Monday, October 24, 2005

Requiem for a Lieutenant Governor

...
And if you gaze upon the stars tonight,
Heed what they hint, and down the face of the sky
Behold one drop through space, recall the plight
Of man on earth, our earth from Beauty spun,
And know a grief as lonely as His sigh.
-Wilbert Snow
from "The Stars are Tears" (1959)


There is an article in the Hartford Courant today about the plight of poor Kevin Sullivan, who has been stuck as the Democratic lieutenant governor to a Republican governor ever since the resignation of John Rowland last June. Sullivan, who had been president pro tem of the Senate before Rowland's resignation required him to step into his current office, has possessed less power and relevance during his tenure than most lieutenant governors. His main recourse has been to snipe at his boss and feint at running for governor, although a former colleague of Sullivan's has the following interesting observation to make:

Senate Republican leader Louis DeLuca, who came to know Sullivan well when they both served as leaders in the Senate, said he believes Sullivan is actually running for his current position - lieutenant governor - as the running mate for whichever Democrat gains the nomination. (Keating)

Unfortunately for Sullivan, it probably won't happen. If he is not nominated for a post by his party he will be out of the Capitol entirely, possibly for good.

Sullivan may take heart in the fact that he is not quite alone in his predicament. Cruz Bustamante is the Democratic lieutenant of Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, a situation brought on by the bizarre recall election that took place there two years ago. Of course, Bustamante's governor is far less popular than Sullivan's, although I doubt that fact cheers him much.

Sullivan is also not alone in Connecticut's history, and in this he may take some heart. Half a century ago, there was a poet who was governor of Connecticut for twelve days.

His name was Wilbert Snow. From the early 1920s until the 1960s, his main occupation and his major claim to fame was the writing of poems about the landscape of coastal New England, specifically Maine. He met with some critical acclaim, although one noted that

"Mr. Snow's method of making poetry is homespun and simple. He writes with considerable detail and with rather less implication and overtone than one might wish." (Ritchey)

In other words, he wrote pretty poems about the scenery. He rarely wrote about people, and apart from a poem in which he confesses a certain fondness for November, never about anything remotely political.

Yet strangely, he became a politician. In 1944, he ran as a Democrat for Lieutenant Governor and won in a Democratic tidal wave (it was a presidental year, Roosevelt carried him and his party into office in Connecticut). Unfortunately, Robert Hurley, the Democratic candidate for governor, lost to popular Republican incumbent Raymond Baldwin. Until the 1960s these were elected separately, although it was very rare even then to have the state's two top offices split by party. A "party lever" which could be used to select all the candidates of a certain party at once on Connecticut voting machines almost guaranteed this. Only Baldwin's personal popularity saved him.

Snow and Baldwin seemed to have a much more cordial relationship than Sullivan and Rell. The two seemed to ignore one another. It's tempting to picture Baldwin dealing with World War II, labor issues and other pressing matters in his second-floor office while Snow penned poems about lobsters upstairs.

Snow decided to run for governor in 1946 (state officers served for two-year terms until 1950), and was nominated by his party. Unfortunately, 1946 was a very different year than 1944. Frustration with a lagging postwar economy and dislike of Harry Truman's administration led to a Republican rout. Snow lost by more than 100,000 votes to Republican James McConaughy.

Governor Baldwin, meanwhile, had decided to run for a vacant U.S. Senate seat, and had won easily. In December 1946, he decided to get a little seniority on the other freshman senators, and resigned as governor to take office in Washington.

That left Snow as governor. He was sworn in, and served from December 28, 1946 to January 8th, 1947, the second-shortest tenure on record (see my previous post for the shortest). According to Joe Lieberman's biography of former party boss John Bailey, Snow moved into the governor's mansion and had a fine time with other Democrats for the full twelve days.

From that point on, Snow faded back into poetic obscurity. His poetry never reflected the strange times he had lived through as a Connecticut politician.

Kevin Sullivan now walks in Wilbert Snow's shoes. He should take inspiration that Snow did get his shot at running for governor, and, though he lost, became governor anyway. Fate works in strange and unpredictable ways. Sullivan may find himself unemployed at the beginning of 2007, but it shouldn't be for lack of trying.

Sources

"Hurley Renamed in Connecticut." New York Times (1857-Current file) Aug 6 1944: 36.

Keating, Christopher. "Sullivan Living In Political Siberia." Hartford Courant October 24, 2005.

Lieberman, Joseph I. The legacy : Connecticut politics 1930-1980. Hartford: Spoonwood Press, 1981.

Ritchey, John. "The World of Poetry." Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) Nov 16 1940: WM13.

Snow, Wilbert. "The Stars are Tears." New York Times (1857-Current file) Jul 28 1959: 26.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

While he was a published poet, Snow, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was one of the student speakers at his 1907 Bowdoin College graduation. He then studied at Columbia University and received a Master of Arts degree in 1910. With the exceptions of the time he spent in Seward Peninsula, Alaska, as a teacher and reindeer agent (1911-1912), and his service as a U.S. Army artillery captain during World War II, Snow's primary career was teaching English at a number of colleges and universities; the list includes New York University, Bowdoin College, Williams College, Reed College, University of Utah, and Indiana University. In 1921 he began a thirty-one year teaching career at Wesleyan University. During his last year of teaching, he was also a U.S. State Department lecturer in Europe and Asia. Upon his retirement in 1952, he was honored with the title of Professor Emeritus. In addition to the Emeritus title, Snow received honorary degrees from Wesleyan, Marietta College, Nassau College, University of Maine, and Bowdoin College (Litt.D., 1973).

Anonymous said...

It's finally over.

Anonymous said...

Goodbye and good riddance. Sullivan is the consensus nominee for Least Likely to be Missed by Anyone with a Pulse. Despised even within his own party, few will bother to shed crocodile tears when this loathesome crapsack finally oozes out of the Capitol door for the last time.

Moderate Repub said...

Genghis,

I love the history lessons about our state government! Keep these coming!

As for Sullivan, he has put himself in this box. He easily could have been one of the contenders for the Democratic nomination, but instead has sat on his hands.

He should hope he gets the Connecticut University System Chancellor's job and take it.

Genghis Conn said...

Anonymous,

Excellent background information. Thanks.

Moderate Repub,

You're very right about Sullivan sitting on his hands, and it's surprising that he has done so. Back in June he seemed ready to run. He had a website a all ready to go, and had quit his job at Trinity. I'm not sure what scared him off. Could have been the fundraising numbers of the other two candidates, or maybe he thought Blumenthal would get in. He took some criticism from John DeStefano for his remarks that "Everyone goes away if it's Blumenthal," but I can't imagine that he actually suffered much for it.

Now, Sullivan didn't have much of a shot at the nomination anyway. There are a lot of Democrats who don't like him for consistently caving to Rowland. Maybe he discovered this.