Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Connecticut Republican Party At Ground Zero

State Republicans in Connecticut must be a bit envious of their national party.

Even ardent Democrats who believe that President George Bush is an imbecile – a dwindling number as more and more Republicans are added to the U.S. Congress – allow that the Republicans, led by uber-advisor Karl Rove, the putative brains behind the throne, did a magnificent job in showing Sen. John Kerry the door.

While their national counterparts were expanding their political power, State Republicans were losing seats in the legislature. And only last week Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, formerly the President Pro Tem of the state senate, acting on behalf of Governor Jodi Rell, who was on a vacation not paid for by state contractors, unburdened himself of the following sentiment:

"It is outrageous that our state would be seen nationally as the place to buy an illegal license. Worse still, it appears that state authorities failed to act for weeks after being informed by the media investigation that there was evidence of ongoing fraud and illegality.”

It appears that some entrepreneurs at the Department of Motor Vehicles have been supplying to illegal aliens driver's licenses without which they would be unable to secure green cards, and Sullivan wanted everyone to know how affronted he was. Sullivan was hoisted to his present position as a result of the resignation of former Governor John Rowland, now living a relatively peaceful media free life in West Hartford.

No doubt Sullivan would be doubly affronted if he were a full time governor of Connecticut – but a long line is beginning to form. Still, the experience of being an acting governor, if only for a few days, may be worth something.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Golden Boy of the state Democrat Party, probably could have the nomination for the asking, but being governor might be a step down from being the state’s attorney general. And there may be good reasons why Blumenthal never asked.

Unlike attorneys general, governors cannot overleap constitutional wall of separation that prevents them from assuming functions assigned to legislators, judges and heads of state. Through media connections, suits and legislative advisories, attorney generals regularly exercise quasi legislative, judicial and executive powers. The most powerful and feared politician in New York just now is neither a governor nor a legislator nor a judge but the State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

It may be unreasonable to expect politicians nursing ungovernable ambitions to settle for being governor, when it’s so much more gratifying – and trouble-free -- being Caesar.

Sen. Chris Dodd, who hinted the other day that he might consider a gubernatorial draft, also could have the job for the asking.

Dodd’s problem is the opposite of Blumenthal’s.

The power and influence of a senator is directly related to the chairmanship he holds on, let’s say, the “Subcommittee of the Committee to Investigate the Use of Fish Weirs in the Russian River in Alaska.” If you are not in the majority, you are in the minority, a cold and forbidding place for ambitious senators.

Dodd’s prospects for glory recede in direct proportion to gains made by Republicans, and the senator, who has been in congress since 1980, may have decided, after all these years, that he doesn't want to be Teddy Kennedy after all.

The line of gubernatorial aspirants following the two Democrat heavy hitters runs around the block. And of course, it must be presumed that Rell is interested in holding on to the position she recovered from Sullivan once her vacation was over.

The Democrat Party is chugging along in its usual well worn path, but the Republican Party may have reached a crossroad. Hitting bottom is sometimes liberating because there is no place else to go but upwards.

But how to get up?

When he had lost his gubernatorial campaign to Rowland, a newly liberated, inward looking Bill Curry said he thought that the citizens of the state were voting for “Republican governors to enact Democrat programs.” He almost got it right. In the absence of Republican programs, Democrat programs are the only show in town.

This year, the Democrats in the legislature once again will resurrect their favorite programs, including a millionaire's tax, in an attempt to convince the electorate that they can have their spending and not pay for it too. Standing between hikes in spending and the forward momentum of victorious Democrats is Rell and a decreasing number of Republicans who have grown comfortable enacting Democrat programs -- slender reeds indeed.

What is needed in Connecticut is a real state Republican Party that would advance real Republican measures like … well, President Bush's.

Red Republicans in a blue state would not have an easy time of it. But think of the fun they might have.

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