Friday, February 26, 2010

The Malloy Box

Dan Malloy, the former Mayor of Stamford presently exploring a run for governor on the Democratic ticket, appeared before a group of Rotarians in Westport at the end of February and was asked how he might apply his mayoralty experience as governor.

Exploratory candidates have to be careful in answering such questions. Should the candidate slip and fall into a recognizable gubernatorial campaign mode, he would risk losing a great deal of money. Campaign contributors are permitted to give more money to those “exploring” a candidacy for public office in Connecticut than they might give to declared gubernatorial candidates.

Prompted by a questioner how he might turn his mayoral experiences to use as governor, Malloy answered, “The root of the trouble in stumbling Connecticut is a divided legislature incapable of producing a good government. We have to recognize that a divided legislature cannot produce good government."

Malloy added that the Democratic Party, though dominant, was unwilling to do heavy-lifting and the Republican Party was “paralyzed." He continued, “"I say shame on both the Democrats and the Republicans in the legislature.”

Just a quibble: If the state legislature is dominated by Democrats, in what sense can it be said to be “divided?” Any Democratic legislative majority can easily thwart the opposition of the minority party and end ineffective opposition with a snap of the fingers. As a matter of fact, the “division” presented by “paralyzed” Republicans in the legislature had little effect on budgetary outcomes during the last fiscal year. For the most part, on every issue of importance to Democrats in the legislature, the dominant party simply rolled over paralyzed Republicans.

To be sure, Republicans, sometimes in concert with the Republican governor, did put up an ineffective resistance. But the substance, size, shape, texture and color of the budget should be watermarked “made in the Democratic caucus.”

Could it not be possible that Malloy meant to say: “Look, if Connecticut citizens would reduce the token Republican opposition in the legislature to zero and then in their wisdom elect a Democratic governor, we easily could rid ourselves of both a “paralyzed” Republican minority in the legislature and this crippling “division” in the state that has prevented us from adequately addressing the crushing weight of pension liabilities, not to mention a $3 to $4 billion hole in future budgets?”

The answer to that question is “no.”

Malloy could not have said such things to the Rotarians in Westport without running afoul of people whose business it is to keep “explorers” on the straight and narrow path that may or may not lead to the gubernatorial office. The "explorer" option is a box that allows Malloy to accumulate more funds for a gubernatorial run while, at the same time, preventing him from responding to any hard questions -- both a blessing and a curse.

The truth is that Connecticut is not so much “paralyzed” as it is broke, out of options that would raise sufficient revenue through increased taxes alone, the preferred option in the past for Democrats, and dominated by Democrats in the legislature that have shown themselves to be indifferent to real bi-partisan solutions that would settle a recurring, long term problem – which is this: The state has spent its way into penury. Connecticut’s dilemma is the same as our national dilemma on a smaller and, one hopes, more manageable scale.

The state’s problems are those associated with a one party governmental apparatus at the beck and call of special interest groups that, for all practical purposes, are the real authors of state budgets. The bulk of the state’s budget is devoted to untouchable dedicated funding. And Connecticut will not be free to chart its own course in the swelling seas ahead unless those funds are brought once again under the democratic thumb of a free and economically responsible legislature.

No Democrat or Republican in the state running for governor, announced or in an exploratory mode, has yet touched this third rail of our discontent.
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