The Connecticut Dem Showing How to Be Pro-Business and Pro-Labor

Ned Lamont has displayed a heterodox balancing of entrepreneurship and worker’s advocacy.

When the wealthy satellite and telecommunications entrepreneur Ned Lamont campaigned to unseat Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman in 2006, largely because of Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war, I discovered an old Lamont family book in Yale’s Sterling Library that revealed something important about him.

While mentioning the then-17-year-old Edward Miner Lamont only in passing, it presents family elders and mentors who may well have inspired his heterodox balancing of entrepreneurship and labor advocacy. Now that he is the Democratic nominee to be the state’s next governor—and heavily favored to win the general election—this history is worth revisiting.

Lamont’s Republican opponent is Bob Stefanowski. A former CEO of UBS and General Electric, who has voted only once in the past 16 years and has never before run for public office, he has President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he proposes to eliminate the state’s income tax and virtually clone the conservative fiscal orthodoxies of former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

Lamont, by contrast, has served as a selectman in Greenwich, and has run not only against Lieberman, but also against Dannel Malloy when he lost Connecticut’s 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary. He’s somewhat obsessed–as he showed me over two lunches a decade ago—with finding ways to draw jobs to Connecticut without slashing workers’ wages, benefits, and rights.

After losing the 2006 Senate race, he worked extensively on a project called the CT Workforce Assessment (in conjunction with the Yale School of Management, where he earned his MBA), meeting frequently with the state’s largest employers, labor unions, and economic and industry boards and research organizations.

Most of his positions in the gubernatorial race are predictable for a Democrat in 2018: He vows to fight for a $15 minimum wage, pay equity for women, paid family and medical leave, anti-harassment regulations, and better opportunities for ex-convicts to integrate into the economy with help from university and labor-union partnerships. He has made protecting workers one of his chief campaign pledges after the Supreme Court dealt a blow to unions in its recent Janus v. AFSCME ruling, which deprives them of dues from non-member workers whose wages and benefits they protect.

He also promises ambitious infrastructure improvements and job-training programs, while also proposing, a bit more riskily, to reduce revenue from property taxes by increasing the property tax credit for lower and middle-income individuals and families. (Gov. Malloy had eroded the property tax credit in an effort reduce the state’s $2 billion deficit.)

Lamont has one similarity to Trump: he’s ready to make deals. As the Connecticut Post recently noted, he recruited his old Yale School of Management classmate, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, to help bring Indian consulting and outsourcing giant Infosys to Connecticut for a commitment to add 1,000 jobs in Hartford.

Political calculation amid Connecticut’s tough economic circumstances will certainly require hard, deft balancing acts. The state’s population of 3.6 million has been stagnating, amid increased migrations of millennials and high-income workers, and it has recovered only 76 percent of its 119,000 job losses in the last decade. Since June alone, its labor force has declined by 19,300, or 10 percent.

Lamont has employed hundreds of people over the years. In 1984, he founded the Greenwich-based Campus Televideo, a satellite and telecommunication service to colleges and universities across the country. Since selling the company in 2015, he’s headed Lamont Digital Systems. Yet he has both embraced and been embraced by private and public-sector labor unions; it’s no wonder Stefanowski accuses him of fiscal naiveté and political hypocrisy.

A doctrinaire Marxist might make the same accusations. But something more than political calculation drives Lamont’s heterodoxy. His middle name, Miner, references Thomas Miner, who settled Boston’s “city upon a hill” with the Puritan leader John Winthrop. Miner later helped found Stonington, Connecticut. Although Lamont doesn’t talk about it in public, he takes seriously Winthrop’s historic admonition that we “must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities” because “particular estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public.”

Lamont’s “particular estate” is large. He and his wife, Anne Huntress, are worth several hundred million dollars—but the Lamont clan, from which he inherited his portion before making millions on his own, has included both high capitalists and ardent socialists, most of them committed to the American Constitution despite ideological differences.

Ned Lamont’s great grandfather, Thomas W. Lamont, chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co, represented finance capital at the Versailles Conference of 1919 and later arranged loans for Mussolini. (He was a member of Harvard’s Board of Overseers, and Harvard College’s Lamont Library is named for him.) On the other hand, Ned’s father Ted, a moderate Republican, worked on the Marshall Plan and served in Richard Nixon’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. And his grand-uncle, Corliss Lamont, was a philosophy professor, secular humanist, sometime defender of the Soviet Union, and a director of the ACLU. Corliss’s cousin Robert Rives La Monte of New Canaan, CT, was a Socialist Party member who debated the irascible conservative pundit H. L. Mencken before World War I.

I sketched the bare outlines of this family history in the New York Times during the 2006 Senate race. At the time, David Brooks derided the “net-roots scion Ned Lamont” in the paper’s opinion pages, distorting the truth that the candidate had founded, not inherited, his businesses.

Brooks also characterized Lamont supporters as “vicious” and engaged in a “Sunni-Shiite style” of politics, but he’s been quiet about Lamont this year, despite Lamont’s more open embrace of labor and long-standing progressive positions on major social issues.

Republicans will surely cast Lamont and other progressive Democratic insurgents as wild-eyed fanatics. Lamont has attacked his opponent as “Trumpanowski,” but he’s otherwise mild-mannered and unassuming to a fault. In fact, he’s been so indefatigably earnest, both in business and in his deliberation with labor leaders, that his balancing the obvious contradictions of being so pro-business and pro-labor may make some ideologues’ heads spin.

Labor unions, jockeying defensively in an increasingly combative America, have often become stodgy—even reactionary—and corrupt. But given this year’s alternatives, it’s hard to cast Lamont’s solidarity with them as a devil’s bargain. His record and proposals suggest that he’s internalized Winthrop’s Puritan conviction and now has a genuine desire to advance two constituencies that often find themselves at political odds.

Jim Sleeper

Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale. He is the author of The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York and Liberal Racism.