Monday, January 31, 2005

Portland Budget Referendum: A Step in the Right Direction

On Tuesday, voters in Portland will decide whether to adopt a proposed budget process overhaul that may have a significant impact on how small-to-medium sized towns in Connecticut arrive at their budgets.

The major points of the plan are as follows:
-The number of budget referenda will be increased from two to four.
-If the budget is not adopted by the fourth referendum, the previous year's budget automatically goes into effect, with an increase tied to the cost of living.
-The town meeting, at which the budget is amended and debated, will be eliminated.

As is the case whenever anyone tries to change things in Connecticut towns (especially the smaller ones), there is a lot of feet-dragging. Democratic Selectman Thomas Flood gives voice to the opposition's concerns:

"...The people of Portland are not going to set the tax rate. It’s going to be set by the CPI (the consumer price index)..."
What’s more, Flood said, the proposal would "do away with the town meeting, a staple of democratic government since the time of the Greeks. I just find this incomprehensible, that I can’t talk to my neighbors at a town meeting. It’s crazy!" (Mill)

Actually, the only thing that's wrong with this revision is the increase of budget referenda from two to four. Cut it to zero!

Budget referenda are a great idea in theory, very open and democratic. However, in practice, they simply don't work. Voter turnout is invariably abysmal, and invariably the only people who bother showing up to vote are cranky Taxpayer's Association types. A few years ago, the RHAM school district suffered through more than a dozen referenda before finally approving a horribly gutted budget. The Portland-sized town where I taught for a few years went through at least four before passing their budget. By the end of the long, drawn-out process, the only winners were the smug older people who came out to vote down referendum after referendum. The losers? Kids. The schools are always the focus of budget cuts, since so much of the budget goes to education.

The town meeting suffers from the same problems. Portland has 15,000 people. Do all of them show up? What would happen if they did? Obviously, they can't all show up to amend the budget; that's why they elect representatives to vote on and amend the budget for them.

The selectman/town meeting form of government is the most democratic in the country, but it only works in the smallest of communities, and only then if people participate. A council/manager form of government should be used for towns larger than 10,000 people.

Portland had actually veered in this direction for a glorious moment:

While Manning wanted a simplified process to adopt a budget, the majority of the charter commission ranged farther afield, calling for the elimination of the post of first selectman and replacing it with a director of administrative services, who would function as a town manager.

The commission also proposed eliminating the election of the town clerk, and opting instead for the clerk’s appointment.

Unfortunately, guys like Thomas Flood would have none of it:

Both proposals failed to garner any support from the selectmen, who had to review and approve the measures. (Mill)

Keep trying, Portland.

Mill, Jeff. "Town Meeting Controversy". Middletown Press January 30th, 2005.
Seay, Gregory. "Budget Referendum Limit on the Ballot". Hartford Courant January 31st, 2005.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Map: State Senate

The final map of the 2004 election:

This map bears a passing resemblance to the State Representatives map I posted a few days ago. Not surprising. And once again, nearly a third of these senate districts went uncontested. Inexcusable. There are only thirty-six senate districts in the state; the Republicans abandoned the field in eight of them, the Democrats in five. Minor/third party candidates didn't do so well in senate races either; none of them broke 15%, even in districts where they had only one opponent.

The closest race was in the 7th District, where Republican Sen. John Kissel beat Bill Kiner by a bare 1.64%. No other district was within 2%, and only five districts were won with less than 10% of the vote. Most districts were carried with 20% or more. Only two incumbents--both Republicans--lost.

The Democrats now have a super majority in the Senate, which means that they can override the veto of Governor Rell. The Democrats in the House do not have a super majority.

Once again, my source is the Secratary of the State's office. This time, I am providing the Excel table I used to create the maps, which contains the information for all distrcts. Helpfully, it breaks them down by town, as well. I hope it's useful.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

B'Port State Senator Target of Federal Investigation

Ernest E. Newton II (D-Bridgeport) is the focus of a federal investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing by either (or both) the senator and his sister. What's interesting is this:

Sources said the probe appears to be focusing on allegations that contractors must still "pay to play" in Bridgeport, as was the case during the administration of former Mayor Joseph P. Ganim.
Sources also reported that federal agents are investigating a vaguely defined job Newton had held with PSG, a Rhode Island company that ran the city's sewage treatment plants for years. Newton worked as a customer service representative.

PSG played a part in the corruption case that sent Ganim to jail for nine years. The company was linked to kickbacks to Ganim, and the current federal investigation into Newton and his sister may be a spin-off of that earlier probe.

Apparently Ganim was the rule, not the exception.

Source: Cummings, Bill. "Newton probe widens". Connecticut Post 29 January, 2005.

Unfortunately Bridgeport, too, seems to be the rule rather than the exception. In the past decade, corruption allegations have surfaced in three of Connecticut's largest cities: Bridgeport, Waterbury and New Haven (New Haven's mayor escaped corruption charges there in the late 1990s, but expect them to return from the grave--he's running for governor next year). There seem to be scams and shady deals going on all over the state.

So, what will the Democrats do with Newton? He's the number three guy in the Senate. So far, they're not saying much of anything. No one has encouraged him to step down, and Newton says he's staying. But if more comes out about this (and it looks like it will) the Democrats in Hartford ought to place pressure on him to go. I guarantee that the Republicans are watching very closely.

Friday, January 28, 2005

May Elections News: Naugatuck Dem Primary

Update 5/3/05--Results posted:
May Election Results

The first election this year won't be in May after all, but in March. In what apparantly is a recurring theme, Peter J. Jurzynski of Naugatuck has collected enough signatures to force a Democratic primary for mayor against endorsed candidate Curtis Bosco.

While Mr. Jurzynski hasn't had much success running for mayor (he forced primaries in 2001 and 2003; but didn't win either), he still believes he can win by running as the only "true Democrat" in the race.

Fun fact about Mr. Bosco; he was a Republican until a few weeks ago:

Curtis Bosco returned to the Democratic Party just three days before the Democratic Town Committee endorsed him for mayor, after a nine-year absence. Bosco had registered as a Democrat in 1974, switched to unaffiliated in 1995 after losing a re-election bid as a Democratic burgess, and joined the Republican Party in 1997 after working on Mayor Tim Barth's campaign.

But then again, in Republican-leaning Naugatuck, that might not be a hinderance. But even if he loses the primary, Jurzynski fans should not despair; he's already qualified to run in the general election as a petitioning candidate.

Source: Dalena, Doug. "Candidate forces party primary Jurzynski files proper signatures." Waterbury Republican-American, 28 January 2005.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have had their disagreements with Mayor San Angelo, but re-endorsed him January 12th.

Source: Dalena, Doug. "GOP endorses borough slate San Angelo leads ticket." Waterbury Republican-American, 13 January 2005.

FYI, the Democratic candidates are posted here.

Naugatuck has been trending Republican in recent years, so it's likely that at least the board of burgesses (currently 4-6 GOP) will stay that way. The split in the Democratic Party almost guarantees San Angelo a win. Don't look for much change in Naugatuck this year.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

State Reps. Map

This map shows us a few things that we already knew. One: Republicans are dominant in Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. Two: Democrats have a lock on the cities and inner burbs. Three: Most of these districts are "safe". Only a few of them are ever in play. Of 151 districts, only 31 were won with less than 20% of the vote. Many were not contested by one of the major parties. I do understand why Democrats might not want to run in Greenwich, but why a district that included Middlebury and Waterbury? Or in Groton? Maybe these aren't guaranteed wins, but they would be pretty close. The Republicans, if anything, are worse. District 8, Columbia, Coventry and Vernon, is winnable for a Republican. District 57, Ellington and East Windsor, practically begs for a Republican to run in it. Nope.

Ours is a system that favors those who play it safe, and has been engineered that way by both parties. This map illustrates that clearly. So few of these races are close (really, only one or two races were ever in doubt) that it's amazing that we have the turnover that we do. I don't expect this trend to change anytime soon.

One interesting thing is that this map is the closest to the town council control map. This, too, is not surprising. The state reps. are only one level up from the town councils, and voters' preferences for state representatives are very close to tehir preferences for town councils. We find Republicans and Democrats where we expect to find them on both maps; very few surprises here. See the maps side by side (state reps on the left, town councils on the right):

Neat, huh? It appears that the state reps map will be most useful in predicting the outcome of municipal elections. We'll see how accurate it is in May and November.

May Elections: Andover

Andover doesn't elect its board of selectmen every other year, like most towns with this form of government. Instead, the selectmen serve four-year terms. The current board was elected in 2003, so they are not up for re-election this year.

Seats on other boards, like the all-important board of finance, are up for election this time around, however. There is an article about this on the official Andover website.

Bolton candidates; Bethany update

Update 5/3/05--Results posted:
May Election Results


Bolton parties selected candidates for municipal offices last Tuesday, which was the January 18th nomination deadline.

Bolton follows no clear election pattern. The town voted strongly for Kerry in 2004, but also voted strongly for Rowland in 2002. The five-member board of selectmen is controlled by Democrats (4-1) with only the First Selectman being a Republican. Minority representation isn't guaranteed in Bolton, but this statute from Bolton's charter all but assures it:

The votes cast for any unsuccessful candidate for First Selectman shall be counted as votes for such person as a member of the Board of Selectmen.

This means that whoever loses the race for First Selectman will probably win a seat on the board in general. Therefore, either the First Selectman or at least one of the board members will be a member of a minority party.

The town voted to re-elect both its state rep. and its state senator. The rep. is a Republican (the minority whip, Pamela Sawyer) and the senator is a Democrat (Mary Ann Handley). Bolton also supported Republican Rob Simmons over Jim Sullivan for Congress. Perhaps this is a town that favors incumbents--although that could be said of most towns.

This one is a toss-up. I'd think Bolton would lean Democratic, based on the current composition of the board of selectmen, but the 2004 election results were mixed. Since one of the Democratic selectmen is not running for another term, the GOP has a chance to pick up his seat.


An independent has joined the race for First Selectman in Bethany. Acupuncturist Boaz It'shaky (really!) appears to be running on sort of an anti-tax platform:

"I am a very strong believer in choices. And the anticipated increase in taxes in the next five to seven years has me concerned," he said.

He also wants to fix unspecified "problems" at the high school and build senior housing in town.

"I am a strong advocate for senior housing. I am thinking that a senior facility that comprises both assisted living and a nursing home combination would work in Bethany," Its'haky said.

He seems to be setting himself up as a candidate for the old cranks. He should be fun.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

May Elections News: Bethany and Woodbridge

This is a little out of date, but I want to try and collect as much info on the site as possible:

Slates Chosen in Bethany and Woodbridge.

Bethany and Woodbridge are right next to one another, located between Waterbury and New Haven. Both towns are currently Republican-controlled: Woodbridge's Board of Selectmen is controlled by the GOP 4-2, while Bethany's three-person Board is comprised of two Republicans and one Democrat. Interestingly, the Democrat is 1st Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski. Here's a telling statement from the article:

Bethany voted for President Bush by a single vote in November, while Woodbridge went for Kerry by a wide margin. Bethany voted for a Democratic state representative in 2004, but Woodbridge didn't have that opportunity, as district 114, of which Woodbridge is a part, was one of the many without a challenger. In this case, no Democrats ran against Themis Klarides. They are part of a single state senate district, but this time no Republican ran against Democrat Joe Crisco. Both offered solid but not overwhelming support for John Rowland in 2002. Their voting habits of late suggest that they are Republican-leaning, as does this telling quote about Bethany's First Selectwoman from the article:

Gorski, who was elected in 2003, is the first woman and the second Democrat to lead the town since it was incorporated in 1832.

Bethany and Woodbridge both seem to trend more Democratic than some of the wealthier towns to their east, but less so than neighboring Hamden and New Haven. Bethany trends more Republican than Woodbridge overall. These two will be interesting to watch. If I had to call it right now, I'd probably think that both will stay in Republican hands, although Democrats may pick up a seat in Woodbridge.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Stay of Execution - For Now

Execution of Michael Ross Postponed.

So he won't die early Wednesday, then, but probably some time in the weeks to come. We'll all hold our breath until then, some praying he'll be spared, others hoping he'll die, and the rest just wishing it would all be over and done with.

It's been agonizing, hasn't it? No one has been executed in New England since 1960, and it isn't something we're taking lightly. We've been debating the death penalty all over the state for months, now. I won't rehash the arguments here, if you're from this country you've heard them.

A lot of people are going to be ashamed of Connecticut after this is done. We're going to feel a little sick. I live only a few miles from the prison in Somers where he'll die, and I've driven past there and thought about what's going to happen inside early on some cold, dark winter morning. It's close to home. It's us, this time, instead of Texas or some other state where this happens every other week, and many of us just aren't comfortable with it, whether we believe in the death penalty or not.

We shouldn't be comfortable. Executing a man isn't a comforting thing. It's something that must be done, perhaps, but heaven forbid we ever get used to it.

Is the death penalty justice, or is it vengeance? Is it a real deterrant to crime or just a distant threat? Are we doing the right thing?

I don't know. But I'm glad we're asking.

Bysiewicz: Why We Should Care

I am tempted to dismiss Susan Bysiewicz from the governor's race. In an article today in the Middletown Press, she laid out what will be the themes of her campaign: Jobs, education, fiscal sanity and ethics.

On jobs:

"Eighty percent of the new jobs in the state are created by companies that have 100 or fewer employees," according to Bysiewicz. "We used to be a state where there were major employers: UTC, Cigna, Aetna. Those companies have been consistently downsizing and not creating opportunity."

Locally she points to Middlefield’s Zygo Corporation. In 1979 the company was started by three people and now the company employees more than 300 and is still growing.

"We need to encourage businesses like them, because these business create high value-added, high quality jobs"
The past administration, according to Bysiewicz, never cared much about small businesses and used the more classical approach of giving big tax breaks and grants to large companies in the hope that they may bring economic growth and jobs.

"I question whether these companies have created the jobs they promised they would," said Bysiewicz.

This issue may have a little traction, but as the economy improves it will cease to be a major selling point. Look for her to trot this one out in the more economically depressed areas of the state, like the northwest and the old mill towns, but not so much in Fairfield County.

On education:

"We need to have kids who are literate, who know civics and who can participate in their community," said Bysiewicz. "Not just in terms of voting, but who can be active participants in our society."

She has a lot of plans, including a statewide early childhood development initiative, but little real way to pay for them. Expect her to gloss over that with "mom logic" like this:

Politicians will say that there is not enough money to extensively support programs like this through the state. But Bysiewicz says, if the state can spend 10 percent of it’s $10 billion budget on corrections including $40,000 per inmate per year, it certainly can find a way to spend a fraction of that on its children’s futures.

"Something is wrong with that picture when we somehow can’t find the resources to spend $4,000 or $5,000 on preschool education," said Bysiewicz.

Oh, brilliant. And let's hold a bake sale to buy a bomber while we're at it. I fully expect her to haul out her daughter at campaign rallies when talking about education.

Fiscal sanity:

"People have the sense that nobody is watching out for their tax dollars and I think we need someone in the governor’s office that is going to be fiscally responsible and show people that we are going to be as frugal with the state money as they are with their own household budgets," said Bysiewicz.

Unfortunately for Bysiewicz, this is a perfect description of Jodi Rell. This may disappear, unless Rell's image as tightwad-in-chief drastically changes between now and 2006.


Just recently, she proposed an ethics plan for towns that would require all of them to establish local ethics commissions. Currently there are only 50 towns in the state that maintain them.
She also recently urged the legislature to ban registered lobbyists from serving on state boards, commissions and quasi-public agencies.

Required ethics boards is kind of a drag on smaller towns. At this rate, every citizen in Union is going to be on two town boards. The lobbyist ban sounds like one of those things that has already been mostly accomplished, but I'll get back to you.

There is nothing particularly interesting or novel about any of this. It's a standard moderate to liberal Democratic platform, and doesn't distunguish her from Sullivan, DeStefano and the others in any way.

So why pay attention? For one thing, she has $500,000 already, and we should expect her to raise an awful lot more over the coming year. Also, she's a scrapper, despite her unassuming looks and personality. She won two primaries, one for state rep in 1992 and the other for secretary of the state in 1998, against the party-endorsed candidate. If anyone has ever followed the politics of the Democratic party in this state, they will know it is nearly impossible to primary the party-backed candidate and win. She's tougher than she looks, and, despite the lack of an interesting platform, I expect her to do reasonably well in the primaries.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Remove Rowland's Name?

State Senator Edith Prague (D-Columbia) has been calling for the removal of John Rowland's name from the various state buildings on which it currently resides.

This reminds me of the ancient practice of obliterating from the historical record those kings who did not meet with the approval of their successors, or of the populace at large. A notable example would be the Pharoah Ahkenaten, a religious zealot who tried to overthrow the established religious order of Egypt and replace it with his own. After his death, his monuments were destroyed or damaged, and his name crossed off the roll of pharoahs in many places. Not to compare John Rowland with an ancient Egyptian pharoah with whom he had nothing in common, but the reactions to the ignoble ends of the reigns of both men are similar:

Let us have our vengeance on him! We shall cross his name out from the record, obliterating him from our history. It will be as if he never were.

I understand Sen. Prague's wish to rid the state of Rowland's taint. His name on various state buildings is going to remind everyone of what a lousy crook he was, and it has to be a blow to morale to have to work in a building named for a felon.

But perhaps now, during the emotional frenzy to try to purify everything Rowland touched, is not the best time. Let's weigh the decision rationally, not emotionally, and see if perhaps the benefits of removing the name outweigh the damage to the public record. Did Rowland deserve to have his name on that building? Do his moral failings outweigh his achievements in office? I don't know the answer right now, since I, too, react to Rowland more with my emotions than my rational mind.

Therefore, I would encourage Sen. Prague to table this for the time being. Let's come back to it in a year, when we've had a little more time to digest Rowland's reign and fall, and to evaluate his decidedly mixed, Nixonian legacy.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sullivan's "new" plan

Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, who has been one of the few Democrats willing to criticize Gov. Rell's administration, has unveiled a new fiscal plan that he says will cut the deficit and lower property taxes. How's he going to pay for it? The millionaire's tax, naturally.

"It's time ... to be bold and think outside the box, outside the choices we've always made," Sullivan told an audience of about 200 municipal administrators and town leaders at the 30th annual town meeting of the Council of Small Towns at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Cromwell.

Hate to point this out, but the millionaire's tax-as-magic-bullet is hardly thinking outside the box.

The idea is not a bad one. Towns are struggling to provide services without igniting a tax revolt (in Enfield, that annoying Taxpayer's Party is sniffing around), and the state does need to shift some of that burden on to itself. But I don't believe that the millionaire's tax by itself will provide the income necessary. Is there more to this plan?

But hey, Sullivan's running for governor next year. Now is his chance to be on the side of the little guy, and offering property tax relief and help for towns is a good angle. Expect to hear statements like this a lot from him in the future:

"It's time for state government to be thoughtful and innovative and to be your partner again," he told municipal officials.

I still think he has no chance.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A few new maps

Some new maps:

2004 Presidential Election -- by town

2002 Governor's Race -- by town

What is, of course, interesting about these maps is the complexity and volatility of Connecticut politics, especially when it comes to the politician atop the ticket. There are several reliable partisan bastions: for the Democrats, large cities like Hartford, New Britain, New Haven and Bridgeport always support them in a big way. Mansfield, home of UCONN, is also usually very supportive of Democratic candidates. Republicans find their best support in the western half of the state. Greenwich and Oxford always come through, as do New Canaan and Darien. Democrats can usually count on the support of the Hartford Ring Suburbs, while the Farmington Valley is usually Republican.

However, the urban/rural divide that is so evident in the rest of the nation doesn't seem to hold water here. Cornwall, a rural town in Litchfield County, has a member of the Green Party on its board of selectmen, and was the only town in the county to vote for Bill Curry. Waterbury, on the other hand, is a large city of 100,000 people with demographics usually favorable to Democrats, but the city only offered lukewarm support to John Kerry, and voted overwhelmingly for hometown boy John Rowland in 2002. There are many small rural towns in eastern Connecticut that vote Democratic, as well, while similar towns on the other side of the state vote GOP.

It is very easy to dismiss Connecticut as just another Blue State, but the reality is much more complex. This is undoubtedly the case all over the country. Every Red State (well, maybe not Utah) has a dash or more of blue in it, and vice-versa.

This is why Connecticut can have an overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly, and still elect a Republican governor three times in a row and three Republican U.S. Representatives. We'll just have to see if things get more mixed up in the future.

Map based on data from the office of the Secretary of the State of Connecticut:

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Monday, January 17, 2005

Local Council Control (by town)

Map is a 1.7MB bitmap.

This is a map that shows which parties control town councils or boards of selectmen in Connecticut.

Why is town council/board of selectman control important?

All politics, as they say, is local. Although turnout for municipal elections is usually quite low, the most politically active citizens in the town or city will usually turn out for them. Therefore, the elections can be an indication of which parties are more active in which towns, which parties are better organized, which parties can get out the vote, etc. Municipal elections can also help us to measure overall political trends in the state, which we will be following as time progresses.

Besides, it's fun.

Does town council control track with presidential/governor/state legislator races?

Generally, it seems to, but in some cases it does not. We'll be looking at these, and I'll be creating more maps.

What are the purple towns?

Weird places where third parties actually get elected to office, and minority governments can rule! Very interesting. I'll be examining those, too, before they disappear.

When are the next elections?

The towns of Andover, Bolton, Union, Bethany, Naugatuck and Woodbridge hold their elections in May of this year. Everyone else holds them in November. Watch for yard signs in April, Andover-ites!

Map based on information found on the Towns, Cities and Boroughs website of the Secretary of the State of Connecticut:
Information not available there was found at official town websites.

Connecticut Local Politics

Off-year elections are fast approaching for some towns in Connecticut. I will be back shortly with a map showing local council control in our state.