Former senator and governor Lowell Weicker – maverick Republican (i.e. closet Democrat) – once said about his party, “It’s so small. Why doesn’t somebody take it over?”
Weicker, assisted by his aide Tom D’Amore, once did attempt to take over the party. Weicker, then a senator, eased D’Amore into the chairmanship of his party and, before you could say Benito Mussolini, the two were conspiring to “open” the party’s nominating conventions to unaffiliated voters.
Party central simply refused to decompose on cue and politely rebuffed Weicker. Both Weicker and D’Amore eventually shook the dust of their old, small, inconsequential party from their feet, Weicker to run as governor on a synthetic party ticket. D’Amore drifted off the party reservation, was seen canoodling with Jesse Ventura, and later re-entered Connecticut’s political orbit as an advisor to Ned Lamont, who tried and failed to unhorse Weicker’s old bete noir, Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The best that can be said about Connecticut’s moderate, lackadaisical state Republican Party is that it survived Weicker.
Will it survive Gov. Jodi Rell?
The party is still small – very small. There are only 12 Republicans in the state’s Senate, as against 24 Democrats, who have a majority in both houses large enough to override Rell’s rarely used veto.
The state is facing a huge $9 billion deficit, a per capita hole in the boat larger than bankrupted California’s.
In the face of that deficit, Rell this year put up a show of resistance and then caved in to the status quo. It has become much too easy for Republican governors, surrounded on all sides by heavily armed Democrats, to hoist the white flag and wave a cheerful farewell to their troops. “Government,” George Washington said, “is force.” It will always be easy to capitulate to force majeure. Washington, to be sure, didn’t; but he was made of different mettle.
Here and there, one sees hopeful signs, indications there is a life after near-death for Republicans.
The party itself is no longer tied to the governor’s apron strings. Following a decision to capitulate to Democrats and allow a tax swollen budget to pass without her signature, leading Republicans did not swallow their tongues and retreat with their tails between their legs, as was common, except in sometimes raucous closed Republican caucuses, in the administration of former governor John Rowland.
Republicans are now refusing to dip their handkerchiefs in suicidal budgets. There is little outward or internal assent among Republicans to the Democratic Party’s spendfest.
Following its passage, GOP leader in the senate John McKinney of Fairfield said, “I agree with the governor's criticism of the budget, but I'm disappointed that she didn't veto the bill. At no time did the Democratic majority ever show a willingness to consider serious reductions in spending. It was quite clear that they were never going to reduce spending. The Democrats have the budget they want.''
And House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero said, “I don't see any reason why she would sign this unless she just wanted it over with - and that's not a good enough reason.”
Parties form around persons or ideas. The Democrats have just implemented their last idea, a progressive income tax. Facing barren years ahead, it is as if they had reached for the very last jar of peanut butter in the panty, eyes turned inward, downing it with gusto.
Silence in law signifies consent. Cut loose from a governor who has assented by her silence to a ruinous budget, what will be the principle of organization of the Republican Party in Connecticut? Is there in the party a person around whom the Republicans can unite to mobilize for action? Are there ideas among Republicans worth fighting for? What is their program? How will that program be presented in campaigns, and by whom?
An anxious public awaits reasonable answers to these important questions. The politics of upcoming campaigns will be local. The state looks forward to a barren future. Salvation will not come from a confused and central government in Washington sunk in fantasy and debt.
And the pantry is empty.