Editorial: Lamont’s new team to face big challenges

Gov. Ned Lamont announces the departure of his chief of staff Paul Mounds, right, and general counsel counsel, Nora Dannehy, Tuesday at a press conference at the state Capitol in Hartford. Natalie Braswell, far left, who has served as interim Comptroller, will succeed Dannehy. Jonathan Dach, second from left, deputy chief of staff, will succeed Mounds.

Gov. Ned Lamont announces the departure of his chief of staff Paul Mounds, right, and general counsel counsel, Nora Dannehy, Tuesday at a press conference at the state Capitol in Hartford. Natalie Braswell, far left, who has served as interim Comptroller, will succeed Dannehy. Jonathan Dach, second from left, deputy chief of staff, will succeed Mounds.

Julia Bergman / Hearst Connecticut Media

Though many explanations were put forward, there’s no way to know exactly why Ned Lamont won a second term as governor on Nov. 8. Certainly there was his handling of the COVID pandemic, a sense the economy has stabilized and a general rejection of the national Republican message, all of which propelled the incumbent to a convincing win. But there’s no way to parse out exactly what it was the voters of Connecticut liked so much that they asked for another four years.

So when Lamont says he will continue what worked well during his first term, that doesn’t give an observer much to go on. We all hope, for example, that nothing like the governor’s leadership during the worst days of COVID will ever be necessary again.

What has become clear is that Lamont will be working with a new team. As usually happens when an executive enters a new term, Lamont’s inner circle is changing, with Paul Mounds Jr., who has served as the governor’s chief of staff since early 2020, and Nora Dannehy, Lamont’s general counsel since March 2021, have each chosen to step down in favor of new blood. Neither Mounds nor Dannehy specified a new job, but it’s likely their skills will be in high demand in the private sector.

Stepping in to replace them will be Jonathan Dach as chief of staff and Natalie Braswell as general counsel. Braswell is state comptroller, a role she has filled since the resignation for health reasons of former Comptroller Kevin Lembo nearly a year ago. Braswell did not run for the position this year, and now steps in to work directly for the governor. Dach is likewise well-known to Lamont, having served as his policy director since 2019.

It’s not, in other words, a wholescale infusion of new ideas on the way. It’s important nonetheless that new people fill these jobs, if only to give some fresh perspectives on state challenges.

Serving as top aide to a governor is hard work. Most people only do it for a few years, at the most. Burnout is not uncommon, and if a governor is going to continue to lead the state, that person needs the best people at his side. Change is good.

What is unlikely to change is Lamont’s commitment to being careful. Though Connecticut has done well in recent years by turning deficits into surpluses, Lamont has not immediately opened the spigots to fund politically popular projects or irresponsible tax cuts. The planning for the inevitable rainy day must continue, especially in a state with as much long-term debt as Connecticut has run up. Continuing to pay off pension debts will be a centerpiece of the governor’s second term.

But there’s more to running a state than cleaning up old messes. Lamont was reelected to help solve some of our longest-running challenges, including the state’s inherent unaffordability. Housing, education and health care are out of reach for too many families in this state. Tackling those challenges must be top of mind for Lamont’s new team.

Answers won’t come easily. That’s what the new team is here for.