Monday, April 03, 2017

Lieutenant Markley

The bad news, some conservatives in Connecticut will say, is that State Senator Joe Markley will not be running for governor. The good news is that Mr. Markley -- now representing the 16th Senatorial District, which includes the towns of Cheshire, Prospect, Southington, Wolcott and Waterbury – has announced he is running for Lieutenant Governor.

Why not governor? “When asked why he didn’t aim for the top office,” the Record Journal reports, “he said there are already many strong Republican candidates considering a run. I’m very interested in having some Republican elected as governor next year because we have to change direction in this state. I feel that this is the spot on the ticket where I can most be of service.”

Mr. Markley is no stranger to Connecticut or its byzantine politics. He is a Southington, Connecticut native descended through his mother, Priscilla Cowles, from a family that has resided in town continuously since the 1730s.  In 1991, when then Governor Lowell Weicker managed to bully, bribe and cajole General Assembly members into passing an income tax, changing forever the political and economic posture of Connecticut with respect to contiguous states, Mr. Markley was one of the key people who organized a massive anti-tax rally that drew 65,000 citizens to the state capitol, likely the largest rally in state history. A former teacher who holds a master’s degree in English from Columbia University, Mr. Markley speaks in full sentences, such as these, delivered In January shortly after Governor Dannel Malloy presented his newest budget to the General Assembly:

“We’ve just stepped out of the joint session, where the governor has presented his budget; presented it very briefly and, I would say, with very little conviction. And the details are not there yet, but the broad outlines of it are very, very discouraging. I think that his budget is, in fact, probably dead on arrival.”

Mr. Markley’s brief review of Mr. Malloy’s somewhat disingenuous budget presentation gently fingers all the sore points. The Governor’s budget passes the deficit buck to municipalities by requiring towns to pay for about a third of the cost of state employee teachers’ pensions, which ultimately would lead, Mr. Markley said, “to a property tax increase, rather than real reductions in spending here in Hartford, which is what we need to do.”

Having hoed and tilled political fields for other center-right Republicans, Mr. Markley can justly claim, “I’ve got credibility with the grassroots base. I think I can turn out volunteers, and I think I can make the case for the Republican Party -- for the principles we believe in -- to the Republican base; also to people who may not have been entirely sympathetic to it.”

As a contrarian operating in a state that is deep blue, Mr. Markley more often chooses to tickle the fancy rather than plunging knives into jugular veins. Temperamentally, he is more nearly like Bill Buckley than Donald Trump – lucid, cautious in his formulations, refreshingly modest, deeply focused on problems and solutions, a realist rather than a pragmatist in the manner of Thomas Cromwell, whom Thomas More curtly dismisses in Robert Bolt’s Play A Man For All Seasons as “a pragmatist – and that’s the only resemblance he has to the Devil, son Roper; a pragmatist, the merest plumber.”

Mr. Markley has attended nearly every Lear play produced in Connecticut for the last decade. He is the only member of the General Assembly I’ve met who can tease the proper religious implications from the following lines in the play: “Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel/ That thou mayst shake the superflux to them/ And show the heavens more just” – profitable advice, in and out of season, for politicians of every stripe and hue. The real difference between a conservative and a progressive is that a conservative knows that the “superflux” is the fountainhead of all authentic charity. 

In a brief essay written for The New Haven Independent, Mr. Markley writes, “For reasons personal, professional, and recreational, I often feel I am the most fortunate man on earth.  If the experience that gives me the feeling is aesthetic, likely it happened at Yale.  I felt that way last Friday evening at St. Joseph Church on Edwards Street, where the Yale Schola Cantorum performed Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers to a packed and rapt house.”

Too few politicians in the General Assembly are non-lawyers who really do have a life outside the law and politics. Mr. Markley’s cool and considered manner likely will not raise the almost pathological blood-lust of conservative-slayers in Connecticut, some of whom write for newspapers. In their off-times, deep within the parched deserts of their hearts where nothing but briers bloom, even partisans thirst for living water. Oddly for a politician, Mr. Markley's political journey satisfies some deep longing in the human spirit, as does the Yale Schola Cantorum performing Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

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