Thursday, March 31, 2005

Death Penalty Stands

House Votes 89-60 Against Repeal

The state House of Representatives yesterday rejected a measure that would have abolished the death penalty in Connecticut. The bill was brought partly in response to the looming execution of serial killer Michael Ross, who is due to be put to death by lethal injection on May 11th. The failure of the bill is not surprising; death penalty abolitionists admitted long before the measure came to the floor that they didn't have the votes to pass it.

Not surprisingly, the emotional debate was at times less about the death penalty than it was about Michael Ross himself:

Speaker after speaker stood to enumerate Ross' crimes, including Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, who represents the families of Ross' two youngest victims, 14-year-olds Leslie Shelley and April Brunais, whom he abducted and strangled in 1984. (Mann)

Ross is the perfect execution candidate: his crimes were clear and heinous, the evidence against him is overwhelming, and he has no further wish to live. It's very hard to show him mercy, considering the horrifying acts he's committed.

“Who are the barbarians here?” Mikutel said, his voice rising. “Are we the barbarians because we want to execute the cold-blooded killers? ... Who really is the uncivilized person here?”

Picking up on a theme employed by others, Mikutel compared murderers like Ross and the others on death row to terrorists, and said they should be similarly condemned.

“The threat to society is the same,” he said. “They are enemies of the state and they deserve to die.” (Mann)
"For 20 years, [families of Ross's victims] have waited for justice," said Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk. "This is not about vengeance, this is about justice." (Pazniokas)

Opponents of the death penalty made similarly emotional arguments, to little avail.

"I believe in the words 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' under any circumstance," [State Rep. William Dyson, D-New Haven] said in pleading for his colleagues to support the repeal measure. "I believe in it, I believe in it, I believe in it." (Hackett)
Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, the co-chairman of the judiciary committee, urged the House to remove Connecticut's singular status in the Northeast: It is the only state from New Jersey to Maine with prisoners on death row. (Pazniokas)

Is this the heart of the matter... that we're going to be alone in our cultural zone in performing executions? Does this make us more like... them? Do we want to be in the same club as Texas, Florida and much of the rest of the nation? Is this why we're so squeamish?

The death penalty, much like abortion and the current row over Terri Schiavo, is an emotional issue at its core, and therefore a very difficult one to deal with in a rational manner. Studies show that executions don't seem to deter crime, and it has recently come to light that many people who have been executed may have been innocent. The justice system, flawed as it is, some say, should not impose a punishment so final that it can't be undone. Yet death penalty supporters don't waver, because they believe that to let a vicious killer like Ross live is far too kind to them:

[Rep. Alfred Adinolfi's (R-Cheshire)] eyes filled with tears as he described the murder, more than 30 years ago, of a beloved nephew, and his voice shook.

“I would vote to do away with the death penalty,” he said, “if we could come up with a more severe punishment.” (Mann)

In the end, the measure failed, despite coming closer to passing than any other similar bill has. It may be a long time indeed before Connecticut abolishes the death penalty, if it ever does. And, in a little under a month, Michael Ross will die at the hands of the state. His strange part in this, at least, will finally be done.

Pazniokas, Mark. "Death Penalty Survives". Hartford Courant 31 March 2005.
Mann, Ted. "House Upholds Death Penalty". New London Day 31 March 2005.
Hackett, Ray. "Death debate dies in House". Norwich Bulletin 31 March 2005.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Orman Press Release

I received an email from someone claiming to be Dr. John Orman (the would-be primary challenger to Joe Lieberman). Attached was this "press release":

March 29, 2005

Dr. John Orman, Fairfield University Politics Professor announced today that he has begun the process of filling out the state and federal forms to establish the “Dr. John Orman: THE DEMOCRAT for U.S. Senate” committee.

Orman said, “After witnessing Senator Lieberman’s recent moral histrionics over the Schiavo case, I wonder why he showed no such moral outrage over the loss of life for over 1500 American military personnel in Iraq. We have now been involved militarily in Iraq from 1991 until today. This is longer than the U.S. was involved militarily in Vietnam!”

Orman said, “Why isn’t Lieberman questioning President Bush about his failure to capture Bin Laden. Bin Laden has been on the run longer than the amount of time it took the U.S. military to capture Adolph Hitler!”

Orman said, “These issues are more important to our country than having a righteous Senator grandstanding over the personal, private, medical and legal decision of an American family.”

This release appeared in no major newspapers in CT that I am aware of, nor does it turn up in Lexis-Nexis. That, however, could simply mean that it was ignored.

If this is indeed Professor Orman's press release, I would like to issue a few corrections and clarifications, if I may:

1. It would be nice to see Senator Lieberman express the kind of urgent concern he had shown for Terri Schiavo about our fallen soldiers, but it is misleading to compare Iraq and Vietnam based solely on the length of time we have been involved there. Indeed, much of our "involvement" in Iraq over the past decade and a half was been spent patrolling the No-Fly Zones from our bases in Kuwait and elsewhere. Direct military action was only taken a few times. The situation in Vietnam was fundamentally different for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Vietnam was a combat zone from the very beginning of the American military presence there... as any professor of political science ought to know.

2. You imply that the U.S. military captured Adolf Hitler. This is not the case. He shot himself to death in his bunker as Berlin was being beseiged by the Soviets. His body was taken by the Soviets to an unknown location. The U.S. military didn't come within a dozen miles of him, much less take possession of him. Even if you were stating that it took less time to bring Nazi Germany to heel, this would also be false. World War II lasted six years; the War on Terror has lasted not quite four.

Again... these may not be his words. The email came from a Fairfield University email address and the phone number matches the number listed on the Fairfield U. website, but take it with the usual grain of salt.

I would be happy if Professor Orman could clarify his comments for us.

Green Party will Field Candidates for Major Offices in 2006


The Connecticut Green Party is readying itself for a run at some major offices next year, including those of Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Rep. Rob Simmons.

Those who know anything about the Connecticut Greens (and there are very, very few of you) might be surprised to learn that they still exist. The Second Congressional District Watch actually seems a little concerned, calling potential Green candidates "spoilers"--a label familiar to anyone who recalls the 2000 election debacle.

This is giving the Greens a little too much credit. Colin McEnroe came closer to the truth yesterday on his radio show when he called them a bunch of "dweebs". Really. They are. I ought to know: I used to be one.

I won't waste time now boring you with the story of my ups and downs with the Connecticut Greens (I'll bore you with it another time) but I will say this: my experience with them taught me how not to run a political party, and has soured me on the merits of radicalism.

The Greens were (and probably still are) plagued by the chronic infighting that seems to afflict every radical organization. Deeply suspicious of power, the members of the central committee (yes, "central committee." I know, I know...)nonetheless craved it themselves. This meant that the party executives were not trusted by a large part of the central committee, who hampered everything they tried to do in the worst, most obstructionist sorts of ways. To be fair, the executive board had no idea what it was doing, either, and so was unable to respond to attacks made on its members, or even to propose anything productive to do once the gridlock was broken. The rules were constantly being changed, and the committee refused to look at the structure of other parties to see what worked. Also, conversations of the "I did this in the 60s, what about you?" variety took a large chunk of time out of the meetings.

In short, they were completely hopeless. I helped a GP friend of mine in his quixotic campaign for a state house of representatives seat in the 2002 election, but we knew we couldn't count on any help from the state central committee. We were on our own. That's no way to run a party. When tiny points of procedure become more important than actually electing candidates... sheesh.

Well, maybe they're a bit better now. They seem to be having a meeting, I suppose that's a very nice start. But "spoilers"? Nah. Numbers for Green Party candidates are dropping as Democrats drift leftward, and the Greens' noble refusal to accept corporate money means that they're always broke.

In short, a Green candidate in the 2nd District might get 2-3%. Until they show that they can run an effective campaign and actually raise some money, they won't be much of a factor in state politics.


Mann, Ted. Green Party Already Gearing Up For '06. New London Day 30 March 2005. (registration required)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Mastery Test Scores Down

Surprise, surprise, surprise

Overall mastery test scores in Connecticut declined in 2004, according to statistics released by the state Department of Education. Mastery tests are given to students in the 4th, 6th and 8th grade every fall; they test reading, writing and mathematics skills.

So what does this have to do with politics? An awful lot, actually. See, mastery test scores are used to determine whether or not a school district is compliant with the federal No Child Left Behind act of 2001, which mandates strict penalties for schools deemed "failing" (i.e., those who don't show "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests) for two years in a row. Penalties can include mandated tutors or allowing students to transfer to other districts. District superintendents and school boards desperately want to avoid being slapped with the "failing" label (it's not just about pride; there is no money provided to districts to help them hire tutors or bus kids out of town), so they put pressure on principals to deliver higher test scores, who in turn put pressure on teachers to, as they say, teach to the test.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the goalposts keep being moved:

Education officials said it is difficult to interpret this year's test results because for the first time they include the scores of many special-education students and new arrivals to American schools who still are learning English. (Pearson)

No allowences are made for these students. Almost all of them take the test at grade level. What does that mean?

Let me tell you a story. I was, for three years, a high school teacher in an exurban district outside Hartford. I taught ninth grade English. One of my students was a boy with Down's syndrome. Let's call him Jake. Jake was mostly a sweet kid, although he could be fiercely stubborn at times. He liked to please his teachers, but didn't like to actually do work. He had a very difficult time with pronunciation, and had to work to be understood. He loved hockey and football.

Jake wasn't very good at English. His reading comprehension was very, very low and he could barely write. He had an aide in class with him who helped keep him on task. He could probably read and write at around the level of a first grader, if that. One of my enormous breakthroughs that year was teaching Jake to write complete sentences. They weren't great, but they had a subject, a verb, and sometimes an object.

What? No, this wasn't a special education class. He was in with the regular low-level kids, he just did different things. Why? Jake's parents were lawyers who wanted him to have a "normal" school experience. A story for another time.

Jake was actually a sophomore, but was in with freshmen. This meant that, as a sopohomore, he had to take the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, or CAPT (I liked to refer to it as CrAPT... but that was just me), with the rest of his class. CAPT is a vast and intimidating test that measures reading comprehension, writing skills, math skills and science ability. It's not easy. Students take it over the course of a week and a half. Thanks to new laws handed down a few years ago, CAPT is now a graduation requirement for this year's high school juniors, of which Jake is one. The idea is to make "goal". A lot of students don't make it.

Surely, you think, Jake wouldn't have to take exactly the test that the other kids were taking, right? They'd modify it... right?

Nope. Jake took the test at grade level. A Down's boy who could barely write sentences took the unaltered CAPT last year. Only in "extreme" cases of mental retardation are students allowed to opt out. Jake didn't qualify. Only one percent of special education students do. I can just imagine him sitting in front of an incomprehensible test for hours a day, for a week and a half. Of course his score was terrible. It was factored in to the school's general score though, and, surprise, the school didn't quite make Adequate Yearly Progress.

Imagine this happening all over the state, at all grade levels. Mentally retarded kids and immigrant students who barely speak the language are expected to take the test at grade level, which means with their age cohort, instead of at their instructional level, which would be what they could actually be expected to do.

Scores decline. Everyone is surprised. Teachers, who are on the front lines, get the blame.

The solution? More testing. By next year there will be standardized tests at every grade level from 3-8, on top of CAPT in 10th grade.

[Education Commissioner Betty] Sternberg says the new tests will cost the state millions that could be better spent on programming that will help close the achievement gap. But the federal government isn't budging, and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has said that tests are a linchpin of school accountability. The department has denied the state's request to test only every other year. (AP)

The "achievement gap" is the widening gulf between rich and poor students. One of the obvious things the testing has shown us is that students in West Hartford do a lot better at standardized tests than do students in neighboring Hartford or New Britain. Better preschool programs, which Sternberg wants to fund in cities, could make a difference in how inner city kids develop and grow. But no, that won't happen, because those kids need standardized tests as third graders far more than they need preschool programs.

God, it's demoralizing. Teachers and other education professionals are all jumping up and down, waving their hands and screaming that more testing is exactly what kids don't need. But the U.S. Education Department, which actually seems to see teachers as the enemy, won't soften its stance one bit. One of the reasons I left teaching was to escape that soul-crushing feeling of helplessness... and I wasn't the only one to go.

So now panicky towns and cities will be spending more time and money on making sure their students do well on the standardized tests instead of actually teaching them the skills they'll need to survive and thrive in modern society. In the meantime, a lot of real and vital issues surrounding education and society in general fall by the wayside. In the end, I fear that no child will be left behind... because they never actually went anywhere.

Pearson, Dan. "Local Student Performance On CMT Dips". New London Day 29 March, 2005. (registration required)
"Sternberg Says More Tests Will Hurt State". Associated Press 29 March, 2005.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

1st and 3rd Districts: Safe Seats

I hate incomplete sets, so I created maps for the 1st and 3rd Districts:

1st District

3rd District

These maps illustrate what a "safe" seat looks like. Neither John Larson (D-CT1) or Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) have faced a tough election in quite some time (Larson has never had a real challenge to his seat, I'm not sure about DeLauro). This is good for Larson, who was actually beaten by Bill Curry for the 1994 governor's nomination despite being an early favorite (ouch). Indeed, Republicans don't really fund elections in these two districts, and they are completely ignored by the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Campaign).

In both districts, most of the towns that usually vote Republican voted for the incumbent Democrat in 2002 and 2004. This adds further credence to the Incumbent Rule: "All things being equal, voters will trend towards the incumbent." Why else would conservative Granby (which voted for George Bush in 2004 and is represented by Republicans in the General Assembly) go for Larson, one of the most liberal members of Congress, by nearly 17% in 2004?

What's interesting about the map of the 1st District is its unusual shape. I have commented about the odd gerrymandering of districts before, but District 1 is an egregious example. While the combination of Johnson and Maloney's districts into District 5 in 2001 created some uncertainty as to who might win, District 1 (which is largely defined by District 5's borders) was created to reinforce the strength of Democratic candidates there. Why, for example, are the Republican towns of the Farmington Valley (Granby excluded) not included in District 1? Why are small towns like Hartland and Colebrook not in District 5? Why isn't Bristol in District 5? Grographically, this would make a lot more sense.

The 3rd District isn't quite so bad; at least it seems geographically consistent in most areas (the major exception being Middletown). Still, it's obvious that both districts were created with their incumbents in mind.

This can be problematic if said incumbent decides to venture out of the safe confines of his/her district. Take the sad case of Barbara Kennelly, who ran for Governor in 1998. Kennelly had never really faced opposition in the 1st District, and must have assumed that her style of not actually campaigning or paying attention to her opponent would work wonders outside Hartford County. She was, of course, crushed by politically canny Gov. John Rowland (don't blame me, I voted for Groark).

So perhaps the lesson here is that gerrymandered districts make lazy politicians. And who wants that?

If anyone is interested in the Excel files I created to make these maps, here they are:
1st District
2nd District
3rd District
4th District
5th District
Election results for 2004 and 2002 are available on the website of the Secretary of the State of Connecticut:

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Weekend Forum

My weeks run Sunday-Thursday. Post away.

5th District: Johnson Seems Safe

Final map in the series for now (yes, there are two more districts, but they are not interesting. Just imagine every town in varying shades of blue):
Image hosted by

Notice the change from an interestingly split district in 2002 (when fellow incumbent Jim Maloney was running against Nancy Johnson in their combined district) to a mostly Republican one. The incumbent rule ("all things being equal, voters trend towards the incumbent") was somewhat neutralized in 2002, although Johnson was able to use the power of more incumbency (her main argument was that she had been in Congress longer and had introduced more legislation than Maloney) to gain votes. In 2004 this mostly-Republican district went for Bush and sent the lion's share of the GOP delegation to the General Assembly. They also happened to re-elect Johnson in a landslide. Her challenger, Theresa Gerratana, did well in only two towns (liberal Cornwall and, ironically for Johnson, New Britain) while Johnson won big everywhere else.

Is this a district Democrats should forget about? Maybe. Jim Maloney did as well as he did because of his incumbent status, and he lost by 10%. Johnson is also personally popular, and is seen as moderate despite being the most conservative member of our congressional delegation.

It seems obvious that district 5 was created with Johnson in mind. After all, the district stretches far to the east, including New Britain (Johnson's hometown) by a hair. New Britain went to district 5 while Bristol went to district 1, which makes no geographic sense. Redistricting in 2010 might fix some of these problems. Johnson, who turned 70 this year, might decide to retire before then. Even if she does, though, there is little reason to believe that Democrats can take this seat from the Republicans.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

CT-4 map: Shays in trouble

Here is a map of the 4th District (Shays) contrasting the 2002 election (top) with the 2004 election (bottom):

Quite the opposite of the 2nd District map, this map shows the 4th district in a high state of flux. Shays won a very tight race in 2004, in contrast to an easy victory in 2002.

Here are some possible conclusions about the differences between the two campaigns that we can draw from the map:

1. Shays's popularity is heading downhill, fast. This could be a combination of a lot of factors. The fact that he has become known as something of a maverick may have helped him, as he did somewhat better (by about 10,000 votes) than President Bush in his district, but it may also have alienated a portion of his base in some of the most conservative towns in the state. He obviously had no trouble with his base in 2002.
2. Voters voted party line twice. Most interestingly, the results of these two elections seem to track with the results for the candidates at the top of the ticket in these years. If you note the 2002 Governor's race map and the 2004 presidential race map, you will see that there are a lot of similarities to the congressional race for corresponding years.
3. The incumbent rule was in effect both times, but to different degrees. The incumbent rule: All things being equal, voters tend towards the incumbent. This may have saved Shays in 2004, although in 2006 the incumbent rule may not be in effect at all. Conclusion #4, if true, guarantees that all things will not be equal in 2006, and that a demographic shift is underway.
4. District 4 may be trending Democratic. This is remarkable, considering the district's long history of supporting Republicans (the area was home to the Bush clan half a century ago). The 2004 presidential, state senate and state representatives maps bear this out. There are now Democratic footholds in parts of District 4 that lie outside of Bridgeport. This could be a symptom of the disillusionment of old guard, New England Republicans with the national party, which is now dominated by southerners and westerners.
5. Farrell was a much, much stronger candidate than Sanchez. She had a wider appeal.

None of this looks good for Shays, especially if (as is rumored) Diane Farrell runs again. A danger sign for Shays might be a flood of Democrats elected to municipal office in traditionally Republican areas this fall. We'll be watching closely.

Utopia Studios Referendum Passes

Looking for the May, 2006 referendum? Click here.

Sometimes it's good to be wrong.

In fact, I was really wrong. Preston voters overwhelmingly approved the Utopia Studios proposal 1,508 to 256. Turnout was near 50%, which is amazing for an out of season referendum. Good for them!

Good for us, too.

Source: Bowles, Adam. "Yes to Utopia". Norwich Bulletin 23 March, 2005.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Courtney Returning?

Conditions may be more Favorable in 2006

An editorial in The Day suggested that Joe Courtney is considering running again in 2006. This would make for an interesting matchup. Would that be good for Democrats?

Let's go to the maps.

Image hosted by

Here we can see the second district congressional election in 2002 (left) and 2004 (right). Notice something? Yes, they look almost entirely the same. In fact, the 2004 election was similar in many ways to its predecessor. Yet the circumstances surrounding the two elections couldn't have been more different.

2002 was a year of Republican gains nationwide, and Connecticut followed that trend to a degree. A popular Republican governor headed the ticket, and won by a respectable margin. 2004 was a year that favored Democrats in Connecticut, however. John Kerry won the state by a comfortable margin, and especially did well in the towns of the second congressional district. To illustrate my point, here is how the men at the top of the ticket did in 2002 (top) and 2004 (bottom):
Image hosted by
Image hosted by

Yet this massive voting shift left the second district mostly untouched. That could mean a few different things:
1. Courtney did very well considering the climate in 2002, and would do even better in a more Democrat-friendly climate in 2006.
2. Sullivan was simply a lousy candidate. He had a very friendly climate, and yet lost. Democrats did very well at both the statewide and local levels in the second district (see the state house and senate maps) but Sullivan couldn't deliver.
3. All things being equal, voters favor incumbents.
4. Neither Courtney and Sullivan had what it took to compete with Simmons. Neither one could win in otherwise-Democratic towns like Enfield.
5. Simmons's campaign strategy of promising to use his influence to save the sub base and Electric Boat paid off. Notice the subtle shift in his support towards the southeast--towards the Groton area. Therefore, the closing of the sub base would certainly mean the loss of these vital towns--and a probable defeat for Simmons in 2006.

In fact, I suspect that all of these things are true to a certain extent. They are also interrelated. For example, #4 will be negated if the condition in #5 is met; namely, the loss of the sub base.

I believe that #3, however, is the strongest political force in the state. It will take a major economic crisis, such as the closure of the sub base or something else of similar impact, for this to be overturned.

Source "Courtney Circling Again". New London Day 21 March, 2005. (registration required)

Update 3/24 The Journal Inquirer has confirmed that Courtney is running again.

Legislature Mulls Tax Code, Spending Cap

Rell's Position on Cap Unclear

The Democratic majority in the General Assembly is looking at ways to overhaul the state's tax code, including a graduated income tax that would raise rates for persons with higher incomes, and a measure allowing towns to tax real estate transactions at a higher rate.

Here are some details:

Under the [new graduated income tax plan], there would be five different tax rates based on a filer's income. The gradations would range from 5 percent to 6.25 percent on the bulk of taxable income.

The bill would keep the existing 3 percent tax rate for the first $10,000 of income for single filers and $20,000 for joint filers. Under current law, the remaining income is taxed at a 5 percent rate for all filers.

The rate would increase from 5 percent to 5.5 percent for single filers earning $133,800 or more a year and joint filers earning $250,000 or more. The rate would go from 5 percent to 6.25 percent for single filers earning over $1 million and joint filers earning more than $2 million.


Legislators are also considering a bill that would allow municipalities to permanently tax real estate transactions at 0.25 percent. That rate is scheduled to expire on July 1, allowing cities and towns to tax the transactions at 0.11 percent. (AP)

The end result of all of these proposals appears to be a more consistent stream of revenue across the board. The graduated income tax proposal is a softer version of the "millionaire's tax", and the co-chair of the finance committee seems to think the former has a better chance of passing the legislature than the latter. As for real estate transactions, this proposal simply makes permanent the current rate, rather than letting it expire.

Gov. Rell blasted the plan, accusing the Democrats of wasting taxpayer money:

"I've made this point time and again: The legislature should be focused on cutting spending, not on raising taxes," Rell said. "Connecticut has a constitutional cap on spending for a reason: Because taxpayers can't afford runaway state spending." (AP)

This is inconsistent for two reasons: First, Rell's budget plans also included significant tax increases. The major difference between the plans is the way in which revenue is collected. Second, Rell's plans also exceed the constitutionally mandated spending cap:

In February, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell surprised many Democrats, who control the legislature, when she announced that her two-year budget proposal exceeds the cap to specifically help struggling nursing homes and nonprofit agencies. (Haigh)

The state constitution says that "extraordinary circumstances" allow spending beyond the cap. Whether failing nursing homes and nonprofits qualify as extraordinary is up to the legislature. A case could be made that a permanent budget crisis or the threatened loss of necessary services would also qualify as an extraordinary circumstance.

The graduated income tax doesn't seem like a bad idea, but it would be nice to see a slightly lower rate for income in the $10,000-$20,000 range for single filers, and the $20,000-$30,000 range for married couples filing jointly. Keeping the real estate tax rate at 0.25% may help struggling municipalities. Some towns and cities now tax real estate transactions at 0.5%; maybe each town should be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine which need (or can bear) the higher rate the most.

I would like to see the General Assembly and the governor reach some kind of clear agreement on the state of the spending cap. Perhaps a little more flexibility could be built into the cap without sacrificing it entirely.

In the end, voters may end up deciding.

Sources: "Democrats considering changes to state tax system"". Associated Press 22 March 2005.

Haigh, Susan. "Potential battle brewing over state's spending cap. Associated Press 21 March 2005.

ELECTION ALERT!!! Preston referendum on Utopia Studios proposal today.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Utopia Studios Referendum Tomorrow

Looking for the May, 2006 referendum? Click here.

Voters to Decide Fate of Property, Town and Region

There is a property on the Norwich-Preston town line where the old Norwich Hospital campus used to be. It has been vacant for nine years. It's a large, attractive piece of land, and development proposals have been floating around it for a long time. Now, a group called Utopia Studios wants to build a theme park, a film college, movie studios and 4,200 hotel rooms on the site. If Preston voters approved the proposal, they would suddenly find themselves sitting on a giant pile of tax money and tourist dollars. The region would be able to slowly start shifting away from its doomed military-based economy towards tourism and the arts. Utopia Studios, to be perfectly frank, is tossing a life preserver to New London County.

But I have a strong feeling that the voters are going to reject the proposal. Remember the Six Flags theme park that was supposed to go in North Stonington? Cranky Yankees there defeated that proposal because of "quality of life" issues (and kept most of their town a quaint backwater), and I suspect that the cranks in Preston, sick of casino development (Preston is located right between Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods), will similarly decide that they'd like to preserve what's left of the "character" of their town. Here is a letter to the editor expressing what I fear will be the prevailing view tomorrow:

In 2001, and as recently as a couple of weeks ago, Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon expressed concerns to the governor of Connecticut about casino-related effects on Preston. Not only were issues of increased traffic volume and compromised resident safety cited, but also critical deficiencies in emergency service, police protection and public works.

Don't you think this billion-dollar beast would create similar issues? Has our selectman stopped caring about our safety? Has he given up on the fabric of our town? The makeup of Preston is in peril, and our selectman is not only letting it happen, he encourages it. (Gallagher)

This is shortsighted at best. Voters in Preston will not only be deciding the fate of their small town, but the fate of an entire region. Let's face facts: the Navy will be leaving Groton sooner or later. Electric Boat has been limping along from contract to contract; we should expect a full closure there, too, as defense contractors consolidate their operations. So what will that leave southeastern Connecticut with besides casinos?

Utopia Studios won't replace the good jobs lost in the region, but it will pump revenue into the local economy and make the area more attractive to live in. As for Mr. Gallagher's concerns (and the concerns of Preston cranks in general), the enormous tax windfall that the town can expect from Utopia, as well as an expected surge in Utopia-related development, will help to offset the costs of expanded services. In fact, Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon has said that the town will be able to dramatically lower its mill rate. (Q&A)

A comparison has often been drawn between this plan and the agreement between the Millstone nuclear plants and the town of Waterford, from which Waterford has benefited enormously. Of course, low property taxes in Waterford led to a development boom, the result of which was haphazard development, the Crystal Mall and a loss of open space. Congdon wants to try to avoid this through buying development rights to farms (Q&A), perhaps through agricultural easements like the one recently agreed upon by Newington, which will address some of the "quality of life" issues Preston voters worry about.

So will it pass? I hope it will. It would be great for Preston and for southeastern Connecticut. But I have serious doubts that the voters of Preston will be able to see beyond their own town, especially after years of suffering from the casinos with no real payoff. I will post results as soon as they become available.

The Day has a great series of articles on this topic (registration required).

Sources: Gallager, Brian. Preston Doesn't Need To Go Hollywood". New London Day 10 March 2005.

"Q&A With Congdon On The Town's Agreement". New London Day 13 March 2005.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Weekend Open Forum

Might as well start it now. Rowland sentencing today... should be interesting. I'll be back by Sunday. Speak your minds.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Rowland: It was everybody's fault but mine

Former Governor Asks for Leniency

I've been trying to stay away from the upcoming Rowland sentencing, but I just couldn't ignore this:

In a sentencing memo filed in U.S. District Court, Rowland asked Judge Peter C. Dorsey to sentence him to less than the 15 to 21 months in prison called for when agreed to plead guilty to a corruption charge in December.

The documents portray Rowland as a dedicated public servant who mistakenly delegated authority to people who corrupted his administration.

In particular, Rowland blames his former co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef and contractor William Tomasso. Both are under federal indictment.

"Ellef, allowed to operate without a monitor, took advantage of his position to tilt the process and assure that his friend, Tomasso, would obtain lucrative state projects," Rowland's attorney, William F. Dow III wrote.
"Ellef's management style was militaristic," Rowland's attorney wrote. "He had an intimidating, can-do, take no prisoners approach." (AP)

So I suppose he was bullied into that free hot tub by his own blackhearted chief of staff. Pathetic... There's no honor in blaming other people for one's own faults. I really don't know what else to say here, except that it will be good to have this over and done with.

Source: "Rowland Blames Adviser, Asks Judge For Leniency". Associated Press 17 March 2005.

A Challenger Appears on the Horizon

Lieberman Quakes in Boots

The first nut has dropped from the tree. Yes, liberal Democrats in Connecticut finally have a man at whom they can roll their eyes, shake their heads, make critical clucking noises, and say "pass."

John Orman, of Trumbull, said he is creating an advisory committee to evaluate a run for the Democratic nomination.

"There is a great national debate going on for the heart and soul of the Democratic party," said Orman, 56. "Let the battle begin here and now in Connecticut." (AP)

Has the great duel, the mother of all battles, begun? Ahem.

Orman is a political science professor at Fairfield University, known mostly for his unsuccessful attempt to stop Lieberman from running for two offices at once in 2000. He also was crushed in an attempt to unseat Rep. Stewart B. McKinney in 1984, his only other political experience.

To give you an idea of Orman's political sense, here's an excerpt from an article about his 1984 campaign:

The 35-year-old Mr. Orman has never before sought electoral office, and his ads link him strongly to Walter F. Mondale, in the hope that a big Mondale victory could carry him into office. (Schmalz)

That plan didn't go so well, as liberals, Mondale included, were steamrolled all across the country. Tellingly, despite the fact that Fairfield County generated an enormous amount of money for the Democratic Party, Orman's campaign received no funding from them. Orman expects the same amount of support this time around:

...[Orman] acknowledged that Lieberman is very popular and will have the support of the Democratic party's establishment. Mounting the challenge now, "could make Joe Lieberman be a Democrat for a year," he said. (AP)

Come on. If liberal Democrats are serious about getting rid of Lieberman, the worst thing they could do is send up an "it's the principle of the thing" candidate instead of a real one. If Orman runs, he'll be crushed. This will be less a grounding for Lieberman than a validation.


Sources: "Politics professor considering challenging Lieberman". Associated press 17 March 2005.

Scmalz, Jeffrey. "In 4th District, Novice Takes On Popular Incumbent". New York Times 14 October, 1984. From ProQuest Historical Newspapers--The New York Times.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

BRAC Committee Announced

Committee Suspiciously Lacks a New Englander

So here's the list of people President Bush has nominated for the Base Realignment and Closure committee:

-James H. Bilbray of Nevada
-Philip Coyle of California
-Harold W. Gehman Jr. of Virginia
-James V. Hansen of Utah
-James T. Hill of Florida
-Claude M. Kicklighter of Georgia
-Samuel Knox Skinner of Illinois
-Sue Ellen Turner of Texas

Notice something? No, you're not just missing it. There really are people on this board from every part of the country except the Northeast. This is a serious blow, not just for Connecticut, but for the entire region:

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she was "profoundly disappointed that a New Englander was not included.

"This disturbing decision compromises fairness and balance in a process that is vitally important to our nation's defense and in which the stakes for local communities are extraordinarily high, especially given the fact that New England has lost 50 percent of its military installations in the prior four rounds of base closings," she said.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine and the Naval Submarine Base in Connecticut, as well as Hanscom Air Force Base and Natick Labs in Massachusetts, have all been mentioned as possible targets for closure this year. (AP)

Well, maybe it's not as bad as it sounds. Thomas Sheridan, president of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, tried to put a positive spin on it:

“This will be political, but not as political as we might fear,” Sheridan said. “These are straight-up Americans that will make a decision based on what's best for the country, and the sub base will come out far ahead.” (Hamilton)

Oh, that's a relief. Base closures are never political. Look, I know that the committee is supposed to be impartial, but will the Georgian, the Virginian and the Californian really ignore the interests of their own states in favor of cold, distant Connecticut? That's a tall order, no matter how objective you're trying to be.

Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT2), whose re-election chances very much hinge on BRAC's decision, weighed in:

“It's a huge disappointment, because we feel the rest of the country has received representation on the BRAC and we have not,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District. “We're not sure how we can get a fair shake out of this panel.

“But we're going to do what we've been doing, lobbying the strength of our case,” Simmons said. “We'll continue to work the problem as hard as we can. These are the cards we've been dealt, so there's no sense crying about it.” (Hamilton)

Simmons doesn't sound very sure of himself, but he has very little reason to be at this stage. It's looking ever more likely that the deck has been stacked against Connecticut and New England in general, and that come decision time, we'll lose our bases.

I just can't stand it.

Hamilton, Robert A. "Bush Fills Out Base-Closure Commission President's Choices Exclude Northeast". New London Day 16 March 2005.
"Bush nominates commission on military base closures". Associated Press 16 March 2005.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Nursing Home Strike Possible

State Meets with Union: Contracts Expire Tonight

Nursing homes in Connecticut are on the verge of another strike:

Contracts covering about 4,000 workers, ranging from nurses to laundry staff, at 34 private nursing homes across the Connecticut are set to expire at midnight Tuesday. The 34 homes represent a little more than half of the unionized nursing homes in the state.
Deborah Chernoff, a spokeswoman for District 1199, said the union could set strike deadlines on Tuesday.

She said nursing home owners have not been willing to negotiate, and have proposed contract changes that would ultimately hurt the workers, including higher insurance premiums. (AP)

The situation is reminiscent of 2001, when strikes were held at nearly 40 nursing homes following the expiration of a large batch of contracts. This sort of massive and visible strike is exactly the situation the state wants to avoid, for even though the negotiations are between the nursing home owners and the union, the massive amount of Medicaid dollars the state funnels into these facilities gives them a significant interest in the outcome.

The state also tends to take a lot of heat if a strike occurs, partly because the the state has been seen to be on the side of corporate nursing home owners, but also because the state is more visible and accountable to the public than distant corporations.

A strike is very likely, in my opinion, because most corporations who own nursing homes, while not quite the moustache-twirling cartoon villans who tie old folks to the tracks and giggle that the union describes them as, do tend to be greedy, selfish and stubborn. Nursing home staff are overworked and underpaid, the facilities are constantly shorthanded and administration is terrible at best. It seems unlikely that the union's demands will be met.

Governor Rell is going to have to navigate a potential strike very carefully, and hope that the situation doesn't turn into a catastrophe.

Source: "Governor Rell hopes to avoid nursing home strike". Associated Press 15 March 2005.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Land Preservation and Suburban Growth

Newington "Agricultural Easement" a Model for Other Towns

Because I grew up in Newington, I was thrilled to see this:

NEWINGTON -- The Eddy Farm sits where it has since the early 18th Century, according to the Trust for Public Land.

It has operated continuously for the approximately 300 intervening years, producing corn, hay and fruit at the intersection of Cedar Street and Willard Avenue in Newington.

Now, through a recent arrangement secured by the Town Council and Town Manager Paul Fetherston, that will continue indefinitely, preserving the Eddy Farm’s 61 acres from all but agricultural development. (Reed)

Eddy Farm is one of the last remaining pieces of open land in Newington that isn't either swampland or a golf course. The town is basically buying the development rights to the land without buying the land itself. Other Newington farms have disappeared one by one (I can think of only one other that remains), victims of residential, industrial and commercial development. Eddy Farm remained mostly due to the stubbornness of former owner Roger Eddy, and the future of the property had been in doubt following his death.

This is a worthwhile program, and not one often seen in older suburbs. The cost may seem a little high, but towns concerned with preserving quality of life should pay close attention. As growth expands into traditionally rural areas, this type of program will probably become much more popular and necessary.

What is particularly interesting is this statement from Newington's town manager:

"If the property were to be developed into 146 housing units," Fetherston said, "the town would gain $1 million in tax revenues. But we would spend $2.7 million in services."

$2.7 million is the amount being spent on the easement. This is sensible planning. I hope the town council approves this plan, as it will enhance the quality of life in Newington, preserve a piece of the past, and prevent the construction of yet another cookie-cutter suburban development.

There is some good information about agricultural easements here:

Source: Reed, Eric. "Eddy Farm spared from future development". New Britain Herald 14 March, 2005.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Weekend Open Forum

Let's try something new. I've been getting some interesting ideas from readers through email, and I just don't have the time to do them all justice. So, on the weekends, I will post an "open forum" where you can discuss anything that catches your fancy. You can post anything from blatant blog plugs to insightful political analysis to the lousy weather we've been having.

I just ask that it be at least tangentially Connecticut-related, and that you not post offensive material. If this seems like something people like, it'll become a regular thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Family Institute": 76% Want Constitutional Referendum on Gay Marriage

But Poll is Highly Misleading

This is a good example of why you should always check your sources carefully.

The "Family Institute", a local group of jittery religious conservatives, released a poll today. Some results:

76% of state residents want the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Connecticut as the union of one man and one woman. An overwhelming majority of 78% agree that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. (Family Institute)

Gosh. It sounds like people in our state really, really don't like gay marriage.

But this poll is incredibly misleading. Here's why:

Firstly, the questions are confusing and tortured, seemingly designed to provoke the response the "Family" Institute wants. A few examples:

Do you agree or disagree that it is better for children to be raised in a household with both a mother and father? (WAIT FOR RESPONSE) And, is that strongly (agree/disagree) or somewhat (agree/disagree)?

On the surface, not a question about homosexuals at all. Yet how easy it is to turn it that way! 86% agreed. Another:

Do you agree or disagree that homosexuals and lesbians may have the right to choose their own personal relationships, but they do not have the right to redefine marriage for an entire society? (WAIT FOR RESPONSE) And, is that strongly (agree/disagree) or somewhat (agree/disagree)? (boldface mine)

So. Homosexuals are "redefining marriage for an entire society," are they? Very provocative, and the leading phrase "homosexuals and lesbians have the right to choose their own personal relationships" is tricky. 63% agreed to this one.

Do you agree or disagree that if homosexual couples want to provide for each other, they can continue to do so through private arrangements already allowed under the law, such as a will, a health care proxy, insurance beneficiary, or joint ownership of property? (WAIT FOR RESPONSE) And, is that strongly (agree/disagree) or somewhat (agree/disagree)?

This has to be the most convoluted question of the bunch. On the surface, it sounds very good that homosexuals be allowed to do this for one another, but the sinister intent of the question is to accrue data that shows that homosexuals don't need marriage's legal rights. 63% of the by-now confused respondents agreed. And the most-cited question:

Do you agree or disagree that voters should have an opportunity to directly vote on a constitutional amendment that would determine whether or not to keep marriage in Connecticut the union of one man and one woman? (WAIT FOR RESPONSE) And, is that strongly (agree/disagree) or somewhat (agree/disagree)?

This isn't gauging support for an amendment, but only shows that 76% of people want to vote on it. Indeed, the question suggests that such an amendment is already in the works. If there's an amendment to the constitution being proposed, you bet I'd want to vote on it.

Lastly, here's why the entire poll is unreliable: Age. 73% of the respondents were over 40. 30% were over 60, while 10% were over 75.

This poll is heavily slanted towards older people. The U.S. Census shows that 13.8 percent of Connecticut residents were over 65 in 2000. 24 percent of people polled here were over 65.

This is a garbage poll and should not be trusted. There will be no anti-gay constitutional amendment in Connecticut, civil unions will happen, and life will go on.

You can find the poll at Go ahead and read it, and feel free to challenge my assessment.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Depressing Hartford Statistic of the Day

It's good that people like American City Business Journals are around to kick us when we're down.

Hartford, Conn., with its high poverty level and old or vacant housing, is the most stressful of the 245 cities ranked by American City Business Journals, the nation's largest publisher of metropolitan business newspapers. (AP)

Well, great. Are there any city rankings out there that Hartford isn't at or near the bottom of these days?

Hartford is more "stressful" even than Newark. Ouch. Here's what the study was measuring:

* Percentage of people living below the federally designated poverty level
* Ratio of households with low annual incomes (below $25,000) to those with high incomes (above $100,000)
* Unemployment rate
* Percentage of adults (25 or older) who didn't graduate from high school
* Percentage of households defined by the Census Bureau as "linguistically isolated," meaning that no one older than 13 speaks English well
* Percentage of families headed by one adult, with no spouse present
* Percentage of homes sitting vacant (not including vacation homes)

"Linguistically isolated"? I suppose immigrants make for stressful cities. Of course, the study doesn't take into account the ethnic neighborhood structures that these "linguistically isolated" people can rely on. Hartford is essentially a bilingual city. And how does one define speaking English "well"?

It also seems that single-parent households are obviously bad for business, and cause "socioeconomic stress". All right, then!

So many of Hartford's problems are a factor of geography. Hartford is one of the smallest cities in land area in the country (of 603 cities with more than 50,000 people, Hartford ranks #468 in land area--most of the smaller cities have smaller populations). In other parts of the country, Hartford would probably be joined with the surrounding suburbs. Imagine Hartford, West Hartford, Bloomfield, Windsor, East Hartford, Wethersfield and Newington combined. That's what cities elsewhere are like. But because of New England's atypical structure of many, many incorporated towns (all around 15-30 square miles) instead of counties, townships, etc., Hartford clocks in at 17.3 square miles. This is small even for Connecticut, where the average town is about 30 square miles. Crammed into these 17.3 square miles are some of the worst neighborhoods in the state.

Look at it this way: how well would a place like New York do if the entire city was the worst 17.3 square miles of the Bronx (which is currently 42 sq. miles)? Not well.

In other cities, the more well-to-do parts of town are offsetting the negative impact of poverty-stricken or blighted areas. Hartford, because of its geographic constraints, doesn't really have much in the way of well-to-do areas, and so shows poorly. Does this mean that other cities don't have the problems Hartford does? Of course not. There are terrible neighborhoods in just about every urban center in America. Many are worse than the neighborhoods of Hartford. However, they are also lucky enough (from the point of view of American City Business Journals) to coexist within the same borders as some nice neighborhoods. Stress relieved. Ahhhh.

Still, the study does underscore the desperate state of Hartford and our other major cities. No matter how you slice it, we still have isolated urban cores surrounded by middle-class suburbs. Would the situation in our urban cores improve markedly if some sort of regional authority was placed in charge of schools, services, etc.? Realistically, probably not.

But at least we'd go up in the rankings.

"Gilbert, Scottsdale rated among nation's least stressful cities". Associated Press 9 March 2005.

Thomas, G. Scott. "Hartford carries the heaviest economic stress of any large city". American City Business Journals 14 February 2005.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

House Minority Leader: Restrict Eminent Domain

Bill Would Prohibit Home Seizures for Private Development

House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Ward (R-North Branford) has introduced a bill that would prohibit the seizure through eminent domain of small owner-occupied homes for private development. The bill is in response to the ongoing legal battle over New London's Fort Trumbull neighborhood. Here is the text of the bill:


Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That subsection (a) of section 8-193 of the general statutes be amended to provide that owner-occupied residential dwellings consisting of four or fewer residential units shall not be acquired by eminent domain for use in a development project that will be privately owned or controlled.

Statement of Purpose:

To prohibit the acquisition of small owner-occupied residential dwellings by eminent domain for use in a municipal development project that will be privately owned or controlled.
(from the General Assembly's website.)

A public hearing on the bill was held yesterday. Ward defended his bill, saying:

“I have concerns about the use of eminent domain as it affects all private property, but I am deeply concerned when it involves owner-occupied residences,” Ward told the committee, “because I think the right of individuals to own property, and particularly their own home, is a unique part of American democracy.” (Mann)

The Supreme Court is to rule by June on whether the seizure of private property for private development, even when the results will theoretically benefit the public through enlargement of the grand list and revitalization of urban areas, can be classified as eminent domain. Ward's bill is an attempt to restrict the powers of quasi-governmental "development agencies" like the New London Development Corporation and others.

It makes sense that the private corporations set up by cities to redevelop urban centers for them should not have the full eminent domain power of the government. After all, private developers don't serve the public good; they will do what they think will create the most profit. This may or may not, in the end, benefit the city or its residents. A neighborhood may not be in the greatest of shape. But does it really benefit the residents of that neighborhood and the city at large to tear it down and build a hotel and convention center that they will never use?

Some disagree:

“For the past half century, Connecticut cities have been declining, and efforts to revive them have struggled, due in large part to the scarcity of developable urban land,” said Ron Thomas of the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, adding that eminent domain was often the only method of assembling parcels for development. (Mann)

Yet the use of eminent domain as a sledgehammer for development is not always the answer, and can lead to wildly unsuccessful results. An example of this is Constitution Plaza in Hartford, one of the worst pieces of urban development I've ever seen. Also, the two major interstates that bisect Hartford and cut it off from the river have been so obviously bad for the health of the city that efforts have been made in the last decade to try and undo some of the damage (Riverfront Recapture, the I-84 tunnel).

Is there any reason to believe that private corporations will do any better? Perhaps the answer isn't to destroy what exists, but to work with it. Small-scale redevelopment and the preservation and/or enhancement of the city's existing neighborhoods, structures and infrastructure may be far better for the city and its residents than razing those things in favor of private interests.

Source: Mann, Ted. "Bill Would Curb Use Of Eminent Domain". New London Day 8 March, 2005. (subscription)

Naugatuck Dem. Primary: Bosco Wins

Jurzynski defeated, but not out of race

The unofficial tally stands at 1,043 for Bosco, 858 for Jurzynski.

Jurzynski is a petitioning candidate for Mayor in the May election, so he is not out of the race entirely. This is his worst showing in a primary election so far.

Source: Rosenberg, Beth. "Jurzynski on the phone till the end". Waterbury Republican-American 8 March 2005.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Cigarette Taxes, While Popular, Don't Pay Off

Evidence Shows Declining Revenue Growth Over Time

Ciagrette taxes and other so-called "sin" taxes have often been the quick-fix of choice for state and local governments. Governor Rell has proposed yet another hike in Connecticut's cigarette tax, from $1.51/pack to $2.25/pack. This will be the fourth time in as many years that cigarette taxes will have been raised.

The obvious? If cigarette prices keep rising, people will quit smoking cigarettes. Revenues will stop increasing at such a satisfying rate, and the quick-fix no longer works.

Here's some evidence:

Cigarette tax revenue has followed a similar pattern nationwide, said David Brunori, contributing editor of State Tax Notes, a tax analysis and publishing company in Arlington, Va. In 2002, states raised $8.6 billion in tobacco taxes, he said. That jumped to $11 billion the following year and slowed to $12 billion in 2004.

"Every economist knows this fact: Tobacco taxes and cigarette taxes are not a viable long-term source of revenue," he said. "Each year you have fewer smokers than the year before. The base is shrinking. You'll raise the rates, but there will be no more money to be raised. Politicians have a short-term outlook. They need revenue now." (Singer)

I've complained about "sin" taxes before. It seems unfair to me that people should be taxed for what the state sees as immoral behavior, which is really what is at the heart of the matter. If the state tried taxing a popular unnecessary and addictive substance, like coffee, the outcry would be instant and furious. However, smokers are an easy target. No one is going to defend smokers, who are seen as filthy nasty people who will eventually give everyone cancer.

Now it turns out that this particular "sin" tax won't even work over the long term. We can't keep flogging the cigarette tax forever, no matter how popular it is. Instead, the General Assembly should set its jaw and actually deal with the ongoing budget crisis in a substantive way instead of looking around for easy, popular, transient solutions.

Singer, Stephen. "Rell's budget challenge: Revenue gains fall as cigarette taxes rise". Associated Press 7 March 2005.

ELECTION ALERT: Naugatuck Democratic Mayoral primary today!!!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Naugatuck Democratic Primary Monday

This will be a race I'll be sad to see end.

That is, unless it continues.

I've devoted an awful lot of space to the Curt Bosco vs. Peter Jurzynski mayoral primary in Naugatuck this Monday. I have no idea why. I don't live in Naugatuck, I don't even live near Naugatuck, and I really think I've only been there twice in my life.

So why am I covering it? Well, this is a traditionally slow period for elections, since it's the winter after a presidential/congressional/general assembly election cycle, so Naugatuck is most of what's going on. Also, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to create a resource for local elections (note the maps ---->). I picked this one up because it is the only primary I know of in the May election cycle.

But really, I cover Bosco vs. Jurzynski simply for the fun of it. They are such an odd pair. I've talked about them in previous entries ("It's Getting Dirty" and "Old Crank Seeks Old Crank Vote", so I don't feel the need to re-introduce them here. What matters is that if Bosco loses, he's out of the race. If he wins, however, Jurzynski is still on the May ballot as a petitioning candidate. So at least we won't have seen the last of this, uh, colorful character.

There are two articles today on the Waterbury Republican-American's horrific website about the two candidates, so go read them if you want to know more. The journalist who writes most of the Naugatuck stories really seems to enjoy poking holes in Jurzynski's statements, so the articles about him have consistently been enjoyable.

Really, though, this is evidence of why local politics is fun and interesting. I look forward to posting the results Tuesday.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Report: Stingy Health Care Forces Workers on to HUSKY

Wal-Mart Tops List of Offenders

A new report slams wealthy companies like Wal-Mart for health insurance practices that leave workers with little other choice than to go on the state's HUSKY plan.

The state is paying an estimated $43 million annually for health care insurance to cover workers at the top 25 major employers, led by Wal-Mart...
"Here is the richest retail company in the world, and we, the taxpayers, are subsidizing their coverage," said House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, a Meriden Democrat. "I think people aren't aware of the extent that we're subsidizing the biggest, richest, most powerful companies. Wal-Mart shoppers need to know there's an extra cost of doing business." (Keating, et. al.)

Indeed. Wal-Mart is well-known for treating its employees poorly. But how are they doing it? Here's the scam:

"We don't design our plans to be supplemented by public assistance," said Dan Fogleman, a Wal-Mart spokesman. "Nor do we encourage our associates to apply for these programs."

But a Congressional report last year found that Wal-Mart had increased the health-benefit waiting period for full-time workers. In 2002, the waiting period jumped from 90 days to six months. By comparison, the report found, the average waiting period for employers the size of Wal-Mart was 1.3 months.

The report also found that Wal-Mart changed the definition of part-time in 2002, raising it to 34 hours or fewer a week, up from 28 hours or fewer - a stricter definition than many companies. 73% of the Wal-Mart employees on HUSKY work 30 hours per week or more.

Part-time workers must wait two years to apply for health coverage and they cannot add a spouse or children.

Monthly premiums for a family start at about $155 a month, but carry a $1,000 deductible. Wal-Mart could not immediately provide a range for monthly premiums for families that would carry a lower deductible. (Keating, et. al.)

So Wal-Mart doesn't have to encourage its employees to go on state assistance; it leaves them with virtually no other choice. We appear to be paying the bill for it, to the tune of about $5 million per year (according to a table in today's print edition of the Courant).

Wal-Mart is hardly the only offender, but it is the largest and obviously the wealthiest. In the case of fast-food chains like McDonalds, Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts, who are all high on the list, the problem is at the individual franchise level (franchises set benefits policies for these companies). Wal-Mart's policies are company-wide.

So what action can the legislature take?

Donovan said that the state should consider writing a letter to Wal-Mart, asking them to pay back the money in the same way that homeowners pay various taxes or sewer assessment fees. (Keating, et. al.)

I have a feeling that we won't see that money for a very long time. In the meantime, the future of the HUSKY plan is uncertain. HUSKY was originally meant for children only, and the cost of continuing to extend benefits to adults is obviously staggering. Fiscal conservatives especially find it hard to take:

[Sen. Louis] DeLuca's solution, however, involves stripping down the program and reducing the income limits in order to cut down the state's costs.

"I've always been against the government going into the insurance business," DeLuca said. "The HUSKY program was initially proposed to take care of needy people. It was never meant for adults. Why should adults be in a child's program?" (Keating et. al.)

The problem, of course, is that it leaves poor families in a bind. If you work 32 hours per week at Wal-Mart, and you need medical insurance, where are you supposed to get it from? Wal-Mart, because of its rules classifying you as part-time, won't give you its stingy health benefits for two years. If the HUSKY program disappears... what then?

There is no clear solution to the rapidly escalating costs of health care. Conservatives argue that the cost of malpractice insurance is to blame, and that malpractice settlements should be regulated. Liberals see this as yet another argument for a Canadian-style national health care system.

But even if malpractice insurance costs are drastically lowered, it's unclear whether struggling private insurance companies will lower their premiums accordingly. There are other issues at work here, including the high cost of drugs. As for single-payer health insurance, the dreadful mismanagement of the issue by the Clinton Administration in 1993 has virtually guaranteed that we won't see it again as a serious proposal for another decade at least. Is there a quick fix in the house?

In order to help resolve the overall health care problem, Rell is proposing a pilot program that would give Medicaid funds to low-income workers with the proviso that they use that money to buy health insurance through their employers. (Keating et. al.)

The problem there seems to be the old issue of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and does not hold companies like Wal-Mart responsible for their behavior. In the meantime, health care costs continue to be a burden for small businesses and employees alike, and no good solution appears to be on the horizon.

Keating, Christopher, Ritu Kalra and Kenneth R. Gosselin. "Report Slams Benefit Policies". Hartford Courant 4 March 2005.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Lieberman vs. the Democrats?

Primary Challenge Possible

Senator Joe Lieberman is making a number of Connecticut Democrats cranky. He has, they say, forsaken his party and embraced (quite literally, if you watched the State of the Union) President Bush and his policies. The latest rumor is that Lieberman is favoring compromise with the Republicans on Social Security privatization, thereby giving the administration "bipartisan cover" for its plans. Lieberman dispelled that yesterday:

U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., said Tuesday he is "totally un-convinced" the government can shift Social Security toward private accounts without accelerating the onset of the program’s insolvency.

"I don’t see how you make Social Security more solvent taking trillions of dollars out of the trust fund," Lieberman said, taking his fist public stance on President Bush’s proposal. (Straw)

There. The left wing of the party will doubtless not be appeased, however. Lieberman is simply too close to President Bush for their comfort. His positions on the Iraq War, especially, have alienated and angered a significant segment of Connecticut's liberals, and his rather obvious campaigning for the job of Secretary of Homeland Security (a bid that, embarrassingly enough, failed) has confirmed the opinion of those who believe he is nothing but a DINO (Democrat in Name Only).

So what to do?

"I think it would be a very healthy thing for Lieberman to be challenged in a Democratic primary," said Mary Sullivan, a former Democratic National Committee member from Greenwich. "It might make him more accountable or responsive to the sentiment of Democratic voters in the state." (Vigdor)

Support for a primary against Lieberman is strong on the liberal blogosphere (this thread from Daily Kos illustrates my point nicely), guaranteeing any primary challenger money and exposure. But is it a good idea?

Let's take a look:

--A primary might help refocus Lieberman's attentions on his constituents.
--Democracy is always healthy. Connecticut Democrats should have the opportunity to choose the candidate they feel most represents them.
--It would draw attention away from a very boring governor's race.

--A primary could split the party between liberals and moderates. This is the coalition Democrats depend on; a split could be disastrous. If a primary is announced, expect a high-profile Republican like Rob Simmons or Nancy Johnson to step in to the race.
--As with any primary in today's incumbent-dominated world, this one has little chance of success. Indeed, the quote from Mary Sullivan above indicates that the primary would, in effect, be held to keep Lieberman honest. Why run if you're not trying to win?
--Even worse, Joe Lieberman has a 69% approval rating in Connecticut, according to a Quinnipiac Poll from last month. Only 20% disapprove of him. Those are rock-solid numbers, and they haven't changed very much over the past decade. Lieberman support is entrenched, and his appeal crosses party lines.
--On the other hand, what if the challenge succeeds? In that case, a moderate Republican like Shays would probably win against a candidate already painted as "liberal".
--Liberals might be shooting themselves in the foot. Lieberman's voting record is not as conservative as they believe. Here are some of the ratings he gets from various interest groups:

2003 On the votes that the National Abortion Reproductive Rights Action League considered to be the most important in 2003, Senator Lieberman voted their preferred position 100 percent of the time.

2004 On the votes that the United Auto Workers considered to be the most important in 2004, Senator Lieberman voted their preferred position 92 percent of the time. Those who supported or provided other assistance in connection with a UAW organizing drive are given an extra 10% bonus. Priority issues are given double weight in this voting record.

2004 According to the National Journal - Liberal on Social Policy's calculations, in 2004, Senator Lieberman voted more liberal on social policy issues than 82 percent of the Senators.
Project Vote-Smart

By contrast, the Nat'l Journal rated Senator Dodd as more liberal than 77% of senators.

Lieberman's record, to be sure, has some sizable holes in it. The ACLU gave him a 40% rating in 2001-2002 (up to 80% last year), for example. But by and large, Lieberman's voting record is right in the mainstream for Democratic senators.

What seems to anger liberals most is Lieberman's perceived closeness to the administration and his love of compromise. They cite his appearances on conservative cable programs on FOXNews, and his breaks with the Democratic party line on several issues, such as his vote to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. Yet it seems that when it comes time to vote, Lieberman by and large supports progressive measures.

Therefore, it may be misleading to say that Lieberman is a Democrat-In-Name-Only, and that having a Republican in his seat would essentially change nothing. Democrats may wish to ask themselves if they want to risk a sure vote for Harry Reid for Majority Leader in 2007 simply to make a poltical point.

"Cause for scrutiny of Shays, Lieberman". Stamford Advocate 3 March 2005.
Straw, Joseph. "Lieberman not convinced on Social Security". Bristol Press 2 March 2005.
Vigdor, Neil. "Is a kiss just a kiss? Lieberman's bond with Bush angers liberal Dems". Stamford Advocate 25 February 2005.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Rell: Civil Unions OK

Way Clear for Historic Bill

In a surprising move, Gov. Rell endorsed the civil unions bill recently approved by the judiciary committee:

Gov. M. Jodi Rell endorsed the concept of civil unions for same-sex couples Tuesday, adding to the momentum building behind the gay-rights measure.

"I don't believe in discrimination of any sort, and I want people to have equal rights and equal opportunities," Rell said. (Pazniokas)

Previously, Rell had said she would have to see a civil unions bill before considering whether to sign it or not. So, we assume that she's seen the bill and approved of it?

The governor said she had not evaluated the civil-unions bill approved last week by the judiciary committee, but for the first time she offered unqualified support for the concept. (Pazniokas)

Interesting. What changed her thinking? Or, indeed, has her thinking been changed at all? Rell did support a 1991 measure aimed at ending discriminatory practices against homosexuals. Her earlier hemming and hawing on the subject may just have been her cautious nature.

Then again, it may be part of a larger societal shift:

The legislature's influential judiciary committee passed the [civil unions] bill last week on a 25-13 vote. The same panel killed a similar measure in 2003.

"The big picture is that a lot of people, the governor included, are thinking about this and changing the way they view it," said Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, the judiciary co-chairman. (Pazniokas)

To what should we attribute this change of opinion? The presence of full and legal gay marriage in a neighboring state matters a great deal, especially as it becomes part of the normal fabric of life there. Also, this is now an issue that people are discussing rationally instead of emotionally. When the knee-jerk reaction of "They want to do WHAT?" fades away and the subject is approached with a rational mind, it doesn't seem quite so horrible.

There may yet be some fallout for Gov. Rell because of her stance. Social conservatives and religious groups won't like it, but they don't exist in large enough numbers in Connecticut to really constitute a threat. If anything, this is going to help Rell shore up bipartisan support for 2006, should she decide to run.

For now, civil unions are the perfect rational compromise to a highly emotional issue. Another generation may pass before marriage rights quietly are extended to all, but in the meantime gay couples will enjoy nearly all of the legal standing heterosexuals do. In twenty years, their unions will be as normal to us as blacks and whites sitting side-by-side on a bus. The support of our Republican governor for civil unions is a vitally important step towards that ultimate goal.

Source: Pazniokas, Mark. "Rell Joins Backers Of Same-Sex Civil Unions". Hartford Courant 2 March 2005.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Abercrombie Wins Special Election

Vote Close for Vacant House Seat

The AP and Channel 8 (WTNH-TV) are reporting that Democrat Christine Abercrombie has won a very close election in the 83rd House (Meriden-Berlin) district tonight.

Abercrombie, a former PTO president, defeated Republican city councilman Robert Clermont 1,438-1,314 (these are intial numbers reported by the AP: they may change), or 52.2%-47.7%. (Channel 8 originally reported a much closer victory of 976-949).

Turnout was about 21%. That actually isn't bad for a special election during a much-hyped snowstorm.

Abercrombie will replace Democrat James Abrams, who resigned in January. The makeup of the House (98 Democrats, 53 Republicans) will not change.

Source: "Democrat holds House seat in Meriden-Berlin district". Associated Press 1 March 2005.

News Roundup - March 1, 2005

A few things happening today besides this bust of a snowstorm.

Governors Meet: Rell Stays Home

Not wanting to violate her own ban on out-of-state travel, Gov. Rell did not go to Washington this week to meet with the president, other governors and the state's congressional delegation.

This is a shame, because a moderate, well-liked Republican governor from a "blue" state is quite a novelty.

The travel ban apparently wasn't the only reason she stayed home:

Other reasons for Rell's being one of only six state governors not attending was that she wanted to catch up on phone calls and meetings she put off while recuperating from cancer surgery in December. (Lightman)

She also had to wash her hair, look after the cat, run a few errands... I get the feeling that she doesn't feel comfortable with the national party or the national political scene in general. She barely attended the GOP convention in September, and, outside of a congratulatory phone call in July, has not spoken with President Bush. Gov. Rowland seemed to live for these events, but he, of course, was a political animal. It's becoming increasingly obvious that Rell is something quite different.

Gay Rights Group OKs Civil Unions

The gay rights organization Love Makes a Family apparently has had a change of heart, and now says that they will not oppose civil unions. Earlier, the group said they'd oppose civil unions for same-sex couples as part of a broader push for full marriage rights. (See my previous post on this subject.)

Why the change of heart?

The group's opposition, roundly criticized by some of its legislative allies, would have put Love Makes a Family in the awkward position of lobbying - alongside its longtime political adversaries - against a bill that would greatly expand the rights of gay and lesbian couples. (Altimari)

That, and no one was listening to them.

Ultimately, Love Makes a Family's argument failed to win support from the judiciary committee - only one member, Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, voted against civil unions because they do not go far enough. (Altimari)

This is smart, and allows the left to unify around the bill (which is facing tepid opposition from the usual suspects). Overwhelming support in the Assembly for civil unions won't end the marriage debate, as LMAF fears: it will instead legitimize it.

Ethics Bill for Contractors Approved by Committee

The government administration and elections commitee approved a bill designed to reform rules governing state contracts:

The legislation would standardize a mish-mash of contracting rules and create a new state oversight board with the authority to ban a contractor implicated in corrupt practices from doing business with the state for up to five years. (Pazniokas)

This, finally, is the legislative result of the Rowland scandal. Cheers!

So when will the new rules take effect?

Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, a committee co-chairman and one of the bill's architects, said state contracting rules are so arcane that the new rules cannot be fully implemented until October 2007. (Pazniokas)

Great. Well, at least something got done before the zeal for ethics reform evaporated entirely.

Snow Cancels Pro-Newton Rally

A rally for embattled Senator Ernest Newton II was cancelled due to the threat of snow yesterday:

"We hope to reschedule for Monday or Tuesday next week, depending on the weather," said the Rev. Mary Lee, who was to have led the rally at the Main Street courthouse. "We were expecting about 150 people to come." (Thompson)

Alas, not even very much snow showed up.

ELECTION ALERT: 83rd House District (Meriden/Berlin) special election today!!! Full results tomorrow.

Altimari, Daniela. "Change Of Heart On Civil Unions". Hartford Courant 1 March 2005.
Lightman, David and Mark Pazniokas. "Rell Stays Home As Governors Get Together". Hartford Courant 1 March 2005.
Pazniokas, Mark. "Panel Approves Contract Ethics Bill". Hartford Courant 1 March 2005.
Thompson, Joel. "Pro-Newton rally canceled". Connecticut Post 1 March 2005.