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Showing posts from 2005

Jodi Rell, Saint or Sinner

"This is not, I think, what any of us would have expected,” said a disappointed Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, “from a governor who has set a very high standard for everyone else.”

Sullivan, a Democrat, said he withheld comment on what some are calling Moodygate for a couple of weeks so as to give the governor an opportunity to clear her head, but Rell simply had not measured up to her own high ethical expectations of the behavior of other politicians, mostly Democrats. The governor’s Chief of Staff, Lisa Moody, may have broken the law when she distributed fundraising invitations to several of the governor’s commissioners. Investigations by Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano and the State Elections Enforcement Commission are underway. The governor has suspended Moody without pay for two weeks, a sanction characterized by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, one of two Democrat candidates for governor, as “a holiday vacation.”

“I have been very reluctant to comment on these…

Thanks Andy: How Sauer and the Democrats Achieved Compromise

Andy Sauer is the executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Common Cause, which bills itself, according to an introductory blurb provided in a recent interview, as “a non-profit lobbying group that says it promotes responsible, accountable government, and has long fought for campaign finance reform.”

Part of this is true. Common Cause is a liberal lobbying group that has aggressively pushed campaign finance reform. The whole gaggle of liberal lobbying groups was there, according to Sauer, at the birth of the campaign finance reform bill, and their influence cannot be overstated. They shaped the bill voted into law by the legislature.

Praising Gov. Jodi Rell, Sauer remarked in the interview, “One of the first things she did was [to] meet with campaign finance reform advocates. I was there ... Tom Swan [of Connecticut Citizen Action Group], Karen Hobert Flynn as the chair of Common Cause was there, the League of Women Voters, CONNpirg ... We were the first, and to the best of my kn…

Lisa Moody's Blues

In handing out invitations to state commissioners and inviting them both to contribute to Gov. Jodi Rell’s campaign and to solicit funds, Lisa Moody, the governor’s chief of staff, was violating a well known regulation. Her claim that the violation was inadvertent is not plausible. As one commentator pointed out, Moody has been attached to Rell by the hip every since the governor’s more uneventful days as Lieutenant Governor and she has earned a reputation as a detail hawk.

The open question therefore is: Shall Moody be hanged; or hanged and quartered; or hanged and quartered and burned at the state capitol, her ashes to be sown over the lawn as an example to politicians that Connecticut, at long last, has become serious about ethics reform?

Two Democrat gubernatorial aspirants, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, called upon Rell to suspend Moody immediately. There is no need, DeStefano said, for Rell to wait upon the completion of investigations begun by C…

When A Weicker Meets A Maverick, Coming Through The Rye

Here is a thumbnail view, admittedly incomplete, of former governor and senator Lowell Weicker’s political philosophy:

The United States is a republic, not a democracy. In a republican form of government, the people rule through elected representatives. As a practical matter, at least for Weicker, this means that the whole apparatus of modern politics is hopelessly defective. Polls and especially referendums are useless excrescences. Politicians should conduct themselves as if they were above polls, the media, clamorous political commentators and even, Weicker does not blush to say it, political parties. The former Republican senator is notorious for having defined himself as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” Anything that comes between a politician and what the politician knows to be right, judging from his own experience, must be brushed away with a sneer and a catcall. The primary virtue of a politician, overriding all lesser virtues, is guts: Do what you think is right …

After the Ball Is Over: Connecticut's Great Experiment in Campaign Finance Reform

So then, almost everyone is happy, though murmurs continue to be heard from some corners of the political barracks.

After the Democrat plan for campaign finance reform passed through the legislature, minority Republicans dissenting, Democrats launched whole symphony of now familiar sound bites. Nothing in this veil of tears is perfect they acknowledged, but imperfections in the bill could be settled later on. As Bill Curry used to say, “We should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.” Connecticut once again had shown itself to be a reformist bellwether that got the jump on other less progressive sister states in the blue Northeast corridor. Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams advised that everyone should look upon the new legislation as a learning opportunity and a grand experiment.

There were bits and pieces in the legislation to dissatisfy almost every political interest group, with the possible exception of the Democratic caucus. Democrat leaders managed to secure th…

Shame Me Twice, Shame on Me: Rell, Democrats and Unions

In announcing her veto of a Clean Contracting Bill that contained, as Republicans believe, a legislative “rat” contrived by Democrats to aid unions and sink the bill, Gov. Jodi Rell brought to a press conference two “disabled” Connecticut citizens who stood beside her as she made her remarks. The presence of the two mentally retarded citizens caused a certain amount of discomfort among leading Democrats.

Democrats had smuggled into their Clean Contracting Bill a provision triggering an audit whenever the state enters into a contract worth more than $500,000 and seeks to privatize services that are “substantially similar to, and in lieu of services provided by employees of the particular state agency.” Viewing the provision as a legislative raid on executive powers, the governor vetoed the bill.

Rep. Christopher Caruso, who has gained a reputation as an ardent Democrat proponent of campaign finance reform, asserted that the two retarded citizens had been used – one might almost say “ab…

Bring Back Honorifics

One possible solution to the growing acidity in communications, including political columns and increasingly rude bloggers, is to bring back honorifics: Mr. for men; Miss or Mrs. for women; and Ms. on those doubtful occasions when good manners is likely to get you castrated by a radical feminist in full fury.

Public discourse without honorifics sounds too much like a bar brawl. As anyone who has ever been involved in a bar brawl will know, there is a world of difference between saying 1) “Smith is an ass,” and 2) “Mr. Smith is an ass,” even when sorrowful bad news is brought to Mr. Smith in a bar. (As an aside, it should be noted that the absence of honorifics in bars has become especially troublesome since smoking, a much frowned upon habit that seemed to have had a calming effect on inebriated patrons, has been criminalized.)

The only thing that might upset bar patrons more than the prohibition of smoking would be the criminalization of hard liquor – not an impossibility when one cons…

Doing the Math on Property Tax Reform

“Tax reform,” Democrat gubernatorial aspirant Dannel Malloy wrote in an op-ed piece, “should mean something very clear and very simple: The state must shoulder a far larger share of education costs. One of my first acts as governor would be to set a goal for the state share of education - an absolute minimum of 50 percent in the short term - and commit to reach that goal within a reasonable period of time.”

Malloy’s new tax reform measure is very much like Bill Curry’s old tax reform measure, which is not surprising since Malloy’s campaign staff is top heavy with advisors who previously worked for Curry. The idea, back when Curry was running for governor against John Rowland, was to provide tax relief to municipalities by having the state assume a larger portion of education taxes.

The state currently pays about 38% of the cost of education, down from 45% in 1989. A Governor Malloy would immediately increase the state’s portion to 50%. Assuming the legislature was to adopt Malloy’s prog…

Rowland and His Enemies

Two appointments made by Governor Jodi Rell recently have come under criticism. Rell has chosen Ross Garber, formerly John Rowland’s attorney during his impeachment hearing, as a legal advisor and George Gallo as state chairman. Gallo managed Rowland’s 2002 campaign and was the executive director of the state GOP for a little more than nine years.

Ross Garber has been disqualified by his critics because he committed the unpardonable sin of defending his client to the best of his ability. But no one, not even highly sensitive political commentators, has accused Garber of accepting hot tubs from pay-to-play state contractors. And, despite objections from the authoritative New York Times, there is no reason why Garber should not be advising the Rell campaignon legal issues, especially since Democrats and others are even now making attempts to cast aspersions on Rell’s reputation through her presumed association with former Governor John Rowland.

Rell was Rowland’s Lieutenant Governor, duri…

Republicans in the Poor House

Said the wizened Republican Party activist, “Rell won’t have a problem raising money (for the upcoming gubernatorial campaign), but any other Republican unfortunate enough to embrace her ideas is going to find himself down and out.”

Governor Rell, dubbed “Snow White” by former Democrat Party Chairman John Droney, can well afford to forego tainted campaign contributions from the usual suspects, lobbyists and state contractors on the make, but her fellow Republicans may find themselves unable to mount successful campaigns by relying solely upon the kindness of strangers.

It is no secret that Democrats who control the legislature are not anxious to adopt before statewide elections begin many of the reforms proposed by Rell. In the absence of statutory restrictions, they can plausibly argue that the acceptance of funds frowned upon by Rell is perfectly legal, though it may be morally questionable. But Republicans who support Rell’s vow to forgo such funding in the current election season wi…

Rell's Petticoat Tails

Though the gubernatorial campaign is still in its infancy, Governor Jodi Rell’s prospects look promising. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat Party’s great white hope, is out of the race, and the governor’s poll numbers are stratospheric.

But in the recent past, improved prospects for Republican governors have meant little or nothing for the party with which they have loosely associated themselves. As one end of the see-saw goes up, the other end goes down. Former Governor John Rowland was popular enough to win a record three terms in office, but Republicans are still the minority party in the legislature. Rowland’s star power was not enough to pull other Republicans into office partially because all politics is local, but also because of the atomization of political parties.

The war on the parties, waged mostly by reformers who view them as vessels of corruption and division, has been hugely successful. There are no longer any party bosses, the role of the boss having b…

The Supreme Court and Defiant Presidents: FDR, Lincoln and Jackson

“The Court, in addition to the proper use of its judicial functions, has improperly set itself up as a third house of the Congress - a super-legislature, as one of the justices has called it - reading into the Constitution words and implications which are not there, and which were never intended to be there.

“I want - as all Americans want - an independent judiciary as proposed by the framers of the Constitution. That means a Supreme Court that will enforce the Constitution as written, that will refuse to amend the Constitution by the arbitrary exercise of judicial power - in other words by judicial say-so.”

The author of these words was not Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, still less Robert Bork, an originalist interpreter of the U.S. Constitution whose name has given rise to the expression “borked.” To be borked means to be publicly assaulted in congress by ideologically committed legislators who profoundly disagree with the words Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered to the Americ…

Rats In The Attic

"Sometimes you take a good piece of legislation, and you tack on a rat. This is some huge rat." -- Robert Genuario, Governor Jodi Rell’s budget director.

Actually, said State President Pro Tem Donald Williams in a disquisition worthy of a 12th century Dominican, or a modern lawyer, the rat that Mr. Genuario thought he smelled in Clean Contracting Bill was a mythical rodent.

Mr. Williams was not quite certain whether Mr. Genuario's metaphor was purposeful or not – It may have been negligence -- but both he and State Senator Donald DeFronzo called a news conference to protest the “lack of truthfulness” on the part of Republicans and call upon Governor Jodi Rell to “stop the campaign of misinformation against the Clean Contracting Bill passed by the General Assembly” which, Mr. Williams did not note in his press conference, is controlled by majority Democrats.

Mr. Williams was particularly disturbed that the possibly mendacious misinformation campaign waged by Republicans aga…

Sullivan Agonistes

In one respect, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor’s position is similar to the office of Vice President of the United States, famously described by John Nance Garner, who gave up his position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to run as Vice President in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, as “not worth a bucket of warm spit:” Both positions leave its occupants with lots of time on their hands.

Idle time sits heavily on the shoulders of Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, once president pro tem of the senate, now a wilting Napoleon at Elba, gnashing his teeth and plotting a return to power.

Like vice presidents, lieutenant governors preside over the senate and are traditionally support persons. But one can hardly expect Sullivan, a Democrat who once led the loyal opposition in the senate against former Governor John Rowland, to ease the way for current Republican Governor Jodi Rell. There is no future for a Democrat in that sort of sycophancy.

Both the governor and…

Dodd Bill of Immunity for Journalists

Asked what he would do if he was forced to choose to betray either his friend or his country, an English wit replied that he hoped to God he would have the good sense to betray his country. This was something of a trick question anyway, the answer to which was sure to leave in its wake scads of contentious people. But the answer had illuminated what we would now call the gentleman’s “priorities.” Though no rational country would willingly have the Englishman as a citizen, who would not want to be his friend?

A bill sponsored solely by Senator Chris Dodd, the “Free Speech Protection Act of 2004,” puts journalists in the same uncomfortable situation as the hapless Englishman. Compelled to betray a source during a legal proceeding by disclosing his identity or maintaining silence and subverting justice, what would you do?

How do you like your babies -- boiled or fried?

Presently, journalists need not answer such stupid questions because the law is very plain on the point: Journalists may be…

Gubernatorial Race: It's the Economy, Stupid

Jodi Rell teared up during her announcement that she was making herself available to run again as governor. Rell’s stratospheric popularity quotient humbled her, the governor said, and she wanted everyone to know she was serious about de-horning the devil of corruption that has plagued Connecticut ever since most of us were knee high to toadstools.

Sentimentalism is the enemy of clear thought.

There is little doubt that Rell has stolen the corruption issue from the clenched teeth of the Democrats. She did this by bowing to liberals on the issue of public financing of campaigns, much to the chagrin of her fellow Republicans, and then attempting to force Democrats to swallow unpalatable conditions, such porcupines as the abolition of ad-books, guaranteed to pierce Democratic throats with painful quills, and a prohibition preventing lobbyists and contractors doing business with the state from contributing to campaigns.

But the edge Republicans have had in the past over the loyal oppositi…

An October Primer on Campaign Finance Reform

Money, the mother’s milk of politics, is given by lobbyists, mostly to incumbents. So, what’s wrong with this?

The conventional answer is that it creates the impression that politicians are on the take. And, as we know, in politics, impressions – or is that “appearances?” – are determinative.

Here in Connecticut, some politicians have been sunk by the “appearance of corruption” torpedo, but others who frequently have accepted campaign contributions from lobbyists affected by legislation they promote have escaped serious injury.

U.S Sen. Chris Dodd says that his contributors, many from the financial sector, do not affect how he votes on issues. Contributors apparently send money to the senator as an expression of political solidarity: It is not the contribution that occasions the vote, but the vote that occasions the contribution. It’s very important in these matters to get the right horse in front of the right cart.

There are critics of campaign finance reform who say that the reforms cre…

The Vatican and Homosexuals

The Vatican wants to purge homosexuals from its seminaries, and at least one paper, The Hartford Courant, thinks this is a bad idea.

The paper does not presume to quarrel with the Vatican over dogma. Of course, most journalists, especially break-away Roman Catholics, regard dogma as irrational, faith based propositions at variance with science and enlightened opinion; so, what is the point in wasting one’s time being disputatious? The paper questions the Vatican’s “strategy” and asks “When is the Vatican going to get it?”

The Catholic Church’s strategy, is “punitive and shows a woeful misunderstanding of the genesis of the scandals that have undermined its credibility. The scandals were perpetrated by pedophile priests who preyed on young parishioners (virtually all of them boys) and got away with it, sometimes for years, thanks to an enabling hierarchy. These criminals should have been sent to jail. Instead, they were transferred to other parishes where they could prey upon a new set…

Cindy or Bring in the Clowns

When media folk want to validate their prejudices, they commission a poll to verify them, a junk in, junk out phenomena.

It is a foolhardy fallacy to think that people believe everything they read. The opposite may be true: We are dealing with a readership that has “come of age” and tends to be hypercritical. But you cannot form a sound opinion around an empty space: People cannot mentally grope data that has never registered in their minds. The media’s sins of commission pale in respect of their sins of omission. And, of course, if it’s not there, a poll cannot measure it.

Here is a harmless example: In September, a political commentator wrote a column asserting that Cindy Sheehan’s protest against the war in Iraq was rendered ineffective because people were too easily distracted. The column was titled, “Weather Distracts Nation From Iraq War.”

“As a nation,” the commentator wrote, “we seem to be unable to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Iraq, Iraq - whoa! Look at those …

Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Group Lays an Egg

The bipartisan legislative working group formed two months ago to resolve differences between Democrats and Republicans in the matter of campaign finance reform is a signal failure. In order to understand the failure, it helps to remember that “bipartisan” working groups are not non-partisan working groups.

According to one news report, the working group concluded its business by agreeing on a “broad framework” for a voluntary system of public financing; the group also agreed to apply campaign restrictions to lobbyists, state contractors and political action committees.


The “broad framework” recalls the infamous “framework for peace” Viet Cong and U.S. negotiators struggled to bring about during the Vietnam War. The groups that sat down together to resolve matters of war and peace ended up spending months deciding what shape the negotiating table should be. The perpetual meeting provided an illusion of conciliation, but peace escaped the negotiators, and eventually the war was de…

Ernest Newton's Plea Bargain

Sen. Ernest Newton, the fourth ranking Democrat in the state legislature, pleaded guilty in a Bridgeport court on a charge he received a bribe. Prosecutors also charged that Newton used campaign contributions as a “private piggy bank.”

The plea bargain surprised no one who had been following the story.

Very early on, newspapers reported that prosecutors had in their hot little hands reams of recorded conversations allegedly showing that Newton had solicited and then accepted a bribe from Warren Godbolt, the director of Progressive Training Associates, in return for which the senator secured a grant for Godbolt’s non-profit agency.

Connecticut is wearily familiar with such prosecutions, and charges of this kind are not lightly made. That an incumbent politician, safe in his political sinecure, would be sorely tempted to use campaign funds for private purposes should surprise no one who believes in the frailty of human nature. Now that ethicists have made a concerted effort to clean up pol…

The Twilight Zoning Board in Chester

In a government of laws not of men, citizens ought to be able to appreciate the difference between the following two propositions: 1) whatever is not proscribed is permitted; and 2) only actions prescribed by law are permitted.

The first proposition means that the governing authority cannot prohibit the actions of a person living in a free state unless those actions violate a law. The second proposition means that every action unaddressed by the laws is illegal and actionable.

A zoning officer in Chester, Connecticut, a town that apparently has managed to escape 2,000 years of Western law, has told a widow that she must disinter the eight month old remains of her husband, buried on private property they own, because private burials are not addressed in zoning regulations and therefore are not allowed.

The burial, overseen by a funeral director, was in accord with common practices. The violation of the non-existent zoning regulations was discovered after the widow had donated a large p…