Tuesday, October 25, 2005

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 lieutenant governor came by their positions the old fashioned way: They inherited them after scandal showed the door to Rowland. But Sullivan quickly reinvented the office and soon was launching lampoons at Rell, whereupon doors were shut, windows were locked.

Finding himself uninvited to a recent meeting in the governor’s office on campaign finance reform, an irritated Sullivan erupted in an eight paragraph treatise addressed to the governor, “I get that you are governor and I am not. I understand and accept that you and your staff get to call the shots. But I do not understand the pattern of disrespect from your office and your staff toward me and mine."

Ooops, a Rell functionary replied -- my bad; so sorry for the unintentional oversight. But Sullivan was having none of this pretended sympathy and snorted, "There are too many honest-to-goodness oversights," a snippy response that occasioned from House Republican leader Robert Ward the unkindest cut of all.

Said Ward, “It’s the petulant, childish behavior he's been involved in for the past year. I think he is frustrated, which is understandable, that he has no political clout… He has nowhere to go. He has no political office to run for. There is no Democrat in the state who thinks he's a viable candidate for governor now. You have to recognize sometimes that legislative careers come to an end."

Napoleon would have sympathized.

Not to insert an ad here for term limits, but it ought to have occurred to Sullivan that all good things come to an end. And if there were term limits, his career in politics could easily be extended. For the problem he and other politicians face is related to political inflation, caused by too many politicians chasing too few jobs. It is often said that term limits would deprive the political theatre experienced politicians. But, in fact, very nearly the opposite is true: Term limits would simply transport experienced men and women to other positions in government, free politicians from the controlling grasp of special interest groups, introduce new blood into political parties, and open the way for real political campaigns. It is possible, for instance, to imagine Attorney General Richard Blumenthal running for governor only on the assumption that his present office is term limited.

For Sullivan, the lieutenant governor’s position has been less a stopping off place than a political coffin. But those who know him say he is a rubbery sort, certain to bounce back. Just now, Sullivan is tinkering with the notion of filling the oversized shoes of Bill Cibes, due to retire as Chancellor of the Connecticut State University system, a fake job created for him by a grateful Democratic controlled legislature after the former head of the state’s Office of Policy Management and his boss, the redoubtable Lowell Weicker, had favored the state with an income tax.

The gubernatorial campaign is a year off, but two stout-hearted Democrats, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, are already out of the gate, and no one at this point takes seriously a possible Sullivan candidacy.

If there anything sadder than a political warhorse sitting on the curb and watching the parade pass him by, it may be watching the same political warhorse, hobbled by political inflation, scouring the countryside in search of a make work job such as the position soon to be vacated by ex-political warhorse Bill Cibes.

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