Sunday, May 02, 2010

Republican Party To Rell – Bye, Bye

The relationship between the Republican Party and its governors has been, for the past few election cycles, an iffy proposition.

Gov. Lowell Weicker, for most of his political life a Republican, perfectly epitomizes the relationship. Weicker broke with his party very early in his career as U.S. senator, describing himself accurately at one point as “the turd in the Republican Party punchbowl.” Later, when he ran as an independent for governor, the Republican Party breathed a sign of relief at the self ejection.

Gov. John Rowland, swept into office on a kill the income tax pledge, was less abrasive; but still, when budget time rolled around he could be insistent that Republicans should back budgets that the party as a whole found troubling. The tax and spend proclivities of the ruling elite at the state capitol were out of sync with the ideological proclivities of most Republicans.

Gov. Jodi Rell, a creature of the legislature, was – it becomes possible now to speak of the governor in the past tense, because time is quickly running out on her lame duck administration – fatally primed by her past experience to accommodate fellow legislators, a majority of whom are Democrats.

At the end of her accomodationist career, the differences between Rell, the titular head of her party, and the Republican Party she heads titularly, were bound to rise to the surface.

Early in May, Republicans dropped out of budget talks between Rell and leading Democrats in the legislature. The fissure should surprise no one. The walk out -- and the stern refusal to participate in budget talks in which none of their ideas to attack the spending side of the budget have ever been seriously considered by what one might call the Rell-Donovan-Williams combine – is simply an affirmation of Republican principles, no more, no less. Chris Dovovan is the Speaker of the state House, and Don Williams is the President Pro-Tem of the State Senate.

Given the coming horror facing the state of Connecticut – growing budget deficits well into the future, a national economy on the brink of disaster, a walleyed purposefully deaf national legislature, a Democratic dominated state legislature averse to spending cuts and incapable of meeting its fiduciary responsibilities to the citizens of Connecticut, a go-long-to-get-along governor – Republican leaders, who have at close hand seen the future and know it will not work, decided to separate themselves from a dangerous imposture.

In the past, residual Republican governors – not excluding Weicker who, for virtually all his political life, wore the Republican Party label as a badge of dishonor – have been praised as pragmatists by the sort of people who cherish ever expanding budgets. But this kind of political pragmatism, which views every budget hole as a revenue problem, not a spending problem, has produced a misshapen offspring, a Cyclopsian legislature with one eye only perpetually fixed on increasing revenues.

Following the walk-out, Republican leaders, joined by more than 30 legislators, held a press conference at the state Capitol in which they announced they would no longer consent to serve as political scenery in what has come to be regarded by many people in Connecticut, some of whom work in the media, as a ritualistic farce.

Republican House leader Larry Cafero said, "Unfortunately, neither of our caucuses will be participating in any future discussions regarding the state budget. The governor and the Democrats are on the precipice of a budget agreement. ... We called for concessions. We called for the voluntary reduction of our workforce. We put forth all of our ideas. ... Our participation in that process has come to an end.''

Noting that the Donovan-Rell-Williams budget deal involves no move to privatize, no voluntary state employee early retirement incentive program, no consolidation of state services and no union concessions, Cafero characterized the budget deal as “business as usual - absolutely no change. We're still riding down that path on a train at 100 miles an hour, headed for that wall.”

On the other side of the aisle, smiles were bursting out like May flowers.

Democrats pounced on the Republican presser as election year posturing.

The Courant reported that one unnamed “capitol insider said the Republican press conference was ‘an out-and-out political maneuver in an election year.’''

Following the Republican presser Donovan, emerging breathlessly from the deep pockets of state unions, denied that a final deal had been reached by the Donovan-Rell-William combine, and predicted that budget agreement might be possible before the session ends on Wednesday.

"To quote James Brown,” the former union steward said, “I feel good.”

No capitol insider stepped forward to say that Donovan reluctance to force union concessions as the state disappears in an ocean of red ink was shameless political posturing in a shameful political year.

5 comments:

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

Jodi Rell has become an interesting paradox: she is, almost unquestionably, one of the worst governors in the history of the state, yet also its most popular.

Watching Lloyd Blankfein this past week, it suddenly hit me... Jodi Rell has become somewhat like a subprime CDO: A rotten, almost valueless asset that has been repackaged, renamed, and -- against all evidence, logic and common sense -- stamped with an AAA rating by public opinion polls.


Republicans have finally recognized the rot underlying this asset. Accordingly, they have signified their intent to short the market by walking out on this dog and pony show. With the exception of the lieutenant governor, they have presumably abandoning whatever designs they may have had to continue buying into the Rell bubble.

I'm curious, Don, what you think her legacy will ultimately be, years from now. Will her sky high popularity translate into lionization in the eyes of historians? Or will Ms. Rell exposed for the junk-bond governor that she really is?

Don Pesci said...

Rell’s legacy: That’s a good one. I’m notoriously bad at predictions, which is why I try my best to avoid them.

We are entering a time when events will ride men. Rell will have left just before the roof is due to collapse; so I suppose her legacy may be somewhat safe from falling debris.

The split between Rell and leading Republicans in the state has been in production for quite awhile. I did some columns on it a couple of years ago.

I don’t think the legacy framers will be quite as harsh on her as you may suppose, though your remarks are not far from the point.

To put it briefly, I would say, “She co-operated with the present regime.”

Fuzzy Dunlop said...

.... once again bringing me back to another jab at the lieutenant governor. This administration has gone from stale to rotten (see e.g., soft landings of Chelsea Turner and Anna Ficeto, and of course the near total abdication on the budget). Moreover, Rell has been exposed for the old pol that she is. Many Rowland hacks who avoided becoming embroiled in the muck went on to serve in the Rell administration. This unbroken line of succession -- that has lasted more than a decade, Rell to Rowland, and potentially Rell to Fedele -- is not good for either the state or the Republican party. Fresh faces are needed. Moral hazard must be restored. Otherwise party and state alike will whither.

Don Pesci said...

Yeah, it’s not so much the succession as it is a dreary continuation of a frame of mind – an attitude; most Republicans are not capable of rising to the level of ideology, in the good sense.

I’m not hopeful that the kind of change we need can come from the kinds of politicians who have been minding the political store for the last, say, three decades. What would excite me is, to use a much abused word, a revolutionary attitude or, failing that, a perspective that has been shaped outside the political box.

Don't take me too seriously, but I'm thinking someone like Cromwell might do. One day, tired of all the noise, he marched into the English parliament and said, "Gentlemen, go home."

Don Pesci said...

The Cromwellian solution may be a bit extreme. On a bright and sunny day, I’d settle for a bloodless regime change. Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine.