Friday, August 14, 2009

Caligiuri in Coventry


Sam Caligiuri, a second term state senator representing Connecticut’s 16th district – Southington, Wolcott, parts of Cheshire and Waterbury -- announced his run against U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd early in April, and in mid-August Caligiuri turned up at Coventry Town Hall to address the Republican Town Committee.

Caligiuri is the deputy minority leader of the Senate Republican Caucus and serves on five legislative committees. He is the ranking member on both the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and the Insurance and Real Estate Committee.

In 2007, he earned the distinction of being the only state senator of either party to vote against the state budget, a matter of principle, according to Caligiuri. The budget exceeded the state’s spending cap and would lead, Caligiuri predicted, to insupportable state deficits.

The legislatures’ penchant for spending surpluses, its leftward drift, the country’s collapsing national economy, and political inattentiveness to the signs of the times all conspired to make Caligiuri a prophet unloved by the Democratic shakers and movers in the state senate.

After announcing his intention to run against Dodd, word went out in the chamber that programs initiated and supported by Caligiuri were to be blocked. But the founder of the Three Strikes Coalition, a grassroots organization determined to pass into law a three strikes and you’re out provision for violent offenders, proved to be determined fellow who had in the past shown his ability to form effective coalitions in a legislature dominated by Democrats.

In 2008, he was one of only two Republicans in the General Assembly to support an increase in the minimum wage; in 2009, one of his top priorities is to strengthen Connecticut's equal pay laws for women.

The Coventry crowd was well informed and eager to ask pointed questions. Caligiuri was as eager to answer them.

Why had he taken a pledge to limit his service in the senate to two terms?

His experience in Waterbury had been instructive for him. He had gone to a hospital to have knee surgery and discovered just before he had been put under by the anesthesiologist that he had become, by a stroke of fate, Mayor of Waterbury. He was next in line for the position after then Mayor Philip Giordano had been booted out.

As in some fairytale, Caligiuri woke to find himself in charge of a besieged castle. He was able to turn around the emotionally drained city both spiritually and economically by energetically working across the political barricades to install needed reforms. The usual political opposition was cut off at the knees after he had announced that he would leave office at the expiration of his term. Also, he was convinced that there was a direct relationship between time served in office and the possibility of corruption. One’s moral antibodies appear to be compromised by the temptations that worm their way into the souls of long serving incumbents.

“That is why Dodd has become corrupted.” Sometimes, Caligiuri said, “It is necessary to lead by example.” And then too, the notion that one's job is to terminate after a reasonable period of time clears the mind wonderfully and is, though most incumbents would find it hard to believe, enabling.

Dodd’s questionable relationship with the now defunct Countrywide is but the nose of the camel in his tent. Now that the senate inquiry into Dodd’s relationship with Angelo Mozilo, chairman of the board and CEO of the now defunct Countrywide has been completed, Caligiuri has asked Dodd to “request the Ethics Committee to release online the 18,000 pages of documents compiled concerning him, so that the evidence they have compiled concerning the facts of his conduct is clear to independent reviewers who are not Senators.”

What does Caligiuri think of a “public option” in health care?

It’s too pricy, unnecessarily invasive and would be destructive, according to most polls, to that part of the health care apparatus that works well for people who like their insurance; which is not to say that reforms are unnecessary. If your car has a flat tire, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you have to fix the flat.

“We need a real discussion and bipartisan problem-solving, not an unsustainable plan that replaces our current system with bureaucrats in Washington deciding what the lives of Americans are worth, how much care we can get, when we can get it, and ultimately if we get the needed care at all.”

Though he has been underexposed in the Republican race for Dodd’s seat so far, Caligiuri appears to be thoughtful, independent, unafraid -- and sane. Following his vote against Connecticut’s swollen budget, one newspaper said of him that he was the last sane man in the legislature, and Caligiuri wears the compliment, fittingly, like a red badge of courage.
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