Following months of often-contentious talk between the candidates for attorney general on both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle, Connecticut voters spoke Tuesday evening, and the race for November is now official: Democrat William Tong will face Republican Susan Hatfield and Green Party candidate Peter Goselin in the general election in the fall.
With 96 percent of the precincts reporting, 202,180 Democrats had cast votes. Tong received 116,185 votes, or 57.5 percent, while Chris Mattei got 52,019 votes, or 25.7 percent, and Paul Doyle came in the third with 33,976 votes, or 16.8 percent.
On the Republican side, there were 133,125 votes cast, with 96 percent of the precincts reporting. Hatfield received 105,575 votes, or 79.3 percent, while her challenger, John Shaban, got 27,550 votes, or 20.7 percent.
On the Democratic side, Tong, who was his party’s endorsed candidate and is co-chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, beat two candidates who questioned his votes in the state Legislature and, in the case of Mattei, questioned whether he had the qualifications for the job.
The differences could not have been sharper and more public than they were on Aug. 7 during the Democrats’ third and final debate. The debate, which was co-sponsored by the Connecticut Law Tribune and the New Haven Independent, featured both Mattei and Paul Doyle going after Tong on several fronts.
Mattei, once again during the debate, mentioned whether Tong, who has worked for Big Law in New York and Connecticut, was qualified. Mattei has made it an issue because of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s attorney general must have 10 years of experience in active practice of law. Mattei pressed Tong during the debate, saying the Stamford representative had only been involved in one trial and that being as the second chair.
The day after the debate, Tong told the Connecticut Law Tribune that Mattei had mischaracterized his experience. Tong said he had more than 400 matters for hundreds of clients, emphasizing that because of the nature of civil litigation, many times it takes years to handle such cases, which are rarely tried to verdict. Mattei is a former Connecticut assistant U.S. attorney, who was involved in the prosecution of former Republican Gov. John Rowland on bribery charges. It’s not clear if Hatfield plans to make the issue of qualification for office part of her campaign.
Tong came under fire from Doyle, a lawyer and the most conservative of the candidates on the Democratic side, after so-called #MeToo legislation died in the Statehouse, where Tong is co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Doyle, who represents several communities in central Connecticut in the state Senate, said he was instrumental in passing the bill in the state Senate, while he put blame on Tong for the measure dying in the House. But Tong said during the debate that he favored the legislation, and countered that the bill died because of House leadership. If it had been enacted, the bill would have, among other things, extended the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
The 45-year-old Tong, who is favored in the traditionally blue state to win against Hatfield in November, is the first Asian-American to serve in the Connecticut General Assembly. Representing the state’s 147th District in the House, Tong has been primarily vocal on issues ranging from fighting discrimination to his support of gay rights and gun control.
Tong has called for the creation of a civil rights division within the Office of Attorney General. While some other states have a similar division, it would be a first in the Nutmeg State.
Tong is the son of Chinese immigrants and is currently of counsel at Finn, Dixon & Herling.
While the Democrats debated three times, the Republicans went through the primary season without even one debate. John Shaban has said that Hatfield, the endorsed GOP candidate, was ducking them. The Hatfield camp, though, countered that her schedule and the times earmarked for debates did not match up.
One issue sure to be a lightning rod in the fall campaign between Tong and Hatfield: guns. While Tong is an ardent foe of the National Rifle Association, the 46-year-old Hatfield has repeatedly said she’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.
In a June interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune, Hatfield, a former prosecutor and public finance attorney, said: “I support the Constitution, including the provisions of the Second Amendment. Sadly, people suffering from mental illness and career criminals continue to use guns in acts of violence. … I do not support lawsuits against gun manufacturers as a solution to this important public health issue.”
Recently, though, the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, the state’s largest gun rights group, withdrew its endorsement of Hatfield for her public position on so-called ghost guns. Connecticut recently joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in filing a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration and a Texas-based company that allows individuals to download instructions for 3-D printed guns from its website. That suit and subsequent motions for and against are pending.
In an interview with the Connecticut Mirror, Hatfield said: “Preventing 3-D printed firearms shouldn’t be a political issue. … We should work together to find a way to stop criminals, gangs and terrorists from getting the blueprints to print 3-D printed firearms.”
On other issues, the Pomfret resident has talked about making the Attorney General’s Office more business friendly and has touted her work in tackling human trafficking. She also spoke to the Connecticut Law Tribune two months ago on her position on opioids, saying she would continue Attorney General George Jepsen’s “efforts to obtain as much information as possible on how opioids are being marketed.”
“This crisis is not unique to Connecticut, as such, I would continue to work with, and seek a leadership role, with my fellow attorneys general to work together, and bring the full weight of our collective offices to address this epidemic,” Hatfield said.
Before becoming a prosecutor, Hatfield worked for the New York City law firm Hawkins Delafield & Wood, where she represented government entities and public authorities. Her family tree in eastern Connecticut dates back to colonial times.
Goselin, meanwhile, is a 58-year-old West Hartford resident who has practiced law for 23 years, including the last eight as a solo practitioner. He said early in the race that he does not expect to win in November on the Green Party ticket. Rather, he has said, his goal is to bring to the forefront issues that neither party has addressed.
Those issues, Goselin has said, include a laser-focus on measures from workers’ legal rights on the job in Connecticut to racial profiling and violence against people of color. Those are among the nine items of interest in his “platform for a people’s attorney general.”
In a July interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune, Goselin said, “The increasingly reckless use of deadly force by police, the militarization of police departments, and the over-policing of political dissent is a national epidemic.”