Editor’s Note: This question-and-answer interview with Republican attorney general candidate John Shaban is the fifth and final one in a series of profiles of the candidates vying for the job.
Highlighting his environmental policies and pro-business growth ideas, attorney general candidate Republican John Shaban faces an uphill battle on several fronts: He is running as a conservative in a traditionally blue Democratic state that hasn’t had a Republican attorney general in more than six decades.
He is also facing Susan Hatfield, his party’s endorsed candidate for attorney general in the August primary. His opponent will not only receive the hands-on support of the Republican Party establishment, but also its financial support.
Shaban, a 54-year-old attorney, served three terms, from 2011 to 2017, as state representative for the 135th District, which encompassed Easton, Redding and Weston. In that capacity, he was ranking House member of the Environmental Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee and Finance Review and Bonding Committee. While on the environmental committee, Shaban, who specializes in environmental law as a partner with Greenwich-based Whitman Breed Abbott & Morgan, said he pushed for a policy to ban the use of microbeads in consumer products and for the creation of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan. The goal of the plan is to preserve the Long Island Sound’s ecosystems and resources and to facilitate a transparent, science-based decision-making process.
In addition to practicing environmental law, Shaban also focuses on commercial litigation, construction disputes, employment issues, antitrust, government relations and energy law. He previously practiced at the New York City and Stamford firm Kelly Drye & Warren.
A Redding resident, Shaban received his law degree from Pace University School of Law in 1993. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado in 1988.
The Connecticut Law Tribune recently asked Shaban to answer five questions for its series. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Connecticut Law Tribune: How—specifically—would a John Shaban Attorney General’s Office be different from a George Jepsen Attorney General’s Office?
John Shaban: The Attorney General’s Office needs a new posture and a new approach toward Connecticut’s citizens, businesses and prospective employers. On the day I am sworn in, I will create a business liaison office in the “front of the house” so that my clients—the citizens and employers of Connecticut—can have an early and privileged conversation with their attorney general, instead of being sued first and being coerced to answer questions and/or pay fines later.
The attorney general needs to know when to pick up a pen and file a lawsuit, and when to pick up a phone and have a conversation. I believe in having a conversation first and bringing suit second, if at all.
I will work tirelessly to ensure that the Attorney General’s Office is more focused on making people safe and prosperous, and less on making headlines. This approach has been absent in our state for decades.
CLT: As you know, the opioid epidemic in the state is on the rise. George Jepsen said he’s proud of how his office has tackled the problem, and points to October 2017 when Connecticut joined 40 other attorney general’s offices in the country to issue subpoenas to several pharmaceutical drug manufacturers for information about how the companies market opioids. What—specifically—will you do if elected attorney general to address the opioid crisis?
Shaban: As a state legislator from 2011-2017, I organized and/or moderated multiple opioid crisis awareness forums, filling the room with concerned citizens and community leaders. We heard from experts in drug addiction, treatment and law enforcement. We took that information to the Legislature to craft policy that finally began to address the crisis. I was proud to support bills which created a legal mechanism to track and limit the number of pills that can be prescribed in Connecticut.
As attorney general I will continue the work I started in the Legislature and the work of the current Attorney General’s Office by calling drug companies, insurance companies and the medical community into a direct conversation and combined task force with state legislators and law enforcement. I will direct their focus on the (i) over-prescription, (ii) ubiquitous supply, and (iii) proper disposal of opioid drugs and the means by which we can address each. Absent rapid progress, I can and will use the power of the office to seek appropriate injunctive and/or monetary relief against all of the above actors to protect our communities.
CLT: You say on your website that “poor fiscal policy and mismanagement has kept Connecticut stuck in economic doldrums.” You also say “The attorney general can help right our course by creating a stable regulatory and legal environment thereby removing barriers to success for all citizens.” Specifically, talk about the state regulatory and legal environment you want to create and what barriers you’d remove if elected attorney general.
Shaban: On the regulatory side, the Attorney General’s Office represents state agencies and can thus help improve the state’s relationship with the regulated community by taking legal action, choosing inaction if appropriate, and/or issuing opinions concerning our agencies’ activities.
For example, I served as the lead House Republican on the Environment Committee and saw bureaucratic actions that were arguably beyond statutory authority and clearly troubling to the business community (e.g., ever-changing permit standards and enforcement paradigms). The attorney general can and must work with state agencies to tamp down the anti-business barriers being promulgated by bureaucratic fiat.
To help stabilize our legal environment, the attorney general can help restore promise and prosperity to our state by reducing the threat to employers of being needlessly sued and then dragged through the headlines. The attorney general needs to know when to sue, when to help, and when to sit quietly on the sideline.
CLT: On your website, you have a section titled “Focus on Issues.” One of those issues is immigration/sanctuary cities. On the issue, you say “we need action and solutions, not more political rhetoric and headlines.” Where—in your opinion—is the political rhetoric coming from and what specific policy initiatives related to immigration would an Attorney General’s Office under your leadership undertake?
Shaban: We are a nation of immigrants, and we should celebrate this proud and enduring history. Sadly, all sides in this decades-old immigration debate have been spewing rhetoric for years rather than coming to a consensus to address the issue.
While I will protect and enforce Connecticut’s rights and authority under our state/federal construct, the U.S. Constitution specifically charges the federal government with immigration responsibilities. States and municipalities should not, and legally cannot, ignore federal law by promoting enclaves for people not here legally. Openly thwarting federal immigration law grabs headlines and makes for nice political banter, but does little to solve the problem.
At the same time, however, we can and should act with appropriate sympathy toward those who are only trying to be part of the American dream by promoting policies that return people to lawful behavior and a lawful path to citizenship, while challenging the federal government, if its enforcement mechanisms violate what we in Connecticut believe to be improper treatment of residents protected by the values and laws of our state. The Attorney General’s Office can do both through policy initiatives, litigation choices and interaction with state and federal authorities.
On the policy side, I have always supported a “step up and stand out” approach and would use the influence of the office to push our federal government in this direction. Undocumented immigrants should identify themselves as such, whereafter they should be charged with a technical violation of the law. The penalty for the violation, however, can be suspended and eventually waived if they register with proper immigration authorities, pay a small fine, pay taxes, and thereafter go through the immigration process from the back of the line. During this period, these residents should not be subject to deportation unless they violate other laws or otherwise depart from the process.
On the values side, I would challenge the unnecessary separation of families during the deportation process via bringing mandamus, habeas corpus, and/or civil rights actions either directly as the attorney general and/or working with the state and U.S. attorney offices.
In the end, however, we need action and solutions by federal lawmakers, not more rhetoric by politicians in need of another political football.
CLT: As an environmental lawyer, your website says you pushed for sound environmental policies, including banning the use of microbeads in consumer products, creation of the Long Island Sound Blue Plan and promoting the cleanup of contaminated brownfield properties. The Jepsen Attorney General’s Office has gone after many of President Donald Trump’s environmental policies, joining other states in numerous lawsuits or amicus briefs against the administration. As a Republican, what is your view on the Trump administration’s environmental initiatives and where—specifically—do you disagree with the administration on environmental policy, if anywhere?
Shaban: I have an environmental law degree and was the House Republican leader on the General Assembly’s Environment Committee for five years. Environmental law and policy is the reason I went to law school.
The recent suit brought by regional attorneys general to enforce the Clean Air Act as it relates to coal-fired power plants was well-placed and a good use of the power of our Attorney General’s Office. I applaud the current attorney general’s efforts on this front.
The interplay between the federal government and the states, however, is complex and continuously changing on environmental issues. While interstate air, water and land can and must be managed by the national government, states can and must challenge federal policies that violate our federal construct, e.g., state litigation challenging the broad definition of “navigable waters” and the resulting federal overreach.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is following a cooperative federalism policy designed to push local environmental management back to the states. I agree with this approach in most instances because the federal government has, in fact, overreached and invaded state autonomy.
My office will push back against the federal government when needed, and particularly against unfunded and/or unauthorized federal mandates. Indeed, Connecticut sends a dollar to Washington and gets back about 63 cents coupled with mandates on how to spend it. As a state representative I challenged our purported inability to fund local environmental programs— despite our having money in the state’s account—because those pennies we did get back from Washington came with alleged federal restrictions.