Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina: Connecticut Responds

Groups all across Connecticut are starting to work together to help with the relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Gov. Rell has ordered that six state armories be used as collection points for donations of "bottled water, easily opened, non-perishable food and snacks, batteries, blankets, tarps and tents." The Hartford Courant has a list of ways you can help just up on its site.

How else can people help? What are other organizations/groups doing?

Fuel Costs on the Rise as Connecticut Families Earn Less

Hurricane's Effects Beginning to be Felt Nationwide

It's difficult to concentrate on Connecticut politics when there is so much human suffering happening down on the Gulf Coast. Aldon Hynes has posted on what we can do to help now, including donating money, blood or time to the Red Cross.

But Katrina's effects will be felt all over the country, even here, for a very long time to come. Already the hurricane's impact on the oil industry has forced prices higher, and it's very likely that continued instability in Iraq and the near-complete shutdown of operations in the New Orleans region will drive them higher yet.

Hurricane Katrina’s thrashing of the Gulf Coast made a bad situation worse, shutting down 95 percent of oil production in the region and sending the price of crude oil up $2.61 a barrel to close at a record $69.81 Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the price of heating oil rose 16.7 cents a gallon, hitting $2.08, and gasoline prices again hovered at record levels nationally and broke another record in the New Haven area, hitting $2.60 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA. (Troise)

This comes at a time when household incomes are shrinking and poverty in Connecticut is slowly on the rise.

Two reports released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau show Connecticut's average median household income decreased by $344 to $55,916 for the two-year period of 2003 and 2004, from $56,260 for 2002 and 2003 Meanwhile, the state's poverty rate rose from 8.2 to 9.1 percent between those two time periods, while the number of uninsured residents increased from 10.5 to 11 percent. (Jaksic)

The article is quick to point out that the poverty level for the country is 12.6%, and that Connecticut is well below that. However, that number is a bit misleading. The census calculates sets the poverty line at $19,157/yr. earned for a family of four. In Connecticut, however, both wages and cost of living are somewhat higher than the national average, which suggests that a family of four making $25,000/yr. is still in significant trouble.

The fact that household income is declining while the number of uninsured is rising is very troubling in the face of higher gasoline and heating oil costs. Consider this:

The average household will spend between $2,000 and $2,500 more this year on home heating oil and gasoline than in 2000, [economist Donald] Klepper-Smith said. (Troise)

When Connecticut's stagnant economic and job creation numbers are figured in, the situation becomes much worse. The governor has formed a panel of economists to study the issue and make recommendations for the upcoming winter:

The group came up with several options, including expanding winter heating assistance for low-income households, creating a low-interest loan pool to help small businesses and municipalities with energy costs, and increasing bulk purchases of gasoline and heating oil for state vehicles and buildings. (Troise)

The people of Louisiana and Mississippi are feeling the worst effects of the hurricane right now. However, the after-effects of what is starting to look like a national disaster will impact all of us this fall, this winter, and beyond.

Jaksic, Vesna. "State residents earning less, data show Number of poor, uninsured on the rise." Stamford Advocate 31 August, 2005.

Troise, Damian J. " Rell convenes panel on oil costs." New Haven Register 31 August, 2005.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Open Forum

Looks like John Rowland will be arrested again. More jail time? He'd be moved to a Connecticut jail while awaiting his trial on state charges. I hope it's Enfield: it would serve him right to have to spend time in that horrible place.

What else is happening today?

Governor Sues to Retain Control of Air Guard Unit

Blumenthal: Guard "Successor to Our Militia"

Gov. Rell is leading a group of plaintiffs suing the Department of Defense and the BRAC commission to prevent the removal of a unit of Connecticut Air National Guard A-10s from Bradley. The rationale:

...Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Monday that the transfer would violate constitutional and statutory provisions barring such a move without Rell's consent.

Pennsylvania last week persuaded a federal judge to halt a similar realignment of planes assigned to its Air Guard.

"There is an important principle here that goes back to the first days of the Republic. The National Guard is the successor to our militia," Blumenthal said. "We are guaranteed a militia by the United States Constitution." (Pazniokas)

This is a case to watch for a few reasons. For instance, if this suit is successful, and its demonstrated that state governors have control over state National Guard units... how far does that control go? If the DoD, which represents the federal government and the president, can't order the troops to disband or relocate out of state without the approval of the governor, does it follow that they can't be asked to relocate overseas, as well? Could they, for instance, order troops currently fighting in Iraq to come home?

Also of interest is that in both this case and in the high-profile suit against the Department of Education, Rell has begun to eclipse Blumenthal as Lawsuit Filer in Chief. These are normally moves that would give Blumenthal a lot of press coverage, but lately most of the attention has been directed towards the governor instead. Rowland was never this active in the state's various lawsuits. Why is Rell?

It could be that suing the federal government is also a political move for her. It doesn't hurt to distance herself from Rowland's precedents as well as Republicans in Washington, especially as she (probably) prepares to run next year.

Pazniokas, Mark. "State Files Suit Over Air Guard." Hartford Courant 30 August, 2005.

Monday, August 29, 2005

What's to Like About Connecticut

This story was in the Hartford Courant over the weekend:

For two days last week, real estate scouts who help companies find sites for their operations visited Greater Hartford to see what the region has to offer.

They left with an impression of an area taking wing - home to more than just the insurance industry, pleasantly uncongested, with an ample supply of educated workers, and, oh yeah, with a Cabela's superstore on the way.
"There's a lot more here than I thought there was. I didn't realize how much the area has to offer," said Joseph Callanan, president of Dallas-based Trammell Crow's Northeast region.(Kalra)

Apparently, there are at least a few important people out there who seem bullish on Greater Hartford, which is a welcome, if somewhat jarring, change. We're not used to thinking of ourselves as an up-and-coming region, despite the peppy pro-Hartford and pro-Connecticut propaganda the government puts out.

Here's what these real-estate "scouts" liked about the city and the region:

"You know, you think of the Northeast and you think of how congested it is. You don't think of the natural beauty and the compactness. These towns are all drivable."
"The area now seems to have a genuine critical mass in the high-tech fields," Donovan said. "Five or six years ago, that wasn't here. Hartford's becoming more legitimate. I and my clients can seriously consider it now."
On Thursday - a clear, cloudless morning - the consultants were treated to an hourlong helicopter ride over verdant hills, crystal lakes and the city skyline... The morning ride was followed by an afternoon at the Buick Championship watching some of the nation's top golfers competing in Cromwell.
He was surprised when told that the Connecticut workforce was slightly, but not "significantly," more unionized than workforces in other areas of the country (16 percent compared with 13 percent), and that central Connecticut had "excellent" power transmission.

"You should put that on your website," he said. (Kalra)

So: Great roads (have they, um, actually been here?), low cost of living (somewhat true: ask your friends in Boston what they paid for their three-room shack on 0.10 acres of land--then ask your friends in Kentucky the same thing), not too many union members, good power transmission, scenery and second-tier golf tournaments. Oh, and a Cabela's, which sounds like the kind of place I'll never set foot inside, although I'm sure it's very cool.

What didn't they like?

Dennis J. Donovan, who heads site selecting firm Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting in New Jersey, said efforts to raise the Hartford area's profile nationally are, for the most part, beginning to gain momentum.

"There's one exception: Not funding a major national marketing campaign," he said.

Donovan, one of the site selectors who visited in 2002, said at least $2 million a year should be spent in marketing the area. The alliance's budget now sets aside about $50,000 a year for such efforts.
Enthusiasm for Hartford was tempered among the consultants by a perception that Connecticut is stingy in offering tax breaks to win corporate business. Although they acknowledged that incentives are the least important factor in landing a deal - and irrelevant without the business basics - subsidies can often serve as the tie-breaker between competing locations.

With a total package of about $2,000 per job, Connecticut lags behind competitors such as New York, which often shells out between $5,000 and $10,000 in tax incentives per job created, Donovan said.

"Connecticut is noncompetitive," Donovan said, shaking his head. "It's a shame, because you need the incentive to close a deal. Selling a community or a state is like selling any other product. And every salesman needs a closer. That's not corporate welfare, that's capitalism." (Kalra)

So we need to spend $2 million marketing Hartford, then give businesses who move here tax breaks on the order of $5,000 to $10,000 per job created? Got it. Fortunately, we have a ton of money just sitting around, and no aging infrastructure to spend it on.

Connecticut, thought, is much more than just uncluttered roads, low union membership, golf, trendy chain stores and stingy governments. They're right on a number of important points: the cost of living isn't too high, everything's within driving distance and the land, from the hills to the river to the sea, is really quite beautiful. They don't mention that history is everywhere you turn, that the weather does have its moments, and that people here are unpretentious, adaptable, and down-to-earth in a very practical way. That's why I stay.

Why do you?

Kalra, Ritu and Kenneth R. Gosselin. "In Greater Hartford, A Defining Moment." Hartford Courant 28 August, 2005.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Interview with Andrew Fleischmann

The following is the full text of answers to questions that I sent to Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, a candidate for Secretary of the State. I sent the questions on Wednesday, August 24th and recieved responses on Friday, August 26th, at which point I asked two follow-up questions. There are no plans for a question-and-answer session at this time.

Hello, Rep. Fleischmann, and welcome to Connecticut Local Politics. Most readers don't know very much about you. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you're running for Secretary of the State?

I was born and raised in the West Hartford neighborhoods that I’ve represented in the Connecticut General Assembly since 1995. I attended the West Hartford public schools from kindergarten through high school, swam on the Hall High swim team, and played a lead role in the school play – a Neil Simon comedy – my senior year. I earned a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Princeton and a master’s in U.S. history from Stanford, then returned home to Connecticut, where I’ve lived and worked ever since.

I am running for Secretary of the State because I am deeply concerned about the welfare of our democracy in Connecticut. No one has a greater ability to address the issues our democracy faces than the Secretary of the State – so it seems a natural place for me.

Since first winning a seat in the legislature, I have focused on the key questions facing our democracy: voter registration and participation, fair election procedures, and – most of all – campaign finance reform. In 1999 and 2000, I was put in charge of the House Democrats’ vote count for legislation establishing public financing of campaigns. In 1999, for the first time, a majority voted in favor of public financing. And, in 2000, also for the first time, both chambers passed the bill in concurrence. Governor Rowland vetoed that measure, for reasons which are now all too clear; I have been pushing for public financing ever since.

The Secretary of the State is Connecticut’s chief elections official. He or she oversees all campaign finance records, establishes guidelines for voting machines and administration of elections, and plays a key role in elections with disputed outcomes. Given all of the time I have put into such issues over the past 11 years, it seemed natural that, when Secretary Susan Bysiewicz decided to run for Governor, many friends and colleagues encouraged me to run. When I considered it, I realized that it was part of a natural progression for me. And it’s a pleasure for me to get to seek an office which, at its core, is about strengthening participatory democracy. I can think of few issues that are either more engaging or more important.

You mention on your website that one of your goals is to make Connecticut first in the nation in voter participation. How exactly do you plan to accomplish this?

The problems with voter participation in Connecticut have developed over decades, and no one will be able to fix them with a single, quick step. A complex problem like this will require an array of policy tools – and leaders who are committed to trying out new ideas. At the start of this campaign, my main ideas for increasing participation are:

1. Improving democracy education. I advocated for the civics education law which now requires all CT high school students to take one semester of civics. But that step is insufficient. I believe we need to have programs in the elementary schools – in fourth and fifth grade – that teach children about participatory democracy. I have introduced legislation to set up such a system, and will continue advocating for it in the years to come.

2. Increasing voter registration. Failure to register is the number one obstacle to voting. I have always supported Election Day registration (EDR), since it is the single most powerful way to increase both voter registration and voter participation. There are myriad other steps we can take to increase registration, but EDR is the first and most important.

3. Expanding outreach to communities that feel disenfranchised. In CT – as in every state – there are far too many communities where people feel that politics and government don’t really serve them. Most often these are urban communities with higher rates of poverty and lower rates of educational attainment. We cannot afford to have so many of our citizens disengaged from our democracy; such disengagement threatens the basic principal that all Americans have an equal voice in our system of government. As Secretary of the State, I would work to expand all types of outreach in such communities – through educational programs, community fairs, and collaborations with local, non-partisan groups.

4. Improving state compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Under NVRA, all public assistance offices are also voter registration sites. Voter registration rates at CT public assistance offices have been far too low over the past several years. As Secretary of the State, I will continue work that I began last year in conjunction with two non-profit pro-democracy groups and the Dept. of Social Services to strengthen Connecticut’s compliance, and increase voter registration and participation among low-income citizens.

People whom I have met along the campaign trail have suggested a range of interesting additional ideas. I think that we need to encourage all citizens to think about ways to increase participation. And, as Secretary of the State, I will take the time to listen, learn, and try out the ideas that offer the greatest promise.

One reason I often hear for people not voting is that some people feel that races in their district aren't competitive, and that the incumbents always win. In essence, they don't vote because they feel that nothing will change. Besides campaign finance reform, which you have advocated, how else could the Secretary of the State's office work to ensure that races are more competitive?

The disparity in campaign funds that incumbents and challengers raise is clearly one factor that makes races uncompetitive, but it's not the only one.

Connecticut's redistricting process has tended to create districts that are "safe" for incumbents -- meaning it's very difficult for challengers to win. We need to make improvements to the way we draw districts in Connecticut, so that the best interests of the voters are always the focus.

I am already talking with activists at the grassroots level to change and improve our redstricting process in time for the next census. As Secretary of the State, I will be a lead advocate for such reforms.

One of the functions of the Secretary of the State is to register and keep various records about businesses in the state. What would you do if elected to support the business community, especially in the wake of disappointing job growth statistics?

The Secretary of the State’s office, through its various business support divisions, can set a standard of excellence for all government agencies in assisting and supporting Connecticut businesses – large and small.

The Secretary of the State’s commercial recording division is where businesses go to register as corporations, and to modify such filings as necessary. Business people should be able to contact that division easily and get quick service. As Secretary of the State, I will work to ensure that this is a user-friendly and speedy process.

In addition, I will work to strengthen the connections between the Office of Secretary of the State, the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Innovations Inc., and the Connecticut Development Authority. For someone who incorporates a new business in our state, it should take just a single phone call or simple keystroke to connect to the state agency (or quasi-public agency) that can be of the greatest assistance.

Such linkages will make it easier for new businesses to receive the support they need. Given that small businesses are the engine of job growth, this represents a tangible way in which, as Secretary of the State, I will be able to work to improve Connecticut’s job growth and overall business climate.

There is a pretty crowded field of candidates right now for the Democratic nomination. Why do you feel that you will win this race? In what ways do you feel you stand out from the rest of the Democrats running?

I like all of the folks who are seeking the Democratic nomination, and enjoy seeing them on the campaign trail. I believe that the large field shows the strength of our party.

To be part of a large field is a familiar feeling for me. In 1994, I won a six-way primary on my way to first winning my seat in the legislature.

In this six-way race, I believe that my qualifications set me apart from the rest of the field:

§ In 2004, my job outside the legislature was to coordinate communications and outreach for a nationwide effort to increase voter registration among low-income Americans.

§ In 2004 and 2005, I was a leading advocate for the establishment of a voter verifiable paper trail for new voting machines. Working in conjunction with TrueVoteCT, this spring I helped enact the bill that now requires these auditable paper trails in Connecticut.

§ As I mentioned earlier, I have put countless hours into the fight for comprehensive campaign finance reform to take the big money out of state politics. As Secretary of the State, I will know how to administer a public financing system if we have one in place by 2007. And, if we don’t, I will dedicate time and resources to winning such a law.

In addition, the nuts and bolts of the campaign have been coming together in ways that give me confidence. Folks have been signing up in large numbers to help out with my campaign wherever I go. I am the only candidate who has already won endorsements from key labor unions. Despite the crowded field, I raised over $100,000 in my first quarter as a candidate. And friends from all over the state have volunteered to help organize support. In short, I think we have all the elements of a winning, broad-based, grassroots campaign.

Would you be willing to give up some or all of the money you've raised should a system for public financing of campaigns be in place for 2006? I realize this is unlikely.

If public financing were feasible for 2006, I would gladly return all contributions in excess of new, lower donation limits. I would then work to qualify for public financing under the new system, and run as a "citizens' election" candidate.

Such an approach would allow me and other candidates to focus more of our time and energies on the key issues, and less on fundraising. Given that our democracy is based upon the principle of "one person, one vote" -- and given how our current approach forces candidates to focus too much on people and groups that can make larger contributions -- I believe such an approach would be fundamentally more democratic than the current system.

I agree with most analysts who believe that, if the legislature acts soon -- which I strongly advocate -- public financing can be in place for the 2010 election cycle. It's theoretically possible that it could be in place for 2008, but virtually impossible for 2006 (because it will take a bit of time to build up the needed funding in the citizens' elections account).

Given this situation, it's my hope to win the 2006 election under whatever rules are in place, and then win reelection as a participant in a new public financing system.

As co-chairman of the Education Committee, you've been active in the lawsuit over No Child Left Behind. How do you respond to civil rights advocates who claim that attacking the law is setting back efforts at closing the achievement gap between minority and white students?

Folks criticizing Connecticut’s challenge to the No Child Left Behind statute (NCLB) on the basis of the achievement gap are just plain wrong. Connecticut has been working hard to close the gap between minority and white students with a multitude of smart, effective approaches: magnet schools, open choice programs, charter schools, rigorous tests and targeted assessments to track the progress of students who are not reaching key goals.

NCLB requires Connecticut to spend dollars the federal government has failed to provide on additional tests for all students in grades 3,5 and 7 that offer no demonstrable educational benefit. Our cities, towns and state government will, however, have to divert millions of dollars to pay for these tests – meaning such funds will not be available for the programs that we know are actually helping to close the achievement gap.

NCLB guaranteed that the federal government would cover the costs of all of its tests and other requirements. Congress has failed to fulfill that guarantee by providing insufficient funds – which means it is breaking the law.

Connecticut’s lawsuit will simply require the federal government either to meet its obligations or else release us from the costly, burdensome requirements of this poorly crafted law. And, when Connecticut prevails in this lawsuit, we will be able to dedicate more funds to the programs that provide the greatest benefits to all of Connecticut’s children – rich and poor, white and minority, rural, suburban and urban.

As The Hartford Courant put it in its recent lead editorial supporting the lawsuit (“Feds Should Pay Up for Tests,” August 26, 2005, page A10): “Connecticut is not being adequately reimbursed for having to expand its testing program, which is already among the toughest in the nation . . . Dumbing down tests, as some states have done to comply with the law, is not the way to close the achievement gap.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Open Forum

There are a lot of relieved people in New London County right now: Rep. Rob Simmons foremost among them!

What else is happening around the state?

BRAC: Base Stays Open!

Commission Votes 7-1 to Keep Sub Base Open

The Navy and the Department of Defense said it would save taxpayers $1.6 billion to shut the Groton Sub Base and move most of its operations to Georgia. The base was outdated and not needed by the modern military. Today, the Base Realignment and Closure commission indicated what it thought of that argument:

"It would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss to this nation," Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi said before the vote.

Retired General Lloyd Newton initiated the move to strike Groton from the list of 62 major bases tapped for closure or realignment by the defense department.

Newton, a Pratt & Whitney executive who lives in West Hartford, told his colleague today that "it would be a big mistake to close this facility at this time." (Lightman)

The only remaining hurdle to clear is President Bush, who could approve BRAC's entire list or require them to make changes. This would happen next month. It's seen as unlikely that Bush will intervene, although one never knows.

Today, Team Connecticut and all those who worked hard to save the base should feel proud that they have accomplished what everyone (myself included) thought was impossible. This is a huge boost for Connecticut, and today we can all exhale, just a little bit.

Lightman, David. "Commission Votes To Save Sub Base." Hartford Courant 24 August, 2005.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Back to School

"No Child Left Behind" in Spotlight As School Year Begins

Next week, students and teachers all over the state will be heading back to their schools as another school year gets underway. Many of those students and teachers will be teaching and learning in one of the 145 schools identified as not making enough progress under the federal No Child Left Behind act. Here is a list of the "problem" schools which have not made

Meanwhile, the state's lawsuit against the act, which contends that it is an "unfunded mandate," is proceeding apace and gathering quite a lot of criticism. The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford.

"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states. Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education," said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do -- with no new money to do them."
"Unfortunately, this lawsuit sends the wrong message to students, educators and parents," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "The funds have been provided for testing, but Connecticut apparently wants to keep those funds without using them as intended." (Gillespie)

What the Department of Education isn't mentioning is that the funds provided fall far short of what's needed to actually run the tests. Typically for the federal government, however, the Department of Education would far rather bash Connecticut for challenging the law than actually try to fix the problem.

Yesterday, civil rights groups got involved with the case, saying that:

"We believe poor children will suffer if the state of Connecticut wins" its lawsuit, said Brittain, who for years was a central figure in the Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case that sought to improve racial balance in Hartford's public schools.

"No Child Left Behind keeps the accountability on the states, where it belongs," said Brittain, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. (Frahm)

Essentially, the argument is being made that NCLB is helping poor and minority students to close the achievement gap between rich and poor districts, and that lawsuits against the act hurt this effort.

In response, Education Commissioner Betty Sternberg, who has led the fight against NCLB in Connecticut, has called for a task force to study and make recommendations for reforming high schools in order to close that gap:

"Overall, the rate of change in all towns over those years is not stellar, by any means," she said. "This suggests that we need to work with a sense of urgency to change fundamentally what is going on in our high schools across the state."

She said the answer is not more testing, as required in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state on Monday became the first in the nation to sue over requirements that schools tests students every year in grades three through eight. (AP)

So the school year is beginning with a shouting match. Wonderful. Commissioner Sternberg is quite correct that more standardized tests are not the answer, but a "task force" sounds like a weak alternative. I have my doubts that real reform will ever happen.

The problem is that we can tinker endlessly with schools, teachers and tests without ever seeing real results. All the sanctions and task forces in the world won't help a bit if half the class doesn't show up, if discipline is nonexistent, if home life is chaotic and students don't believe that education is worth anything to them.

Half the problems stem from poor administration, hard-to-fire teachers, run-down buildings and falling standards. But half the problems can't be solved by even the best schools, or the most well-intentioned legislation.


"Commissioner calls for erasing high school achievement gap." Associated Press 23 August, 2005.

Gillespie, Noreen. "Conn. Challenges No Child Left Behind Law." Hartford Courant 23 August, 2005.

Frahm, Robert A. "No Child Lawsuit Disputed." Hartford Courant 23 August, 2005.

DeStefano to Hold Open Forum on Blog

Gubernatorial candidate and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano will be holding "an online Town Hall" tomorrow between 5 and 6pm, which will essentially be a question and answer session with the candidate on his site. The forum will be, according to a press release issued by the campaign, "...the first of many such cyber-events hosted by his campaign website."

This is good news for those of us interested in seeing candidates and public officials becoming more accessible online. This will allow the candidate to reach out to people who may never have the opportunity to go to a campaign rally or talk to a candidate or public official.

DeStefano is no stranger to interacting with people online. He participated in a question and answer session on this site last month, and has commented several times on his campaign blog.

I'm very interested to see what the format will be like. Our own question-and-answer format can be a bit clunky, especially for the uninitiated: I imagine there will be some useful improvements.

In other news, the Lt. Governor's blog is active again. I'm a little disappointed to see that the earlier conversations have been deleted, as have Sullivan's responses to many of the issues that came up. There also doesn't seem to be as much activity as before, which is a shame. Hopefully traffic and comments there will pick up again, so that the project isn't abandoned entirely.

Monday, August 22, 2005

BRAC Vote This Week

Political Fallout Uncertain

Sources say that the final BRAC vote, which will decide whether the Groton sub base stays open, will come later this week, probably Thursday. No matter how the vote goes, the consequences will be dramatic. What will some of the political effects of either a "yes" (base will close) or a "no" (base stays open) vote be?

Base Closes

Political observers have been saying for quite some time that Rob Simmons's fate will mirror that of the base. If it closes, he goes. The conventional wisdom suggests that the economic fallout and the general sense of demoralization, coupled with the fact that Simmons did not deliver on his signature campaign pledge, to keep the base open, will lead to a Democratic victory in the 2nd District next year. Simmons is a fighter, though, and a tough campaigner. The race will be close no matter what.

There may be other effects. The state's economy seems to be becoming more and more uncertain, as dismal job numbers and a steady stream of fleeing corporations cloud the horizon. Add the sub base to the mix, and citizens could start sensing an economic crisis ahead. If the governor and the legislature look like they're not doing enough, they could be in trouble. An economic reformer may be able to capture the governor's office next year if the sense of crisis is deep enough.

Of course, the base wouldn't really be shut down until 2010-11. So the political and economic fallout may be a long time in coming.

Base Stays Open

Things have been looking better for the base lately. Dennis Hastert and Jimmy Carter have weighed in on its behalf, and the savings the DOD has been projecting may in fact be inflated.

If the base stays, the conventional wisdom will be that Rob Simmons will stay in office. Not necessarily. Voters may find, now that the base is due to stay, that Simmons is no longer quite so attractive as a candidate. And, in what may turn out to be a banner year for Democrats, national trends and the district's own Democratic leanings may run Simmons out of office even if Groton stays open.

However, Gov. Rell and other incumbents will be able to point to the Sub Base as a sign that Connecticut is doing better than the numbers suggest.

Which way the vote will go, I can't say. We're all hoping the base stays open. Either way, though, the political aftermath will be interesting.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Opponents Criticize Rell's "Annual Report"

Flier Looks Like Campaign Brochure

The governor's office has, at a cost of about $3,000 of state funds, printed up about 10,000 copies of a glossy brochure highlighting the achievements of Gov. Jodi Rell through the past year. Democrats and other opponents were quick to criticize the flier as suspiciously resembling campaign materials:

"I thought she had announced for governor and somehow I had missed it," said Roy Occhiogrosso, a longtime state Democratic operative and now a consultant. "It's either the least informative annual report ever, or it's a campaign mailing and she owes the taxpayers a lot of money."
But a spokesman for Rell, Rich Harris, defended the brochure as a useful means of communicating with citizens. He denied that it was promotional in its purpose, and said its timing had nothing to do with any anticipated run by Rell for governor in next year's election.

"The timing has to do with her one-year anniversary as governor," he said.

Huh. I seem to recall seeing something like this done in Massachusetts by the Romney Administration, so perhaps it's legitimate. But then again, the governor does seem to be using taxpayer funds to promote herself, even though she's not officially running for anything. This is one of those murky gray areas that Rell has thus far scrupulously avoided.

From an administration that has been very careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, the release of this flier seems like a strange oversight. This is at worst thinly disguised campaign literature, and a misuse of taxpayer money. At best, it's an error in judgement by a governor who really should know better.

Lender, Jon. "Rell Flier Draws Critics." Hartford Courant 20 August, 2005.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Open Forum

A few things going on:

Jimmy Carter wants BRAC to spare the sub base. Dennis Hastert and Jimmy Carter is about as bipartisan as it gets.

Lt. Governor Kevin Sullivan's blog is apparently active again. He's a bit grumpy about people panning the lack of activity on his part, but I do respect the fact that he hasn't abandoned it entirely. I hope he keeps it going, and that other officials give blogging or something like it a shot at some point. The possibility of interacting with officials in a new and different format is too good to ignore.

Also, Republican Secretary of the State candidate Richard Abbate has posted a comment or two on this page, where his candidacy was originally noted. Scroll down to the end to see his comments. It's interesting mostly because I know of so few statements from him as of yet.

Anything else going on?

Q&A With Chris Murphy

State Sen. Chris Murphy will take your questions from now until 2pm. Welcome, Sen. Murphy!

State Sen. Chris Murphy Interview

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Cheshire) is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress. The following is the text of an interview I conducted with Sen. Murphy between 12-1pm on Friday, August 19th, 2005.

Hello, Senator Murphy, and welcome to Connecticut Local Politics. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, today.

First question: Not too many people outside of your district know who you are, yet. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you are running.

First, let me say how grateful I am for this opportunity to chat. I'm a big fan of the site (it's a great excuse to avoid being on the phone raising money) and I apologize in advance for typing/spelling errors.

I am currently a State Senator from the 16th Senate District, including the towns of Cheshire (where I live), Waterbury, Wolcott, and Southington. I was first elected to the Senate in 2002, and before that I spent two terms in the House representing the 81st District. In the Senate, I am Chairman of the Public Health Committee, and I also serve as Chair of two Appropriations Sub-Committees, and also as a member of the Housing Committee and Environment Committee. I got into politics back in 1994 when I was in college (I'm beginning to date myself...), when I first met a little known candidate for Congress named Charlotte Koskoff. I eventually became her campaign manager for her near win 1996 race, and I ran for the State House two years later. In my non-political life, I am an attorney for a small law firm in Hartford, and I'm desperately trying to keep my lawn mowed in my first summer as a homeowner.
As for my decision to enter the race for the 5th congressional seat, I have spent the better part of my last seven years trying to make change here in Connecticut - improving access to health care, repairing and protecting our environment, and making sense of our state's backward tax structure. Unfortunately, our ability to make real change here in Connecticut has been hamstrung over the past several years by our federal government's blind drive to turn our health care system over to for-profit marketeers, strip away decades of environmental policy, and cut federal funding to states to the bone. We are left with half a box of tools to fix the most pressing problems in our state because Congress has simply left Connecticut behind. To be honest, I simply couldn't stand it anymore. I decided to run for Congress because I believe that change happens one person at a time. If I can go to Washington and be part of a movement that turns back the right wing's assault on affordable health care, quality education, and fiscal responsibility, then I know that I am making a bigger difference than I could if I stayed in the State Senate.

You hope to run against 12-term incumbent Nancy Johnson. Now, you’ve faced her before, when you managed Charlotte Koskoff’s campaign in 1996, which almost managed to defeat her. What lessons did you learn from that campaign that you hope to apply to your own race against Johnson?

I've made sort of a cottage industry out of taking on well-intrenched incumbents. As you mentioned, I ran Koskoff's near miss race in 1996, but I also won my House seat in 1998 by beating a 14 year incumbent, and in 2002, I beat a wildly popular 14 year State Representative in an open Senate seat race. What I learned in 1996 is that Johnson's support is very broad, but not terribly deep. More importantly, we found out that as people began to understand the extent of Johnson's ties to the right wing of her party (that year she was dogged by her ties to Gingrich), they were increasingly less likely to give her a "pass" because they liked her as a person. That same story will play out next year, and it may be even stronger than in 1996. The new Gingrich is Tom Delay, and Johnson's support for Delay is unconditional. Even in the face of Chris Shay's condemnation of Delay, Johnson's silence was, and is, defeaning (see for more details). Our task will be to make independent voters understand that Johnson is no indepedent herself. We did that in 1996, and we can do it again this election.

Second, I learned that whether we like it or not, money can win or lose you an election. We didn't even have enough money to run one TV commercial in 1996 and we still only lost by under one percent. This time, we won't make that mistake. In the first 20 days of my campaign, I raised $100,000, and that's just the start. We won't match Johnson in fundraising, but we will undoubtedly have enough to win.

You are running against at least one other person (Alderman Paul Vance of Waterbury) for the Democratic nomination. Why do you feel voters will support you in the primary?

I actually don't see it that way. Paul and I are friends, representing the same city, and I believe we both have the same goal in mind - winning back the 5th district for our party. I don't plan on spending any energy running against anyone except Nancy Johnson (or whomever runs in her place should she decide not to run), and I at this point, I don't expect their to be a primary. I believe our party will get behind one candidate, sooner rather than later, so we can focus all of our energies where they must be - on winning back the 5th.

If the party seems to be backing Paul, then, will you drop out?

If the party seems to be backing either of us, I do think it would be wise for he and I to sit down and figure out how we can work together. That goes for both of us. Until then, I'm just keeping my eye on the ultimate goal (which is a tall enough mountain in and of itself!)

Fair enough! You mentioned earlier that the federal government has been hampering efforts to change things in Connecticut. If elected, how would you help to turn this around? Is there any specific legislation you would propose/back?

I could probably take up the rest of the afternoon with this one, so I'll try to focus on a few examples. First, let's take health care. Nancy Johnson and her friends in Congress believe wholeheartedly in the private market's ability to deliver health care - and in its ability to suck enormous, unconscionable profits out of the system. For instance, the Medicaid Part D drug benefit bill, which Johnson co-authored, unbelievably specifically prohibits the federal government from using its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower drugs prices for consumers. This means that the cost of program has ballooned (and grows every day as seniors refuse to sign up for this convoluted, confusing benefit), and where does this cost get passed down to? You guessed it - the states. Connecticut seniors will actually enjoy a less generous benefit than they currently have under our state's ConnPACE program because the feds have forced states to pick up the extra cost if we want the Medicare drug benefit to be as comprehensive as our current state program. One of my first acts as a congressman will be to introduce legislation to allow the federal government to negotiate bulk discounts with drug manufacturers.

Second, let's look at education. Sure, the No Child Left Behind Act sounds like a wonderful idea. But here in Connecticut, where we already have the highest test scores in the nation, it has become a costly, burdensome, unfunded mandate. It forces unnecessary testing when children should be learning how to think rather than learning how to take tests. It requires schools to make costly investments without any money to back up these requirements. And it purports to level the playing field between rich and poor schools, without any real investment mechanism to make this happen. When I get to Congress, I will work on legislation that allows states like Connecticut more flexibility in implementing the act, and make sure that there is funding to back up each and every mandate.

Give us your thoughts on the recent session of the General Assembly. Do you feel it was a success or a failure, overall? Are you satisfied with the amount of money that will be spent on stem cell research? Were there any disappointments or issues you felt weren’t addressed?

For me, it was likely one of the most satisfying sessions of which I have been a part. Three of the issues that I care deeply about - stem cell research, juvenile justice reform, and mental health funding - got more attention than ever before. I do believe the 10 year, $100 million state investment in stem cell research is enough to provide the seed money for real private investment to come in and take over this field. It was never my intention for the state to fully subsidize stem cell researchers. At first, we may be the biggest financial players in the field, but our existing research infrastructure (Yale, UConn, our private pharmaceutical labs) will eventually grow and subsist on a mix of public and private investment. As for juvenile justice, I was lucky enough to author the law establishing the new Office of Child Protection, which will better coordinate advocacy for the hundreds of abused and neglected children in our state. And we passed legislation, which I have been working on for three years, establishing the new Behavioral Health Partnership, which will coordinate the efforts of three state agencies to better provide seamless, community-based mental health care for the citizens of our state.

Were there disappointments? Of course. As a long time supporter of publicly financed campaigns, I was heartbroken that we couldn't reach an agreement by the end of the session (although it's nearly impossible to do that when you have eleventh hour conversions from certain people). Also, I fought like heck all session to make a dramatic investment in our nursing home system through the implementation of a unique, creative federal matching program. Unfortunately, we implemented the matching program, but the Governor pushed to steal a portion of the federal money for other health care expenses. I wish we had used the money to provide the long-awaited investment in long term care that we so desperately need.

Thank you very much for your time, Sen. Murphy. The Q&A section is posted here.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Hastert: Save the Sub Base

This is a major boost by the Speaker of the House for the base:

House Speaker Dennis Hastert tried to give the Naval Submarine Base at Groton a last-minute boost today, urging the base closing commission to "strongly consider the case made by Team Connecticut" against closing the facility.
"As a fiscal conservative," the Illinois Republican said, "I cannot support a base closing that does not provide taxpayer savings."
In addition, Hastert wrote, "Closing SUBASE New London would eliminate a center of excellence for undersea warfare in which Congress has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade."

Since becoming speaker in 1999, he said, "I have personally seen Congress invest more than $120 million into the New London Navy base. Our nation's taxpayers would be ill-served if these investments in our national security are wasted." (AP)

I often wonder how much pull Hastert really has, since it seems like DeLay is really in charge of the House. But his support is great news anyway, and his argument is sound.

Of course, he could just be trying to save Rob Simmons's bacon. Still, we'll take it.

"Hastert Against Sub Base Closure." Associated Press 18 August, 2005.

Campaign Finance Reform Creeps Ahead

Courts Likely to Uphold Contribution Ban on Lobbyists, Contractors

This is the first significant movement on campaign finance reform in a while:

A ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors would likely be upheld by the courts, national campaign finance experts told a legislative task force on Thursday.

In proposing the ban, Connecticut lawmakers should clarify that it is designed to prevent future corruption, the experts warned. (AP)

Good! I understand the argument of those who say that this ban is a violation of free speech, but I disagree with the idea that money = speech. The two are not quite the same. Giving money is an action, and actions can be limited to protect the public interest.

However, here's the thing I didn't know:

The [legislative task force on campaign finance reform] hopes to hammer out a compromise by Sept. 15 that would overhaul the system and limit the influence of special interests. Besides limits on contributions, lawmakers are considering creating a voluntary publicly funded election finance system. (AP)

Nice to know they have a deadline, after all. I still suspect that we won't see something passed until the next session in 2006, but a deadline gives the illusion of progress and the slight possibility of something productive happening sooner.

"Panel told contribution limits likely constitutional." Associated Press 18 August, 2005.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Senate Researching Expulsion Rules for Newton

Newton May Face Senate Investigation

Just the other day, the Democratic Senate seemed willing to let the federal investigation of Sen. Ernest Newton, who is caught up in several ethical scandals at the moment, conclude before launching its own investigation. Calls for his resignation were held to be a bit premature. Today, they're looking at ways to kick him out:

Senate Democratic staff are researching the rules for investigating and possibly expelling a senator.
Williams said Connecticut has never taken the step of investigating and possibly expelling a legislator for violating the public trust.

"It has happened in some other states and we are doing the research right now in terms of what allegations, or in some cases specific convictions, have given rise to an expulsion procedure," he said.
Newton cannot be impeached under the state constitution. But the Senate can investigate a member and, by a two-thirds vote, expel him.

A few more promiment legislators, including Republican Rep. Arthur O'Neill of Southbury (who chaired the Rowland impeachment committee last year--and did so quite honorably) are calling for a legislative investigation. So far, none is forthcoming.

Pressure for Newton to resign or at least level with his constituents is slowly starting to build. So far, on his lawyer's advice, he hasn't said a thing either way, which has the unfortunate effect of making him look guilty.

Newton has a reputation for being very stubborn. Maybe that's why they're looking at the expulsion rules: just in case.

Senate investigates expulsion rules as Newton probe continues." Associated Press 18 August, 2005.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Newspaper Blogs, Candidate Blogs

Denis Horgan of the Hartford Courant has turned his newspaper column into a blog. The blog format is very well suited to online news sites, unlike, say, the use of wiki, which failed so spectacularly at the L.A. Times's site.

Denis has done the right thing so far in actually responding to questions and comments readers pose. Not only is this good form, it gives the public a chance to actually interact with someone they've been reading for years.

The same is true of candidate blogs, I believe. If Dan Malloy and John DeStefano posted and responded on their blogs on, say, a weekly basis, regular voters might start taking more of an interest in them. There is certainly a lot of interest here when candidates come for Q&As.

Blogs might start being useful in non-campaign years, too. Elected officials certainly answer a lot of mail and email: why not add in a bit of time to post and respond in something like a blog format? It's one thing to answer private mail, but interacting with people on the public web could help elected officials reach and talk to thousands they never could before.

The example not to follow for this is Kevin Sullivan's poor little abortive blog, which started off well enough but hasn't been updated in almost two weeks. Sullivan never actually responded to the questions people posted on the site, many of which were genuine, and the conversation first degenerated into a grouchy snarkfest and then petered out entirely. Sullivan promised interactivity and then didn't deliver, which frustrated people. I can't blame them.

It's telling, though, that there are so many comments on the site. People are interested. They want to talk to the Lieutenant Governor, even if he apparently doesn't want to talk to them.

Websites in general and blogs specifically are still evolving as a medium. Kudos to Denis Horgan for being willing to interact with the reading public. Here's hoping more will follow his example.

Open Forum/Upcoming Events

This Friday at 1:00pm there will be a question-and-answer session with 5th District congressional candidate Sen. Chris Murphy. You can post questions here if you don't think you'll be around then to ask them directly. I'll post your questions, as always, in the Q&A area when the time comes with your username attached.

I will be conducting an interview with Sen. Murphy beforehand.

Otherwise, this is an open forum.

Quick Update: (8/17, 1:45pm) I'll be on the streaming version of the Bruce and Colin Show this afternoon at around 3:50. The actual radio waves will be taken up by the Sox game, so if you want to listen in, the address is You can click on the "listen live" button.

The Incumbent Rule

And how to break it

From time to time on this blog, I’ve talked about “the incumbent rule,” which, as I have framed it, states: All things being equal, voters tend to prefer incumbents. This seems to be especially true in Connecticut, where incumbents at the state level lose only rarely and a sitting governor last lost an election in 1954.

So how do challengers win? If voters prefer incumbents when all things are equal, then things must be made unequal in the challenger’s favor in order for him/her to be successful. Factors both internal (that which candidate can affect) and external (that which the candidate can only take advantage of) to the race can help to tip the balance. Here are a few:

Internal Factors

Money: Outraising an incumbent is very, very difficult, but it can be done. If a challenger has the full backing of one of the two major political parties, money can flow in pretty quickly. However, this is exceedingly rare, and all the money in the world won’t help a lousy candidate (see Steve Forbes).

A local example would be Sam Gejdenson, a 20-term incumbent who outraised his 2000 opponent, Rob Simmons, by a respectable margin. However, Gejdenson didn’t use his money wisely, and didn’t defend himself against the pointed attacks about his residency that came his way from Simmons. On election day, he lost 49% to 51%. Simmons didn’t need to raise more money to successfully challenge Gejdenson: he just needed to use what he had in the most effective way.

Personality: A challenger who can connect with voters and is charismatic can gain an advantage over an incumbent who seems aloof or disconnected and has all the charm of a brick. This was one of the many factors which enabled Bill Clinton to win in 1992, and Jimmy Carter to win in 1976. Carter’s advantage on that front was lost, however, when he faced a much more charismatic and engaging man in 1980. Debates are often crucial in races where personality matters.

Active Campaigning: In 1996, Nancy Johnson almost lost to Charlotte Koskoff because, frankly, she wasn’t paying attention and Koskoff was an excellent campaigner. Johnson remedied this and, wielding her incumbency like a club, crushed Koskoff in 1998. Another reason why Gejdenson lost in 2000 was because he didn’t seem like he was particularly concerned that he would lose.

Incumbents, especially longtime ones, can get complacent. A challenger who campaigns hard, raises a respectable amount of money, goes to lots of events, meets a lot of regular voters and has an attractive message can be very dangerous in these situations. George H.W. Bush seemed complacent and disconnected in 1992, and lost to a much more vigorous candidate.

External Factors

Crisis 1: The Economy: People like incumbents because they tend to like stability. A crisis can shake their sense of stability, and lead them to choose someone new. Remember “It’s the economy, stupid?” It matters. In a fragile or failing economy, voters can become disenchanted with their leaders. Hoover 1932; Carter 1980 and Bush 1992 are good examples. An economic and fiscal crisis led voters to elect an independent, who had lost his Senate seat only two years before, as governor of Connecticut in 1990. The potential loss of the sub base and the economic havoc it would wreak on New London County could lead to voters ditching Rob Simmons next year.

Crisis 2: Corruption: In 1970, incumbent U.S. Senator Thomas J. Dodd, father of current Sen. Christopher Dodd, was heavily defeated by Republican Lowell Weicker. His own party failed to back him in the race, forcing him to run for re-election as an independent. The reason? He was accused of appropriating campaign funds for personal use, falsifying travel records and selling his influence to businessmen. He was acquitted of at least one of the charges, but was formally censured by the Senate in 1967.

The appearance of corruption on the part of Democrats also helped lead to the seismic shift in Congress in 1994.

There are other crises: health, environment, war, etc.

National Political Trends: Why were so many Democrats elected to the General Assembly in 2004? A look at the presidential election map ought to give you an idea. The race at the top of the ticket often has an influence on those farther down it.

The public sometimes adopts an anti-incumbent mood (1994), or pays attention to specific national issues and ideas (abortion).

Missteps by an Opponent: John Kerry’s now-infamous assertion that he had voted for the Iraq War before he voted against it did a lot to cost him the 2004 election. The Bush campaign did everything it could to tar Kerry as a “flip flopper” from that point on. Gerald Ford’s strange assertion that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe didn’t help him in 1976, and Jimmy Carter’s depressing “malaise” speech helped sink him in 1980. Lowell Weicker finally annoyed conservative Republicans just enough in 1988 that they threw him over in favor of the more conservative Democrat Joe Lieberman.

Changing Demographics: Fairfield County used to be a stronghold of Republicans. Now the GOP congressman from the area is facing yet another tough race, simply because more people who might vote Democratic are moving into the area.


These are just some of the ways in which things can be made unequal in political races. What does this mean for next year’s elections?

If Jodi Rell does decide to run, the playing field will probably not be tilted against her because of the corruption of her former boss. She’s done a very efficient job of defusing that crisis by appearing to be a clean government reformer. However, if she faces a strong candidate, and the state appears to be in economic crisis (unlikely but possible: right now everything appears to be, if not great, at least acceptable), she could be in danger. Lodge lost to Ribicoff in 1954 partly because of unemployment.

Rell could also find herself at a disadvantage financially. She has yet to declare her candidacy, and seems unwilling to grant access to lobbyists, traditionally the largest source of campaign dollars.

2006 already has the potential to be a big year for Democrats nationwide, which could also hurt the governor. Republican trends nationwide helped John Rowland in 2002.

In other races, economic trouble related to the Sub Base could help to defeat Rob Simmons, and changing demographics could endanger Chris Shays.

What do you think? Is the incumbent rule nonsense? Are there important ways that challengers can gain advantage that I've missed?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

New Poll -- Newton Scandal

The troubles of Sen. Ernest Newton (D-Bridgeport) appear to be getting worse. This from Sunday's Connecticut Post:

One witness admitted to the grand jury that he paid Newton about $2,000 in exchange for the senator's "help" in providing state funding and other needs for a now closed youth home.

Another witness said he told the grand jury that Newton repeatedly solicited money from his agency in return for assistance, but said no money was paid. Still other witnesses describe questions from prosecutors, FBI agents and jurors on whether campaign funds were diverted to Newton's personal use. (Cummings)

More to come, I'm sure. This has a "tip of the iceberg" sort of feel to it. The Day ran a pro-Rell opinion piece today chastising Democrats for not doing/saying enough about Newton:

...Godbolt only recently pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to embezzlement charges — six months after the scandal had first surfaced in the press. During this period, Republicans had been beseeching Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams to remove Newton as deputy president pro tem, but their earnest entreaties had fallen on deaf partisan ears.

Newton's Democrat friends in high places have been biting their swelling tongues for months. Even after Godbolt's guilty plea, Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, a persistent critic of Rowland and one of Newton's mentors and friends, declined to comment, though he has had a little over 4,000 hours to think of something clever to say. (Pesci)

While the writer ignores the fact that Newton did in fact resign as chair of one of his committees and that he has subsequently been demoted, he may have a point about Democratic silence in general.

What do you think? There are two new polls about the Newton scandal on the sidebar (scroll down): go ahead and vote there. Defend your opinions here, if you like.

Cummings, Bill. "Witness says he bribed Newton." Connecticut Post 14 August, 2005.

Pesci, Don. "Why Gov. Rell Is Driving The Democrats Crazy." New London Day 14 August, 2005.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Open Forum

What's on your mind?

Campaign Finance Reform Group: Candidates Still Need to Raise Money

Money Threshold would be Required for Candidates Seeking Public Funds

Apparently, the campaign finance reform working group is looking for ways to put the money back in to politics.

A legislative task force is considering requiring candidates who want public campaign funds to raise set amounts of money from regular people in their districts first.
The group reached a tentative consensus Thursday on requiring a $5,000 threshold for House races and a $10,000 threshold for Senate races. The lawmakers said they want to require at least some of that money to be raised from inside a candidate's district, from people who are not lobbyists or state contractors.

"You're encouraging people to connect back with their core constituents," said Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, adding that the goal is to encourage more grass-roots campaigning. (AP)

Sure it is. Notice how "campaigning" and "fundraising" are exactly the same thing, here.

Let's assume that this proposal is enacted. Would it help to create a more level playing field for challengers? Not surprisingly, the answer is no. According to the Institute on Money in State Politics, challengers in Connecticut House races in 2004 raised an average of only $6,416, while challengers in Senate races raised an average of $24,509. This means that challengers in House races would still have to spend a huge amount of time fundraising just to qualify for state funds. This does very little to remove money's influence from state politics. Senate races would be a bit better, but $10,000 is still an awful lot of money to raise just to qualify for funds from the state.

Incumbents, on the other hand, raised an average of $21,985 in 2004 House races, and an average of $76,994 in Senate races. Raising the threshold amount would be much, much easier for an incumbent, especially if the amount required to come from the incumbent's district was relatively small.

The working group's proposal would help to tilt the advantage back towards incumbents, even if the state finances elections. It would also help to reinstate the influence of lobbyists and contractors over state races.

If we're going to have public finance state campaigns, let's actually do that. Scrap any monetary threshold requirements. If the state is worried about funding candidates who will only poll 1% or less, then raise the amount of verifiable signatures needed to get on the ballot, or create a separate, higher signatures requirement in order to qualify for public funds. Let's not fool ourselves that the creation of a monetary threshold will work to the advantage of anyone but incumbents and lobbyists.

"Lawmakers continue debate on campaign finance." Associated Press 12 August, 2005.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Campaigns and Coffee

I had an informal meeting with John DeStefano and members of his campaign as they passed through Enfield today. (Before you ask, I'm still not supporting anybody.) Mayor DeStefano was speaking at the Democratic Town Committee, to which the campaign was kind enough to invite me. I had a nice chat with the mayor, Aldon Hynes and Shonu Gandhi beforehand at the local Starbucks. I'll share with you those of my observations and recollections worth sharing:

John DeStefano is an interesting and engaging man who seems to have a great deal of knowledge about many, many subjects. We talked about issues ranging from health policies to urban renewal to massive social trends. Amazingly, he seemed equally passionate about all of these things. He is energetic, charismatic and, if you haven't had your coffee yet, a little overwhelming, too. I found it interesting that he was apparently adapting his upcoming stump speech in his head as we spoke.

We were slightly late for the meeting of Enfield Democrats, which was sparsely attended (this is vacation month). I listened to the mayor's stump speech with interest. It was a detail-oriented speech, longer on policy and strategy than base-exciting rhetoric or anecdotes. One of the most thought-provoking points he brought up was that Rell has been essentially running a campaign against Rowland since taking office. I hadn't looked at the situation quite that way before, but that does indeed seem to be at least part of what she's doing, and she has been very successful at it. DeStefano is looking for ways to re-frame the upcoming campaign. Democrats in the General Assembly have already tried and failed miserably: we'll see if he is more successful.

The crowd, such as it was, reacted positively to the speech. A lot of people left with DeStefano DVDs. It matters that none of the other candidates have bothered to come this far north. We really do feel ignored from time to time.

I overheard someone (not a campaign staffer) say about Susan Bysiewicz: "I like her--just not for governor." Huh.

It's apparent that the focus of his campaign will be on high expectations for the future. It has the potential to be quite convincing, if framed in the right way. Bill Curry didn't have much luck with it.

I had an excellent talk with Shonu and Aldon after the meeting about blogs and campaigns. I even got to speak with some of the town Democrats. In sum, I had a blast, and I'd like to thank the mayor, Aldon and Shonu for an enlightening and fascinating evening.

Open Forum

What's going on in your part of the state?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Interview with Rep. Evelyn Mantilla

Evelyn Mantilla currently represents the 4th District (Hartford) in the state House of Representatives. She is seeking the Democratic nomination for Secretary of the State. A question and answer session has not yet been scheduled.

The following is my interview with her, unedited. The interview took place over email on Tuesday, August 9th, from 6pm to 8pm.

Rep. Evelyn Mantilla, welcome to Connecticut Local Politics. To
begin with, many people don't know who you are, yet. Tell us a little
about yourself, and why you're running for Secretary of the State.

First of all, I really want thank you for facilitating the thoughtful discussions that are so important in this political climate. I really appreciate being able to communicate with folks through your site.

I was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico and came to the US at the age of 15 when my mother was recruited to teach at the Hartford school system (I come from a family of educators). I finished high school in East Hartford and pursued my higher education like many other people, part-time, nights and weekends. I built a career in computer systems and worked my way to become a Manager of Information Systems. At the same time, I dedicated a lot of my efforts to volunteering, particularly as a Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor for over 10 years. This experience helped me understand the power of public policy in people's lives.

In 1993 I decided to run for Hartford City Council and lost by 16 votes on a recount! This was my first lesson in the power of every vote. Immediately after that experience I went on my own to start my own small business designing databases.

I ran for State Representative in 1996, where I challenged a corrupt incumbent and lost by a narrow margin. He was subsequently convicted of voter fraud and a special election was held in 1997. I ran against 5 other candidates and was elected by a 2 to 1 margin. I am proud to be serving my 5th term, representing the 4th Assembly District.

I am running for Secretary of the State because I am committed to furthering our democracy for all communities in our state. In the next couple of years, very important decisions will be made that will affect every citizen and their ability to be heard in our political system. I bring a unique set of skills and experiences that will help me protect the rights of every voter and, at the same time, elevate the effectiveness of all the services that are provided by this office.

You mentioned on that you’d be in favor of reducing the size of the legislature and having representatives and senators serve four year terms instead of two, with half the legislature up for re-election every two years. This is an interesting proposal. Why do you think it’s good for Connecticut, and why it is more democratic than the system we have now?

I think it is extremely important that when we work on furthering our democracy, we look at the big picture. This is why I favor studying all aspects of our political system. It is clear that with the money-driven system that we have now, coupled with the short terms we have created a "power of incumbency" that does not open enough doors for new leadership, new ideas and new solutions. The current system is not responsive to the needs of the everyday citizen and is more responsive to the lobbyist and big money contributors.

There is a pretty crowded field of candidates right now for the Democratic nomination. Why do you feel that you will win this race? In what ways do you feel you stand out from the rest of the Democrats running?

I believe that the voting rights of the citizens of CT are precious and we must do everything possible to guarantee that right all. I have felt for a long time that the best way I could serve the people of our state is as Secretary of the State because it is the office with the strongest forum to fight for equal and fair representation.

It is clear to me that in order to win this race, I must bring something to the table. For me that is my unique combination of skills and experiences as well as a base of voters that will strengthen the statewide ticket. I am working hard to organize my base across the state. I also understand that, until we reform our campaign finance system, it takes money to win. I consider myself a strong fundraiser and will work hard to mobilize grassroots financial support.

How do you plan to reach out beyond your base, which you define as “the Latino community, the LGBT community and people that have worked in the progressive circles for a long time,” to moderates and others?

One of the qualities I bring to this race is my ability to work with the small business and corporate communities. In my political career, I have dedicated my efforts to supporting families in every way. From fighting for a quality education for all, to supporting economic development that moves our entire state forward, I have been able to reach out to and work with colleagues of on both sides of the aisle to enact policy that is best for Connecticut. One of my strenghts is in building consensus to accomplish good public policy. This skill will be critical in order to successfully reform our campaign finance system and to enact a system of electronic voting that is accurate and guarantees every vote.

You describe yourself as a small business owner. If you were elected, what would the Secretary of the State’s office do to help businesses in the state of Connecticut?

The jobs created by small business are the backbone of our economy and are particularly important to our urban communities. As the Chief Business Registrar, the Secretary of the State's office has access to the very same small businesses that will make our economy strong. The office also has the important responsbility of providing the public with information from business filings. As Secretary of the State, it will be my goal to improve access to information by creating an efficient one-stop process for businesses and individuals who need to file information or get information from our state government.

I trust you have received my answers to all 5 questions. I want to thank you again for helping me speak directly to the voters in this forum.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email or call me. My email is and my website is

Sports, Stadiums and the Hartford Inferiority Complex

Well, here we go again. Next week, Rentschler Field in East Hartford, which was built following the collapse of the Patriots deal in 1999, will play host to a World Cup qualifying match between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago. One problem: no one cares.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he decided the team should play at Rentschler Field after visiting the stadium's Web site two years ago, and coming to the conclusion that it could be a world-class venue for soccer.

But Arena also said he would like to see more tickets sold for the contest. Only 15,000 of the 38,000 available had been sold by Tuesday.

"What we hope to accomplish here is to win the game," he said. "Let's pack the stands."

[Lt. Governor Kevin] Sullivan said the game is a great opportunity for the area to prove itself as a sports market.

"All the eyes of the world will be here on Aug. 17," he said. (AP)

Okay, I've seen this one before. Every once in a while, a big sporting event blows through town that will, at last, prove to the rest of the country just how wonderful a sports market Greater Hartford is.

And so the event happens, and there are tons of empty seats. Sports announcers will fuss about how sad it is that this fine event is being held in a place like Hartford, which is obviously the worst sports market in the country. And, if they're feeling especially nasty, they'll bring up the Whalers.

It isn't that we're a bad sports market. It's that we don't care about soccer, or about the WNBA, women's football, the world volleyball championships, arena football, minor league basketball or team tennis, either.

For that matter, it wasn't that we didn't like hockey, either. The Whalers were just a lousy club, and who wants to see second-rate hockey?

But it contributes to the vast and growing inferiority complex that Greater Hartford has about its place in the nation. The loss of the Whalers was devestating to a city and a region that had been reeling for a decade from corporate flight, job cuts, crime and general decay. Before 1997, we could at least take some solace in the fact that Hartford was major league, if only in one rather pitiful respect. It hurt our pride, which had already been badly beaten, when that was taken from us.

This led our leaders to do strange things, such as throwing an aircraft carrier full of money at the New England Patriots, building a stadium for UCONN in East Hartford instead of Storrs and making an enormous, if futile, effort to host a bass fishing tournament. The fact that the Lieutenant Governor was forced to go out and sell an upcoming soccer match should give you an idea just how serious our inferiority complex is, and how badly people in power want the Hartford area to be a "great sports market" or at the very least, in some sort of national spotlight from time to time. Why else build a huge convention center?

The problem with spending a lot of time dreaming, planning and building big is that one tends to overlook the small things. Right now, we're acting like a 40-year-old minor leaguer who still quixotically dreams of the big leagues. It's past time to give up the major league dream. We'll be better off, in the long run, if we and our leaders learn to accept Hartford and the region surrounding it for what it is, instead of trying to shape it into what it is not.

"Connecticut To Host World Cup Qualifier." Associated Press 9 August, 2005.

Amann May Involve Himself in Utopia Studios Decision

Looking for the May, 2006 referendum? Click here.

A few months ago, the town of Preston approved, by an overwhelming margin, a plan to build a movie studio/theme park complex on the old Norwich Hospital site. It seemed like a slam-dunk for the town and the region. Developers estimated that as many as 22,000 jobs could be generated from and around the project, not to mention the fact that even more tourist dollars that would flow into New London County.

But on July 22nd, the town broke off negotiations with Utopia Studios because the developers hadn't provided them with detailed plans for the project. The town repeated its request for more complete plans several times before breaking off the negotiations. The project, which now was starting to seem too good to be true after all, started to founder.

Enter Speaker of the House Jim Amann (D-Milford), who apparently has nothing to do this summer:

James A. Amann, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said Monday the proposed Utopia project “may be bigger than Preston” and suggested he would get involved if it appears the town is squandering a chance to get the project built. (Mann)

The possibility that this decision could be taken out of the hands of the people of Preston, who will be left holding the bag should Utopia fall through, by guys like Amann is a bit alarming.

Preston's leadership isn't happy, either.

"I have no appetite to drag the governor or anybody else in to make this a political decision," [Preston First Selecteman Robert] Congdon said. "It should be an objective analysis of credible details that are submitted on the part of the developer. If someone thinks we're being too stringent, I welcome them to review the submissions and tell us our shortcomings."

"At this time, I'm not supporting the legislature getting involved in any way until the town of Preston requests such action," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, whose district includes the town of Preston. "The state has defined a process for the transfer of this property, and I trust Preston and its committee and Board of Selectmen to move that process forward in a way that serves the best interest of the town. And I think it'd be inappropriate to intervene at this stage." (Mann)

In other words: butt out.

In this case, there's nothing to suggest that Preston is being too strict with Utopia. No town should allow a developer to run roughshod over it, no matter how attractive the prospects. Amann should back off and let the process work. If anything, he should put some pressure on Utopia to get Preston what it needs, so both sides can be satisfied and the deal can move forward.

Siding with a developer against a town is bad policy. Amann is doing nothing to help himself or Democrats in Hartford by meddling.

Mann, Ted. "Amann: State Involvement Possible For Utopia Project." New London Day 9 August, 2005.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Public Transportation Dos and Don'ts

Don't: the Busway

Connecticut often approaches public transportation in funny ways. We have high population density in Fairfield County and the Connecticut Valley, and we have a sprawling bus network and passable rail lines in each area. Yet the bus system is underfunded and ignored, and most people who aren't commuting to New York avoid trains.

So, several years ago, a genius at the DOT hit upon the bright idea of combining the worst features of both trains and buses into the Hartford-New Britain Busway. The idea was to create a corridor for the exclusive use of buses, mostly by tearing up existing train tracks in Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain, then paving over the right of way. Stations would be built at points along the route, and apparently then the revitalization fairy would bless the area around each with economic growth.

The busway would, in essence, combine the permanence and stability of a bus with the flexibility of a train. Trains and rail lines last. In comparison, a bus feels flimsy and transient. Buses don't inspire the economic confidence that trains do. However, people like that buses are easy to find and easy to catch. Unlike a train, the bus can take you right into your neighborhood. When there's a problem on one street, the bus can take another.

Not so on the busway. The stations for this project are difficult to get to and oddly placed, in some cases. Take a look: the "Cedar Street" station in Newington isn't located in the middle of a neighborhood at all. I know that area: it's a swamp next to a rotting abandoned factory. I suppose that the Stop&Shop is nearby (although it certainly isn't what I'd call close), but there isn't a house in range. Who would want to take the bus there?

Fortunately, the federal government is starting to catch on:

The project, a bus-only route running 9.6 miles between New Britain and Hartford, would launch in 2011 if all remains on schedule, state officials said. One key portion of that schedule: regaining the federal government's faith in Connecticut's ability to deliver what it promises.

Earlier this year, the FTA downgraded the $335 million project from "recommended" status to "not recommended." (Reitz)

The DOT is scrambling to keep the project alive.

Here's the question: Why tear up tracks for a bus line that functions like a light rail line when you could have, say, an actual light rail line?

Do: Ferry Service

It's heartening to see that people are starting to look towards Long Island Sound as a transportation corridor again.

A six-year $286.4 billion transportation bill approved by Congress Friday includes $10 million to build the first high-speed ferry terminals in the state in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven.

Advocates of ferry service said the funding is a long overdue move to use the Long Island Sound to help ease congestion on Interstate 95. (AP)

That's not a bad idea at all. Ferry services in other cities, such as Seattle, are an excellent alternative to busy highways. New York is already used to ferry services: expanding the network to include Connecticut is the right move to make.

Unfortunately, it probably won't go a long way towards reducing congestion. But we should be looking for ways to use our existing resources wisely, rather than spending a lot of money on projects that may not work at all.

Reitz, Stephanie. "State Wants Busway Project Back On Road." Hartford Courant 7 August 2005.
"Connecticut looks to the water to solve traffic congestion." Associated Press 8 August, 2005.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Useful Connecticut Political Resources

I'm working on creating a good list of useful and interesting resources for Connecticut politics. Here's a start:

CT Heritage
This is a site run by the Connecticut Humanities Council, and is an archive of interesting historical information. The Connecticut Politics and Government: A Profile page is a good place to start any sort of political research. Unfortunately, the site only has information up through 1984, but it can be useful for analyzing historical political trends.

Connecticut State Library: Resources by subject page.
This page is a list of subjects that the CT State Library has organized. It's very useful. For example, clicking on the "Public Policy" link will take you to a nice list of public policy links, most having to do with Connecticut.

The Secretary of the State's Office
This has been improving lately, but it's still sometimes difficult to find useful election information here. It can be slow and hard to navigate, but it's still the only source of information for detailed election information.
A very nice page, however, is the TOWNS, CITIES AND BOROUGHS page, which is a list of information about every town in Connecticut. It's mostly up to date and accurate.

What useful sites do you visit? I'd love to be able to create a comprehensive list.

Open Forum

What's happening today?

There's an article in the Courant which details just how press-happy Richard Blumenthal is.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

New Haven Advocate Attacks DeStefano

Independent Paper Highlights Campaign Contributions, Eminent Domain

The New Haven Advocate is apparently sick of John DeStefano. The alternative weekly went after the New Haven mayor on the issues of eminent domain and campaign contributions in their latest issue, which can be seen here.

Campaign Contributions

The Advocate suggests that a significant portion of DeStefano's war chest comes from those who either directly or indirectly owe him part or all of their livelihoods:

All the while, John DeStefano continues raking in campaign contributions from people who owe him their livelihoods. People who work at or get contracts from City Hall, over which he presides as New Haven's mayor. People who work for the school system whose board he appoints. People who want public favors--including public money--for their downtown real estate projects.

And people who would love to have a good relationship with the man DeStefano hopes to be: the governor of Connecticut. (Bass)

Unfortunately, there is nothing illegal in that. No, it isn't particularly nice, and a lot of it certainly can be construed as suspect (which is what the Advocate does), but it's above board. If, say, there was evidence that campaign contributions were being exchanged for political favors, that would be something else. However:

[DeStefano] says he makes it clear that donating has nothing to do with whether contributors do business with the city. (Bass)

The point of the article seems to be that DeStefano isn't as "clean" as he says. Is that legitimate? Here's the question the Advocate doesn't quite get around to asking:

Can a candidate be an aggressive, bare-knuckled fundraiser and a strong proponent of public financing of campaigns? If a candidate tries to be both, is it hyprocrisy or simply realism?

Realistically, DeStefano needs an enormous amount of money to have a shot at going to Hartford in 2007 and pushing public financing through. But his unwillingness to give up the money he's raised should public financing occur for next year, coupled with lurid reports like this about the untidy side of his finances, may not win him enough credibility with voters to get him there. It's a very fine line to walk.

Eminent Domain

This article, much like the last one, blurs the line between news and opinion while once again trying to call DeStefano on his supposed hypocrisy. There's a lot of innuendo and name-calling in this article, but here's the key piece:

DeStefano's eminent domain record in New Haven is awash in complexity and defies easy labels. Much of this ambiguity derives from the fact that, unlike the New London government, DeStefano has employed eminent domain for unambiguously "public" projects, not to turn land over to private developers for their profit. (Abadi)

Actually, that makes things less complex than, say, New London. Most of what DeStefano's administration used eminent domain for was, of all things, schools. Most of the rest of the article deals with accusations of an opaque process and outraged businesspeople and residents from the neighborhoods where the projects were slated to go, but that seems to be par for the course where eminent domain is involved. No one wants to leave his/her home or business, even when the project is a good one and has a clear public use.

The kernel of truth hidden in the article seems to be that DeStefano has shifted his position on eminent domain ever so slightly. Ho hum.

On the Attack

Both articles are clearly designed to be attack pieces, which the full title of the second article should make clear: "The Bulldozer Stops Here: John DeStefano supports eminent domain and dont (sic) let him tell you otherwise".

They don't like DeStefano at the Advocate. Who knows why? It might have to do with the fact that he doesn't agree with them on every issue, or just that he's been in power for a long time in New Haven.

The credibilty problem doesn't lie with DeStefano, here, but with the Advocate. Mixing personal opinion into articles clearly classified as "news" torpedoes any legitimacy the paper may have had, and the amatuerish writing doesn't help.

Now, I like alternative newspapers: they often report on the seedy little doings of government that get unnoticed by bigger and more respectable outfits. These two articles, however, make the Advocate look more like a bunch of hacks rather than an actual newspaper.

And for crying out loud, could they at least spell-check? Sheesh.

Bass, Carole. "You Say You Want a Contribution...." New Haven Advocate 4 August 2005.

Abadi, Cameron. "The Bulldozer Stops Here." New Haven Advocate 4 August 2005.