Buffett rule: Scott Frantz, the thrill-seeking senator [Greenwich Time]

July 27, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Greenwich Time

L. Scott Frantz can be found most mornings gripping the oars of his carbon fiber scull in Greenwich Cove.

All by himself.

As a go-to voice of Republican dissent at the state Capitol on taxes, job creation and transportation — the yin to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s yang — the senator from Greenwich is rowing against the current.
Not that he isn’t up for a challenge, like scaling the north side of Mt. Everest, skydiving or proposing to his wife, Icy, while piloting a plane upside-down over his hometown. Her real name is Allison. His first name is Leroy. No one calls them that.

“I like adrenaline,” Frantz, 55, said during a recent afternoon in Cos Cob Park, as sailboats rocked in the picturesque harbor and private jets whizzed overhead.

But even Frantz, whose name has been bandied for higher office and who runs a private equity firm next door to the park, has a threshold. Of his six-and-a-half years in the Senate, Frantz said the most recent legislative session was the most frustrating. It ended with the Democratic majority shoe-horning a two-year $40 billion budget that raises taxes by $1.2 billion. Many of the new taxes are targeted at the state’s wealthiest residents — who happen to be Frantz’s neighbors and constituents. District 36, which he represents, includes 10 of Connecticut’s 15 billionaires

“I think there’s a lot of denial,” said Frantz, who also represents parts of Stamford and New Canaan. “I think there’s so much focus on political advancement that there’s little bandwidth left to understand how poor off we are in terms of economic growth.”

While his intense anti-tax focus may play well in his hometown, it has gotten him in some hot water in less leafy precincts. When Frantz mocked Democrats’ concept of social justice as un-American in a 2012 speech, his opponents pounced. He later explained that he wasn’t against social justice laws that prevent discrimination, but was instead referring to an alternative definition of the phrase — social justice as a means of redistributing of wealth.

This year Frantz voted against capping the car tax at 29 mills and having the state redistribute some tax revenues to those municipalities most reliant on the levy. The bill, which passed, will not affect Greenwich, but it will significantly help residents of poorer cities, such as Bridgeport, where car taxes are four times higher than those in Greenwich.

In March, Frantz called the proposal “close to socialism.”

Works across the aisle

Still Frantz doesn’t often foster antipathy from the other side of the aisle. Democrats say they like him, even though their agendas don’t always mesh.

“He’s not one to personalize disagreements or blow up in a feud,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. “I would say he’s someone you can easily work with.”

Frantz’s privileged background — he went to boarding school at Hotchkiss, rowed at Princeton and got his MBA at Dartmouth — is said by those who know him well to belie his work ethic.

When Ned Lamont, a Democrat from Greenwich, ran for governor in 2010, Frantz would often show up in far-flung outposts.

“If you think he stays close to home and the flock, that’s quite to the contrary,” Lamont said. “He gets around. He’s earning his respect.”

Frantz, a father of four, lives by the “Buffett Rule,” but not the Warren Buffet rule. For the senator’s 40th birthday, Jimmy Buffett gave a private concert at Frantz’s house, which has hosted fundraisers for George W. Bush when he was president and for Mitt Romney.

“He’s a buddy from way back when,” said Frantz, who met the musician of “Margaritaville” fame in sailing and pilot circles.

Frantz’s reputation as a sailor precedes him. Since 1993, he’s owned the Ticonderoga, a 72-foot ketch that was built in the 1930s and is a mainstay on the racing circuit from Newport to the Caribbean. When she’s not at sea, the sailboat has taken groups of inner-city children from the Young Mariners Foundation in Stamford out on Long Island Sound.

“Icy and I consider ourselves trustees of this historic vessel,” Frantz said.

Republicans say Frantz, who was presented with the state party’s highest honor in 2007, the Prescott Bush Award, is a modest and approachable family man who is content to fly under the radar. Like when he and his wife got a group of 50 people together for her birthday recently and helped build five Habitat for Humanity homes in Bridgeport.

“I can’t imagine you’d find anybody who has a bad thing to say about him,” said Charles Glazer, a close friend who served as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador under Bush. “He’s very humble, and that’s a trait you don’t find in many politicians.”

Policy not personality

In the Senate, Democrats outnumber Republicans 21 to 15.

“I think we probably disagree on issues that tend to be more partisan like budget items,” said Duff, the chamber’s second in command.

A major area of departure is higher taxes on the rich, from the state income tax of 6.99 percent on single-filers making over $500,000 a year to a new half-percent probate fee on estates over $2 million.

“The reality is if the state alienates enough taxpayers, the state will become insolvent, and everyone will be worse off,” Frantz said, demurring when asked if he was speaking from personal experience. “Everything affects me.”

His private equity firm, Haebler Capital, has a venture capital arm that is currently investing in a coffee trading business and the salad chain Chop’t. Keep eating those greens, Frantz encouraged.

Frantz said it’s not unusual for him to hear complaints from the super wealthy about taxes and the budget, including from hedge fund moguls such as Ray Dalio and Paul Tudor Jones.

“They’re really frustrated,” Frantz said. “These are really smart people. They can see the writing on the wall.”

And then there is the specter of border tolls, which have been absent from Connecticut’s highways for 30 years but are being looked to as bucket of revenue for a 30-year, $100 billion transportation overhaul by Malloy’s administration. Frantz said the state could use $60 billion in existing bonding capacity instead to avoid going down the road of tolls. Nevertheless, he thinks tolls are likely.

“I think he’ll take money any way the state can get it,” Frantz said of Malloy.

Frantz has his own express lane. He owns a six-seat turbo-prop — a TBM-700 — that he keeps at Westchester County Airport. When he was board chairman of Bradley International Airport near Hartford, he often skipped the traffic. That was then. No, he said, he doesn’t fly to the Capitol.

“Believe me, they’ll figure out a way to toll you as you land,” Frantz quipped, his eyes turning to a Cessna Citation CJ2 overhead. “It’s a good plane.”

Frantz has endured his share of losses, starting with the death of his younger brother, Chris, in a 1986 helicopter crash on his way to Nantucket. It took weeks to find the wreckage. In April 2002, Frantz and his wife lost their youngest son, Sargeant, to a brain disease just before his second birthday.

Each of the couple’s four children is named after mountains: Hunter, Hanley, McKinley and Brady. None for Everest, though, which Frantz came within 700 feet of summiting but had to stop because of a storm.

“I have to go back and finish that,” Frantz said.