HARTFORD — President Donald Trump’s agenda has emerged as a focal point in the race for attorney general in Connecticut, where even the Republican candidates agree some of his policies should be challenged in court.
The current attorney general, George Jepsen, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, has filed or joined other states in filing nearly two dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on issues ranging from taxation to pollution to the 2020 census.
Three Democrats and two Republicans are running for attorney general, who unlike other state attorneys general deals only with civil legal issues and has no authority over criminal matters. The party primaries are Aug. 14, followed by the general election Nov. 6.
Democrats William Tong, Chris Mattei and Paul Doyle agree with Jepsen’s actions against the Trump administration. Republicans Sue Hatfield and John Shaban say Jepsen and the Democratic candidates’ focus is too partisan, but they too would challenge federal policies that harm state residents.
Among the lawsuits Jepsen has filed is one with New York, New Jersey and Maryland alleging the tax overhaul law passed last year and championed by the Republican president unfairly singles out high-tax blue states. The lawsuit says many homeowners will see big increases in their federal tax bills because the law caps a deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000.
Connecticut also has joined other states in suing the federal government for failing to curb air pollution that blows into the states from the west, cutting Affordable Care Act subsidies, planning to ease emissions standards and adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census form.
Tong, a state representative from Stamford and the party’s endorsed candidate, put Trump front and center in a campaign TV ad, saying the president is “attacking families like ours.”
“I think that the AG’s job is to run a major state agency and to do all that he or she can to protect and defend our way of life and families in this state,” Tong told The Associated Press.
Mattei, a former federal prosecutor who lives in Hartford, said he would fight what he calls “overreach and abuse” by the Trump administration. Echoing his fellow Democrats, he said the legal fights by Democratic attorneys general are fueled by law violations, not politics.
“What this comes down to is a president and a Republican majority that is tearing down norms and modern policies and institutions,” he said. “To me, it’s very simple. The responsibility of the attorney general is to protect the people of Connecticut from the threats that they face.”
Doyle, a state senator from Wethersfield, said he is not as consumed by Trump as his opponents but would continue to push back against the administration.
“I believe it’s the appropriate role of the attorney general to challenge policies that harm the people,” he said. “My opponents seem to focus on fighting Donald Trump, and I will do that, but there’s more to the job than fighting Donald Trump.”
Hatfield, a state prosecutor from Pomfret and a Trump delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention, said she doesn’t agree with the president all the time. She said she agrees with Jepsen’s challenge of the tax overhaul, but she wasn’t so sure about other fights, including the one over air pollution, saying she needs to see all the evidence.
“We need a fair and balanced attorney general that will look beyond partisan politics and really do what’s best for the people of Connecticut,” said Hatfield, the endorsed Republican candidate. “If something would harm Connecticut residents, I would push back 100 percent on the federal government.”
Shaban, a former state representative from Redding, said that fighting Trump is “great politics” for Democrats and that he supports the lawsuit over air pollution. But a main priority, he said, should be fighting federal government mandates that dictate how Connecticut spends tax dollars in the state.
“My issue has always been … I will protect the state of Connecticut from an overreaching government no matter who is in charge,” Shaban said.