Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fedele's Chance

There is no log cabin in Lieutenant Governor Mike Fedele’s biography, but it’s an interesting read anyway: Born in Italy, Fedele came to the United States as a tot, worked hard and made good. He was plucked by Jodi Rell from the State House of Representatives to run as her Lieutenant Governor following the dark days of the John Rowland administration.

Fedele now is running for governor on the Republican Party ticket, and there are some perilous cliffs he must negotiate along the way.

The position of Lieutenant Governor is not the brightest spot in the political heavens. It is comparable on a state level to the Vice Presidential office, famously defined by John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President, as being (a clean translation follows) “not worth a warm bucket of spit.”

Garner ran for the presidency and lost to Roosevelt but was chosen by the Democratic convention to share the ticket after he had released his pledged delegates to FDR.

Garner later opposed Roosevelt’s packing of the Supreme Court, stepping down as Vice President in January 1941 and bringing to a close a 46 year career. After his long run in public office, Garner settled in his home state of Texas. A good friend and political adviser to President Harry Truman, he devoted himself upon leaving office to his real estate business and fished a lot, which apparently was beneficial to his health: Garner died full of years at the ripe age of 98, establishing a record as the longest living Vice-President in U.S. history.

Fedele might have created more of a splash as Lieutenant Governor, but the political pool was immediately full with the addition of Lisa Moody as Gov. Rell’s chief aide.

As Lieutenant Governor, Fedele cannot help but find himself in a delicate position. It is generally supposed that the governor’s “lieutenant” ought to be loyal at all costs. Rell will finish out her term as a lame duck governor, which necessarily places Fedele squarely on the horns of a dilemma.

It is no secret in Republican quarters that Rell, in part because of the nature of her office, had not offered a stiff resistance to leading Democrats. Rell talked the talk when it was politically expedient for her to do so, but her behavior in office gives reason to doubt that she ever had been committed to any recognizable Republican program. She compromised on the matter of union pay and benefits, locking in expensive non-negotiable contracts well past the duration of her term. She blundered by refusing to sign a disastrously costly smoke and mirror budget, thinking that she could use her line item veto to expunge costly items, an unconstitutional option she was warned against by others of her advisors and the ever helpful lean and hungry Richard Blumenthal, the state’s highly partisan attorney general. Her chief of staff, Moody, was notorious for making deals with Democrats, a disposition that was apparently infectious.

Rell will ride off into the sunset at the end of the campaign season. Until that time, she will be hung like an albatross around Fedele’s neck by his opponents both within and outside his party. Lame duck governors do not usually inspire the kind of political loyalty most often connected to possible political favors. There will be no favors at the end of Rell’s run. And it will not be possible for Republicans gubernatorial hopefuls to run a principled and spirited campaign against Democratic contenders without muddying the shoes of the departing Republican governor.

The hero of every un-heroic politician, Yogi Berra, once advised, “When you reach a fork in the road, take it.”

Sometime during the campaign, Fedele will reach his fork in the road, and he will not be able to follow Berra’s advice.

At some point in the campaign, the Republican gubernatorial aspirant will be asked whether he will part ways with the Democratic legislative majority on the matter of spending and taxes. Or it will be pointed out that a Republican governor disposed to cut business taxes will be outnumbered by Democrats who during the last budget fandango proposed a crippling 30% increase in such taxes. These are forks in the campaign road. The fate of the state depends upon which route the next governor will take, and Republicans are not as fortunate as Democrats in such matters, because their solutions will be painful in the short run, beneficial in the long run.

For Republicans, one fork in the road points to the governor’s chair and a hard slog ahead. The other fork leads to success, a quick surrender, a fatal policy for the state and, for any future Republican governor who has not read the signs of the times, early retirement in the ruins with lots of fishing.

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