Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Party Of Liberty

Below is a key note address delivered to the Bethel Republican Town Committee during their lobsterfest. My thanks to Bill Hillman, who invited me to speak, and everyone present who was kind enough to hear me out. A good time was had by all, except for the lobsters.

Atheists In Ireland

When Bill Buckley – who lived in Connecticut nearly all his life, first in Sharon and later in Stamford – went to Ireland for the first time, he did what most Irish Americans do on their first trip to the land of saints. He visited dusty old churches and examined dusty old records to uncover his family’s roots.

Then he went on a pub crawl.

It was the most curious thing, he told me. On whatever topic a conversation began in a pub, it somehow almost invariably turned into a discussion of religion. And this, he found, was true in pub one, two, three and so on. One of the people mentioned a famous atheist writer in Ireland. Buckley pretended to be shocked and said, “Do you mean to tell me there are ATHEISTS in Ireland? Hadn’t Saint Patrick driven them all out? “There are atheists in Ireland,” one of the people gathered around him said. “But you have to understand,” Mr. Buckley, “Here in Ireland, there are two kinds of atheists – Protestant atheists, and Catholic atheists.”

I often think of that episode when, making my rounds, it is pointed out to me that there are no more non-partisan, objective journalists in the land of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. And I’m tempted to reply, “There are non-partisan, objective journalists around. But you have to understand, there are two kinds of non-partisan, objective journalists – Democrats and Republicans. Most media people self-identify as independents, Joe Scarborough being the most recent convert to Independence -- but the claim of independent is for cover mostly; on matters of moment, most media folk in Connecticut drift towards the left corner of the political barricades.

Here in Connecticut, I once thought, Democrat non-partisan objective journalists probably outnumbered Republican non-partisan objective journalists by a ratio of two to one because Democrat voters in Connecticut outnumber Republican voters by the same ratio. Newspaper publishers are still interested in sales. This turns out not to be true. A recent study in Washington showed that ninety percent of non-partisan objective journalists regularly vote the Democrat Party ticket. The proportions likely are similar in Connecticut. A friend, extrapolating from editorials and op-ed pieces concerning Connecticut politics, ventured that the disproportion may be much greater than that. She reckons about ninety eight percent pro-Democrat to .03 Republican, the gap being made up of journalists professionally indifferent to politics, sports announcers, weather-persons and the like.

Laying aside the math, it sure doesn’t feel that Republicans here in Connecticut have a very strong journalistic wind at their backs.

Clobbered By Taxes

Proof of this is in the political pudding. Reasonable people can reason forward from premises to conclusions and backwards, inferentially from conclusions to premises. The General Assembly has been dominated by Democrats for about half a century, in round numbers. Presently, there are no Republican members of Connecticut’s all Democrat U.S. Congressional Delegation; in the past, the Delegation was split evenly between the party of Lincoln and the party of Jefferson, Jackson and Bailey. Jackson, I may note parenthetically, was only recently booted from the state Democratic annual fund raising dinner. Feeling the prick of conscience, Democrats last year renamed their annual dinner because Jackson owned slaves and was indifferent to the plight of those Native Americans he had herded on to reservations. Who knew? John C. Calhoun has been expelled from Yale, and Thomas Jefferson is still on parole.

Six years ago, with the election of Dannel Malloy, Democrats captured the gubernatorial office for the first time since it had been held by Governor Bill O’Neill and, before him, by Governor Ella Grasso, both ardent foes of an income tax. Malloy celebrated the Democrat’s clean sweep by refusing to do any budget business with Republicans; which, of course, left Malloy, a progressive Democrat, the General Assembly, many members of which are progressive Democrats, and state unions, Connecticut’s fourth branch of government, in charge of the state’s purse strings.

The results we see before us. State taxpayers have been clobbered by the Malloy administration with the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history – following the imposition, and it was a grievous imposition, of the Lowell P. Weicker Jr. income tax. A thimble full of real objective non-partisan journalists are beginning to take note that the revenue increases have not led, as promised, to balanced budgets or a vibrant Connecticut economy. The exact opposite is true. Among states not bewitched by the extravagant and false pretentions of progressivism, Connecticut has become a laughing-stock. People are beginning to talk about the state’s prosperity in the past tense.

Reasoning backwards from results such as entrepreneurial flight, the exodus of young people and businesses from the state, recurring deficits, and the inability or unwillingness of a Democratic majority and a Democratic governor to produce and pass through the legislature a budget before the end of the fiscal year, surely reasonable people can conclude that the operative premises of the current Democrat progressive regime have not advanced the public good.

In the last few months, following the dramatic collapse of progressive pretentions, General Electric has shaken the dust of Connecticut from its feet and moved to Massachusetts; Mother Aetna has announced it is moving its headquarters from Connecticut to New York; three rating agencies -- S&P Global Ratings, Moody's and Fitch – have downgraded state bonds, which will increase the cost of borrowing; Connecticut’s biennial deficit is hovering around $5 billion; the state’s pension obligations are approaching, depending upon whose figures one is willing to accept, $68 billion. People gathered here will understand this is only a partial accounting of Connecticut’s dip into penury following a half century of Democratic hegemonic rule in the General Assembly. Time restraints prevent me from adding to the list.

Republican leader in the state Senate Len Fasano said recently he had talked with GE executives before they left Connecticut and – this is a quote from Fasano -- “They said Connecticut continues to tax at rates that make it unaffordable for businesses and people to stay here and didn’t see what Connecticut might look like seven or eight years from now. That’s the same analysis I’ve heard from a number of businesses as to why they’re leaving. The progressive agenda this governor put forth is now coming home to roost.”

The Titans of Industry Packing Their Bags

Stanley Black and Decker, like Aetna born and bred in Connecticut, was celebrating its 175th anniversary in the state. U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, who while Attorney General of Connecticut was much in the habit of suing companies, turned up at Republican Mayor of New Britain Erin Stewart’s doorstep to bestow his congratulations. "This company,” Blumenthal enthused, “is a national treasure, but obviously a Connecticut icon," as was – please note the past tense – Mother Aetna, and Sikorski, bought up in 2015 by Lockheed Martin, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.  Job poacher Governor Rick Scott had contacted Stanley Black and Decker, and his presence in the state had shivered the timbers of Democrats such as Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty, both present at the anniversary celebration.

Senior Vice President and CFO of Stanley Black and Decker Donald Allan had not been seduced by Scott’s blandishments. "I think [Florida is] trying to do the right thing for their state” he said. “However, we want to make sure we do the right thing for the State of Connecticut. We have no plans to go anywhere." Business plans sometimes change in response to changing circumstances.

The dire situation in Connecticut was far from hopeless, Alan thought: “I think this situation can be solved, but I think government and businesses have to work together to do that." No doubt Blumenthal and Esty were gratified that Alan did not descend to particulars, which are, to put it in the kindest possible terms, distressing.

Let me take you back to June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, 22 days  removed from June 7, the closing of the state legislature, the date when the state budget was supposed to have been finalized.

Here is a Hartford Courant headline on June 30, front page, top of the fold, heralded in super-sized font that even Lori Pelletier, Connecticut President of the AFL-CIO, could not fail to notice: “A Stinging Blow”. To the left of the story was a companion item in smaller caps, also top of the fold, front page: “Dems Push Tax Hikes,” sub-headed, “House proposes delaying vote until July 18.” The significance of that important date will be mentioned shortly in this analysis.

One may imagine Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini devouring these headlines with his poached egg and cappuccino, thinking to himself as he does so, “See, I was right to move Aetna’s headquarters to New York. We may have escaped the tax-hike rat-trap just in time.” As easily, one may imagine Pelletier, pounding her desk after an encouraging conversation with Massachusetts progressive fire-brand Senator Elizabeth Warren, and letting loose the standard progressive war-whoop: “See, I was right all along about this cruel, uncaring, unchristian, greedy, fat-cat, overstuffed poltroon.”

Bertolini, who earlier brushed horns with Malloy, did not leave the state without pressing down upon the brow of labor a crown of thorns. An official Aetna statement warned, according to a Courant report, that its employee presence in Connecticut would be determined by the state’s economic growth – nada, so far – and what Bertolini called “fiscal stability.” Not much of that around during the Malloy administration. Hartford has been a Democratic Party hegemon since 1967, when  Republican Ann Uccello was elected mayor.

“The company remains hopeful,” the official Aetna statement read, “that lawmakers will come to an agreement that puts Connecticut on a sound financial footing, and that the state will support needed reforms to make Hartford a vibrant city once again.” There’s a slogan Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, once chief counsel to the Malloy administration, might consider adopting: Make Hartford Great Again!

The one-party Democratic city is now, and has been for years, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. A judge -- provided he is not a non-partisan Democratic Judge -- might be able to impose on Harford’s public union employees a regimen that may save Connecticut’s capital city from the union wrecking ball. It becomes increasingly obvious every day that union-bought Speaker of the House, Joe Aresimowicz, is not in the reformation business. He much prefers the status quo: outsized union pensions, recurring deficits, fleeing businesses, and “fixed-cost” growth that crowds out possible future reforms made by future governors interested in making Connecticut great again.

Unions The Fourth Branch of Government

Now then, back to that all important date – July 18.

During the first week of July, the Connecticut Post noted in an editorial, “As of now, the next special session to vote on a budget is not scheduled until July 18. Not by coincidence, that happened to be the day before the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) was scheduled to finish voting on contract concessions negotiated by Malloy.”

Indeed, this series of events is no coincidence. Generally in politics, things happen as they do because politicians who control events want them to happen in a certain way.  Political business in the House of Representatives is controlled by the Speaker of the House, without whose assent business is not reported to the floor. Democrats did not bring a budget to the floor on June 7, when the legislature was due to close, because Democrats had no budget. Republicans, who did have a budget in hand that had been vetted and declared balanced by the state’s budget office, were not permitted to bring their budget to the floor for either an open discussion or a vote. Aresimowicz, the budget gatekeeper in the General Assembly, wanted it that way. Both Republicans and Malloy then produced mini-budgets that were not voted upon, after which Malloy assumed plenary powers to keep the state on an even keel until union-employed Aresimowicz was prepared to open a discussion on the budget that should have been allowed on June 7; that was the date during which a Democrat budget acceptable to Aresimowicz’s caucus should have been presented to the General Assembly for discussion and a vote.

None of this  occurred because Aresimowicz and Malloy, the nominal head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, did not want any vote on any budget before July 18. Well then, what was so special about July 18?

Mark Pazniokas and Keith Phaneuf of CTMirror noted in a June 29 report: “Instead of a vote on a mini-budget, House Democratic leaders tried to refocus attention off the failings of the day and onto July 18, when they say they intend to vote on a two-year budget that would protect municipal aid and hospitals, but also would raise the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.99 percent.” Aresimowicz was quoted in the CTMirror report to this effect: “House Democrats, really happy to announce that we are putting forward a two-year budget to address the many fiscal situations we’re finding in our state.” And, according to the report, Aresimowicz pointedly noted, “He said the day House Democrats hope to vote is one day after state-employee unions are to complete their voting on whether to ratify a tentative concessions deal.”

In the General Assembly, things happen the way they do because Democrat leaders, as well as the state’s highly unpopular lame-duck Democratic governor, want them to happen as they do. Malloy, despite his denials, did not want the Republican alternative budget to be brought to the floor for debate, and the Republican budgets – there were more than one -- were smothered in their cribs, likely because Republicans had, since the beginning of Malloy’s first term, gained seats in both the House and Senate. The party split in the Senate is now 18 Democrats, 18 Republicans; and, in recent years, Republicans have drawn uncomfortably close to Democrats in the House as well. There the split is 79 Democrats, 72 Republicans – too close for comfort. Moreover, there is in the General Assembly a rump moderate Democrat faction that occasionally votes with Republicans against destructive progressive policies.

The quotable Otto Von Bismarck used to say “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes; a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” Foolishly, progressive Democrats did not learn even from their own mistakes. And, purely for political reasons, they were determined not to rely on the wisdom of others.

Here is what the Republican Party learned from the mistakes of the Malloy administration: it is foolhardy to raise taxes in the midst of a recession. President John Kennedy, who wisely did learn from the mistakes of others, said as much in perhaps the most important economic declaration of his presidency, an address he gave to the economic Club of New York three months before he was assassinated. Cutting tax rates – and consequently increasing revenue by spurring business activity – Kennedy’s plan produced the new revenue used after his death to launch President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, some of which, economists later realized, were not so great. Raising taxes, wise Connecticut Republicans know, saved General Assembly progressive Democratic leaders the necessity of making prudent, long-term, permanent cuts in spending. The adjectives here – “permanent, long-term” – are critical. Temporary fixes fix problems temporarily, after which they recur, like a bad penny or like repetitive deficits.

The Republican budget plan no progressive Democrat wished to bring to the floor for an up or down vote was balanced, held the line on taxes and, in the words of Republican minority leader in the House Themis Klarides , eliminated the deficit while “preserving core services, such as education, without hurting our towns and cities.’’ The Republican plan also increased school aid for every town and city; preserved municipal funding overall; forestalled the shift of $400 million in teacher pension payments to municipalities; had no tax or fee hikes at all, rejected the House Democratic sales tax hike; offered municipal mandate relief; limited state borrowing to $1.3 billion; eliminated the property tax on hospitals; implemented a defined contribution plan for new hires; increased pension and healthcare payments for all state workers; saved money by reducing overtime payments made to state employees; and enhanced fraud detection programs to make government more efficient.

What’s not to like, eh?

The answer to that question – if you are a progressive Democrat – is everything. Every point of the Republican rescue plan must be resisted, because the Republican program is an assault on the progressive status quo. Progressivism in Connecticut has a long beard. The new state Republican Party is a revolutionary instrument. The most efficient way to resist revolutionary change is to nip it in the bud; just make sure that no reform measures are brought to the floor for a vote in Connecticut’s greatest deliberative political body. A bill passed is a power, but a bill deferred, or not considered, is a pious wish. Because Democrats in the General Assembly control all the gate keeping functions, they are able to frustrate Republicans at every turn.

In a well ordered republic, there are no accidents. There are different kinds of orders in healthy republics; there is, for example a constitutional order. Nowhere in the state constitution are unions invested with political power; or, to put it in terms discussed here, we may say that unions ought not to be allowed to determine the budget narrative. Unions should be bit players, not the chief characters of the budget play.

Is that the way it happens in Connecticut? Not at all.

A constitutional sequence of budget events in Connecticut would go like this: 1) the governor produces a balanced budget; 2) the governor submits his budget to the General Assembly; 3) the legislature either accepts the budget as is, or modifies the budget; 4) if modified and accepted by both houses of the General Assembly, the budget is resubmitted to the governor for his approval signature, or not; 5) if the governor signs the budget, it becomes law.

In Connecticut, this constitutional process is interrupted by contractual negotiations between the governor and unions. And it is this interruption that has prolonged the budget process in Connecticut. But the union negotiations are not just an interruption of a constitutional process. The participation of unions in the making of a budget changes the process and the end results. In effect, this additional scene to the budget play materially affects its last act. Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell has written that out-sized union influence is subversive of the democratic, small “d”, process.

Why so? Contractual disputes are not settled by legislatures – but by courts. The union-Malloy- Aresimowicz deal pushes contracts out until 2027, making necessary changes in those contracts impossible for future governors and legislators to effect. Connecticut is one of a handful of states in which the final budget product depends upon contractual negotiations between the chief executive and union heads. Wiser heads in other states adjust budgets through statute changes. Connecticut was unable to finalize a budget on June 7, the closing day of legislative year, because Democratic Speaker Aresimowitz, who is employed by a union, was waiting upon contractual negotiations between Malloy and SEBAC that did not conclude until July 18.

Having the contracts in hand, Malloy, who in the past has busied himself by marching in union strike-lines, and Aresimowitz are now able to present a fait accompli to Republican reformers -- who are very much interested in restoring to the legislature its constitutional budget making authority.

Bottoms Up: The Progressive Coup And The Resistance

Consider what will happen if the General Assembly, asserting its constitutional prerogatives, were to reclaim its budget making authority from a non-democratic, union-gubernatorial political combine that does not represent the broad public interest. Because of the delays and interruptions of the democratic budget process, Malloy now wields plenary power over an unapproved General Assembly budget. Suppose the General Assembly, asserting its constitutional responsibilities, were to reject the union-Malloy-Aresimowitz deal and toss the political ball back into the governor’s court?

What would happen? In a regular – not a special session -- this would happen: the union-Malloy-Aresimowitz-deal would become law after 30 days had elapsed – without a vote in the General Assembly. Statutorily, this can only happen in regular session – not during a special session, a saving grace Connecticut should be thankful for. The next regular session is in February. It seems there will be a recorded vote on the upcoming budget. And Connecticut can only pray that somehow, by hook or crook, Republicans will be able to by-pass the too clever by half status quo obstructionists and place their reform budget before the General Assembly for an honest up or down vote – because the Republican budget contains life-saving measures without which Connecticut will continue its downward fall. The bottom – very near us – always comes up fast.

The Democratic controlled General Assembly long ago surrendered its constitutional prerogatives to union enablers; and they cannot now justly complain that they have been over-mastered by a progressive cabal that, let off the leash, would yet again increase taxes upon the general working population and a few millionaire hedge fund managers, all of whom are considerably more mobile than Aetna and General Electric executives.

Republicans want to restore a constitutional republican (small “r”) order that has been overturned by undue attentions paid to special interests. The legislative body, the primary law making body of our “Constitution State,” should never be permitted to rent out its constitutional responsibilities and obligations to un-elected political factions – or, indeed, to the other branches of government, executive or judicial.

The Republican Party has now become the party of necessary reform; the Democratic Party is the party of the status quo – and everyone now agrees that the status quo is the road full of good intentions that leads, very quickly, to perdition. The Republican Party wants permanent solutions to problems that, if left unaddressed, will continue to erode Connecticut’s standing among other states. Democrats want to make their “temporary fixes” permanent; that is what they want their status quo budget to accomplish.

If any proof of this is necessary, it was furnished on July 24, when a motion to bring the Republican budget to the floor for a vote was narrowly defeated, one brave Democrat voting with Republicans. The SEBAC-Malloy-Aresimowicz also passed and now moves to the Senate, where it is hoped at least one Democrat may vote for the greater good. “A dead thing,” G. K. Chesterton reminds us, “can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.”

Following the House vote, Republican leader Klarides accurately characterized the Democratic resistance to sound Republican measures: “The reason our budget has not been called for a vote is that the majority fears it will pass.” Rep. Gail Lavielle thought, not without reason, that the vote in favor of the so-called union “concession” agreement presaged further crippling taxes: “This is a catastrophe for Connecticut; 10 years of no changes in public sector union benefits; tax increases and service cuts for years, and everyone who voted for this will be responsible.”

Emerging from the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin was asked by a woman who accosted him on the street, “Well, sir, what have you given us?” His reply is our sacred trust – “A republic, madam – if you can keep it.” Here in Connecticut, we have a republic to keep. Let us keep it in good order. Let us be steadfast and brave, for liberty can only be given away once. If we give it to our rulers, we are undone. If we give it to our children, they will bear in their hearts and spirit the stirring life affirming words of Samuel Adams, known during his own time as “The father of the American Revolution.”

Here is Adam’s full throated challenge to patriots of his own day. Let them ring down the ages in our ears like a loud clanging liberty bell: “If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”

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