Republicans, occasionally in recent Connecticut history the loyal opposition, have now lost their coveted gubernatorial post. With the exception of a few seats won by state Republicans, 14 in the House and 1 in the Senate, Democrats in the recently concluded elections carried the entire field – this against a National Republican headwind that gave a majority in the U.S. House to Republicans and chipped away at Senate rule by Democrats. The Republican insurgency also reversed Democratic control of some state legislatures and gubernatorial offices, allowing Republicans to redistrict important states during the upcoming census.
Although Democrats nationally are licking their wounds, Connecticut Democrats are popping champagne corks, fatally imagining that serious change in state governance is unnecessary.
Governor-elect Dan Malloy, the first Democratic governor elected in the state since former Gov. William O’Neill threw in the towel 20 years ago, will not be the “firewall” that, some suppose, the two last Republican governor were. The Democratic dominated General Assembly has successfully pressed its own progressive agenda ever since former Independent Governor Lowell Weicker, waving a white flag of his own in the direction of Democrats, yielded to opposition leaders in the legislature and with their help managed to pass his income tax over the hearty objections of the Republican Party he often used as a foil for self promotion. Outgoing Gov. Jodi Rell was unable in her last few years in office to marshal enough support to sustain a veto when Democrats during the last term made Connecticut’s income tax more progressive.
The trend line over the last three decades has been in the direction of higher taxes and increased spending. Connecticut cannot maintain a competitive posture with other states until that trend line is bent in the opposite direction. So called “firewall” Republican governors have not had sufficient support, either in the General Assembly or among Connecticut’s left of center media, to stem the movement towards increased spending that now, after a bone crushing recession, has left Connecticut facing a no-excuse executioner wielding an axe above the state’s bowed head.
Every political commentator in the state, even the most unremitting progressives among them, knows perfectly well that spending must be cut. The budget deficit in Connecticut, per capita, is greater than that of California or New Jersey. Though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was able – by the grace of God, who loves underdog Republicans – to manfully address his state’s deficit WITHOUT RAISING TAXES, one cannot expect a similar effort from Mr. Malloy, who is no Chris Christie.
Moreover, Mr. Malloy owes his election to progressive political operations in the state’s larger cities – especially Bridgeport and New Haven – a media operating on the questionable supposition that a Democratic governor will be able successfully to negotiate reductions in spending with a tax addicted, union propelled Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, and a politically detached citizenry that snoozed through a national Republican insurgency.
Faced with a Democratic governor who very well may become the plaything of powerful leaders in the General Assembly, as were the two Republican governors who preceded him, a politically detached citizenry, and a left of center media that for years has rested comfortably in the delusion that Connecticut had a revenue rather than a spending problem, what strategy, it may be asked, should the loyal but diminishing opposition adopt to stem the tide and ferry the ship of state into more placid waters?
Any responsible Republican position must necessarily be a default position – because Republicans lost; and when a party loses an election, it loses its ability to affect the future. Piloted by leading Democrats in the General Assembly, state taxes will go up; in the face of threats by rating agencies to lower bond ratings, bonding may increase; spending cuts will be temporary; the income tax will be made more progressive; tax increases will be permanent. Here and there, mostly as a sop to convince easily deluded opinion makers, Democrats will dole out tax credits to favored industries and constituencies, a credit being a temporary cut revocable at the will of Democratic leaders in the General Assembly and the Democratic governor.
The Republican resistance to tax increases will be overridden by Connecticut’s new one party state. Republicans, Independents and what is left of a rational state media should bend their efforts towards reversing the permanent trend line. And while they undoubtedly will be forced to bow grudgingly to a superior political force majeure, their default rallying point should be – permanent spending cuts, temporary self lapsing tax increases, a political pitch that very well could be sold even in bluer than blue Connecticut. There may be no other way of reversing a course of political action that will make our state a beggar among beggars, dependent on the whimsy of improvident politicians.