Richard Armey, co-chairman of FreedomWorks in Washington (DC) and a former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader, has stuck his toe into Connecticut politics. So far, his reception has been chilly.
Armey issued a mass e-mailing and press release critical of Gov. Jodi Rell, the titular head of the state’s Republican Party, that took aim at her promised income tax hike.
"With a current budget surplus,” Armey wrote, “the idea of a new multi-billion-dollar tax hike is even more outrageous. If enacted, this tax hike will drive businesses and residents out of the state to seek more tax-friendly havens. As a result, Connecticut's economy will be left in ruins, and Gov. Rell's bloated education budget will do little for the residents of Connecticut."
These are strange times in Connecticut politics. During her rather uneventful gubernatorial campaign, Rell emerge from the ordeal as a tax and spend Republican; who’da thunk it? Recent polls indicate that most voters and taxpayers in Connecticut do not favor the Rell plan, which includes a 10% increase in the state income tax for educational spending, and Connecticut has been for some time – thanks to lethargic Republicans -- a Democrat Party playground.
Armey’s objection places him in company with Democrat Speaker of the state House of Representatives Jim Amman, one of Rell’s more persistent critics. Calling a spade a spade, Amann has questioned the need for a tax hike when Connecticut has been reaping a rich harvest in surpluses. Amman is reputed to be a “fiscal conservative.”
Rell’s spokesman, Rich Harris, first heard about Armey’s entrée into Connecticut politics from a reporter and noted pointedly that Armey was from Texas, unlike the majority of Connecticut residents who oppose the Rell plan. Amman is also a resident, unlike Armey.
According to one news report, “When asked if Rell is concerned that she is being criticized by a nationally known Republican, Harris responded, ‘We don't really get all that hung up on the partisan label thing. She's not that worried about Republican vs. Republican or Republican vs. Democrat. Her focus is on doing what's right.’”
During her campaign, Rell had very carefully steered clear of the more alarming Republican potholes – including President George Bush, whose flawed prosecution of the war against terror in Iraq has caused him to plummet in polls. Rell seemed to be wary of appearing within spitting distance of nearly anyone who had a beef against any notable Democrat, and her “debate” with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano was decidedly low key. Her refusal to confront DeStefano on the central plank of his platform – raising taxes to provide putative state support for townspeople suffering from high property taxes – may now be seen retrospectively as an strategic appendage to her own plan, which includes a 10% increase in the income tax to provide so called “property tax relief.”
Rell’s tax increase to support an ever sprawling pedagogical empire has also been seen by progressives in the state as an effort to combat what progressives call “sprawl” or unregulated economic development.
In the face of such major ideological defections, Republicans stand to loose their party – such as it is – if they do not take a stand in support of traditional Republican principles. Having been hung separately during the past two decades, Republicans now are in danger of being hung together.
The state has witnessed one quasi-Republican governor, Lowell Weicker, impose an income tax that has caused business flight from Connecticut to states some of which are now considering abolishing their state income tax; another, John Rowland, has been newly released from prison for having allowed his political associates to treat the state as his private piggy bank; and now we have the Rell/Moody non-partisan alliance, which has managed to position itself to the left of Speaker Amman and Armey.
With this kind of non-partisanship, who needs political parties? One suspects that if the question had been put to Rell or Moody after polls continue to show the governor floating in the stratosphere, both would have replied, “Not I.”
Though it is a useless appendage to Rell, the Republican Party continues to be a useful instrument for other aspiring office holders lower on the food chain – and it will not survive unless partisan Republicans bestir themselves.
Two Republicans - Rep. Clark J. Chapin of New Milford and Rep. Craig Miner of Litchfield – have proposed a state referendum that would allow voters to express their wishes on a ballot that would eliminate the state’s constitutional cap on spending. The ballot referendum would be non-partisan – a promising beginning to a restoration common sense in budgeting.