Saturday, August 18, 2018

Visconti Agonistes

The Hartford Courant story is titled, provocatively, 'Racist' Tweet From Republican Joe Visconti Draws Fire From Democratic and GOP Leaders. The word “racist” is imprisoned in quotes to indicate some disagreement as to whether the perennial right of center gadfly, Joe Visconti, is a racist.

He is not a racist, those who know him best will assert, rather passionately. Visconti has argued that his message, appended to a picture of Democrat Attorney General prospect William Tong, has little to do with race and everything to do with political orientation.

Tong has promised, if elected to the august post of Attorney General of Connecticut, to take after President Donald Trump with hammer and tongs (non-racist pun intended). Visconti has in the past referred to himself as “Trump without the millions,” and so there was bound to be friction between the two. It burst forth in Visconti’s picture decorated with the following sentiment: “Kim Jong Tong For CT AG #never.”

The charge of racism has become one of those tar pits in which rational argument sinks to the bottom and is never heard from again. So, let’s save it till later and ask instead a relevant question: Is there any statute or constitutional provision that authorizes Connecticut’s Attorney General to deploy the resources of his office – which are considerable; the office is one of the largest legal organizations in the state – to assist in the unmaking of a President?

The answer is an emphatic “NO!”

The statute creating the office of Attorney General – a position that evolved from “the King’s lawyer” in the colonial period -- preserves the foundational nature of the office. Initially, the office was mandated to represent the governor and his administrators during court proceedings.

The reach of the Attorney General was extended first under Joe Lieberman and later under Dick Blumenthal. At the present time, according to Attorney General George Jepsen, the office embraces: Antitrust, Child Protection, Civil Rights / Torts Collections; Child Support, Consumer Protection, Employment Rights, Energy, Environment, Finance, Health and Education, Heath Care Fraud / Whistleblower / Health Care Advocacy, Privacy, Public Safety, Special Litigation, Transportation, and Workers' Compensation.

The constitutional box has been, shall we say, grotesquely distended, and some of the distention presents serious conflicts. For instance, how is the Attorney General’s office to represent – at the same time -- both whistleblowers and the agencies against which the whistles are blown? That is a question raised several years ago by this writer and never sufficiently answered.

Tong’s first campaign ad for Attorney General  boasts, “The NRA. The big banks. The right-wing hate machine. I’m William Tong and I beat them all.” The ad produced chills among writers for The Hour of Norwalk: “The feel of William Tong’s first television advertisement: apocalyptic, with loud, dramatic music.”

Well, good for you Tong, but you have not yet produced the statutory mandate that will allow you as Attorney General to beat the banks, the NRA or – and this is the thistle in Visconti’s breast – President Donald Trump. The Tong ad grotesquely over-leaps the statutory mandates of the office he hopes to occupy. Then too, it is uncertain at this point whether Tong has the relevant court time to become Attorney General, a hurdle that confronted Susan Bysiewicz in her 2010 campaign for Attorney General.

Visconti’s juvenilia was roundly condemned by all the right people. Republican nominee for Attorney General Sue Hatfield, whose candidacy Visconti backed, responded through her campaign spokesman that “Sue won’t tolerate this kind of rhetoric and will condemn it always no matter who says it.” Republican leader in the State Senate Len Fasano noted caustically, “Representative Tong was targeted by an irrelevant individual with a tweet that is ignorant, immature and irresponsible. Connecticut residents want to hear about policies regarding real issues, not personal attacks. To inject such rhetoric distracts from the meaningful debates we should be having.”

Point taken: It is possible to register serious reservations with Tong’s campaign without descending to personal attacks and – very important – burying reasonable objections beneath a smoking pile of rubbish. Even so, charges of racism, particularly in Visconti’s case, are overwrought and, for flawed candidates, the last refuge of scoundrels.

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