Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Great Debate

For a moment it appeared that Gov. Jodi Rell, 32 points up in the polls over Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano, was sidestepping demands made by the winner of the Democrat primary, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. DeStefano had been chatting up the topic. John Rowland “may have broken some laws,” a frustrated DeStefano said, “but he was right on debates. You don’t own the office.”

A response from Rell’s spokesman, Rich Harris, was not long in coming. "Listen,” Harris said, “there are a lot of things that John Rowland did that Jodi Rell is not going to do. Period. That may be one of the dumbest things that John DeStefano has ever said, and that's going some. We're not taking campaign guidance from John Rowland any more than we're taking ethical guidance from John Rowland."

To DeStefano’s way of thinking, Rell had been avoiding occasions in which the governor might engage in verbal fisticuffs because she “would like to have an election without having a campaign. She would like to have a campaign without having a debate. She doesn't want to have a debate because she doesn't want to discuss issues.”

On one occasion when the two rivals might have interacted -- a forum at the Northeast Utilities corporate headquarters at which University of Connecticut publicly released its quarterly report on The Connecticut Economy – the event was attended by the Republican Party’s nominee for Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, not Rell, and the gubernatorial debates this year were supposed to include Joseph A. Zdonczyk of the Concern Citizens Party and Clifford W. Thornton Jr. of the Green Party.

With Rell’s recent concession to DeStefano, everything has changed. Candidates who do not belong to either the Republican or Democrat parties have been given the hook, and there will be only two debates between the governor and DeStefano.

In compromises of this sort, everyone wins and loses. DeStefano will have an opportunity to deconstruct Rell mano a mano, so to speak, and Rell will be able to ask DeStefano how he plans to pay for his extravagant solutions to pressing state problems.

Republican governors, surrounded as they are by Democrats who are reflexive spenders, have in the past shown themselves to be “pragmatists,” an odd use of the word. In Connecticut, a pragmatist almost invariably is a Republican who under slight pressure yields up his principles after a token resistance. Lowell Weicker yielded to Democrats on the matter of the income tax, almost before the ink had dried on a budget that might have forced the legislature to reign in spending. The income tax doubled the budget’s bottom line within the space of two governors, as former Democrat Governor William O’Neil rolled his eyes in Hamden, while former Democrat Governor Ella Grasso turned in her grave. Both O’Neil and Grasso were pinch-penny governors.

Weicker, the best friend big spenders ever had, thought he had “saved the state” by instituting an income tax; but, in fact, he had saved professional politicians from a whipping at the polls. For Weicker, “the state” was simply the total number of politicians serving the people of Connecticut – and themselves.

Countless referendums have shown Weicker’s “state” that the people of Connecticut, the governing classes’ worst enemy, do not want more spending. The Democrat solution to the problem of referendums is to shift part of the burden of the property tax from municipalities, where people can vote in referendums to cut budgets, to the state – where there are no referendums. This plan is called “property tax reform.”

At this writing, it is not known whether Republicans will yield to demands for “property tax reform” only if the Democrats will incorporate a state-wide referendum into their property tax reform plan. But a state-wide budget referendum – one in which the state (i.e. all the people of Connecticut) were given an opportunity to sign off on spending plans – just might introduce a note of caution into the budget making process.

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