state residents. He would be able to leverage $1.25 million for a primary and $6 million for the 2014 general election under the public financing program, which was created in 2005 after the corruption case that sent Republican John G. Rowland to federal prison and elevated Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell to governor nine years ago.
Foley, the Republican Party's 2010 gubernatorial loser, did not take part in the voluntary finance system, spending about $11 million of his own fortune to lose to Malloy by about 6,000 votes.
Last month, a Quinnipiac University Poll showed Foley leading Malloy by 21 points among the crucial unaffiliated bloc of voters, but Foley's overall three-point lead equals the poll's 2.9 percent margin of error among 1,154 registered voters.
Statewide, there are about 431,000 registered Republicans, 768,000 Democrats and 873,000 unaffiliated voters.
Foley got support from 36 percent of Republicans surveyed, while McKinney, who has never run a statewide race, won 11 percent in the early polling, compared to Boughton, Foley's 2010 running mate, with 8 percent.
"I'm running to turn Connecticut around," McKinney said. "I'm running to turn Connecticut back into the prosperous, great state that it can and should be. There's so much more we can do. That's why I'm running. I have demonstrated the ability to build consensus but also stand up and fight against bad policies, such as higher taxes and spending."