Thursday, April 19, 2018

Malloy’s Collateral Damage

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin is only the most recent of the casualties. In the midst of exploring a run for governor, Bronin, unable to garner sufficient support and money, the mother’s milk of politics, quietly dropped out of the race.

After a state bailout of $550 million, any politician not driven mad by personal ambition would have considered the mayoralty of bankrupt Hartford a softer political bed than the governorship of a failing state, a bed of nails.

The State of Connecticut and Hartford on March 27 inked a contract according to which the state will pay off the city's approximately $550 million general obligation debt over the next 20 years. Hartford's annual debt payments, projected to top $56 million by 2021, will also be “reduced” to $35 million per annum through the expedient of pushing payments into future years.

Bronin has had lots of company. Governor Dannel Malloy himself, after having consulted the auguries, decided not to run for a fourth term as governor. His decision opened wide the doors to what had been a political closed shop. Had Malloy decided to defend his two terms in office, a tough row to hoe, his Lieutenant Governor, Nancy Wyman, likely would have agreed to ride shotgun once again on the Malloy coach. But following Malloy’s flight from office, she too decided to call it a day, pleading grandchildren.

“I love the state. I love my job now. It’s a hard decision to make, but it’s my family,” Wyman said.

Attorney General George Jepsen, who might easily have held on to the job he loved as long as his predecessor, Dick Blumenthal – more than two decades – called it quits, setting off a rush among Democrats and Republicans to claim the golden sinecure. Once Chairman of the state Democrat Party, Jepsen likely saw the dark at the end of the tunnel and bolted.

The leading Democrat candidates for governor, Ned Lamont and Susan Bysiewicz, are back bench candidates.

The last political office held by Bysiewicz was Secretary of State, a post she held from 1999 to 2011. Her candidacy for governor in 2010 was cut short when she dropped out of the race to run for Attorney General. When the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Bysiewicz was ineligible because she had not put in enough hours as an acting attorney, she announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2011. The battle-scarred U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman had signaled his intention to retire from office; but alas, Bysiewicz lost a Democratic primary to Chris Murphy, who prevailed over multi-millionaire Republican candidate Linda McMahon in the general election. Mercurial, sniffed some Democrats; Bysiewicz was behaving like the proverbial kid with two stomachs in a candy store.

Ned Lamont’s background is much thinner. Lamont served as Selectman in Greenwich before he was recruited by, among others, Former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker to challenge Weicker’s bete noir, Lieberman, who had managed to unseat Weicker in the Senate years earlier. Surprisingly, Lamont dished Lieberman in a Democratic primary. Senator Weicker, spurned by his own party, earlier had run for governor as an independent and won. Lieberman, taking a page from Weicker’s book, ran in the general election on a throwaway party ticket and prevailed over Lamont in a general election, after which Lamont disappeared back into the woodwork.

Democrat watchers are hesitantly betting that Lamont might defeat Bysiewicz in a Democrat primary. For the last few elections, progressive Democrats have prevailed over moderates in their party, and Lamont is presenting himself to primary voters as the left-most gubernatorial candidate. Others, less anxious to jump from the pot into the flames, reason that progressive Democrats have reached, so to speak, the end of their ropes.

The most progressive governor since Wilbur Cross, a literate professor and literary critic who served four two year terms as governor from 1931-1939, Malloy’s popularity in the state plunged after he imposed on middle class workers in Connecticut two major tax increases, the largest and the second largest in state history. Malloy’s way – raising taxes, increasing spending, moving huge swaths of the state’s wealth from private to public hands, imposing upon future governors the terms of unaffordable state employee contracts that will further cripple the state’s economy and advance the interests of unionized state workers – has pushed Connecticut to the edge of bankruptcy. According to Morning Consult, Malloy’s most recent approval rating is limping along at 28 percent, the lowest of any governor in the nation.

Democrat gubernatorial candidates whose policy prescriptions mirror those of Malloy’s failed administration will have a high hill to climb in the upcoming general election in 2018. If the past is prologue to the future, nutmeggers who have not yet flown the coop may reason – we have seen the past, and it doesn’t work.  

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